WESTERN GUNMA (TAKASAKI / TOMIOKA)
Takasaki City is the local traffic hub and has a bullet train station. The population is 370,000 and is the largest city in Gunma Prefecture. The Byakue-daikannon (a large statue of the Kannon Goddess in a white robe), 41.8 meters high, is located about 20 minutes from Takasaki Station and has been a beloved symbol of Takasaki since its foundation in 1936. The inside of the statue is nine stories high, and, from the top floor is a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.
Takasaki also has the largest production of papier-mache daruma (Japanese dolls modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism), usually colored vivid red and in a cute round shape. Shorinzan Daruma-ji Temple is the origin of these good luck daruma. The Daruma-ichi (daruma market) is held on January 6 and 7 every year, and the more than 100 stalls selling daruma attract many people. It is about 20 minutes by bus from Takasaki Station to the temple. Daruma can be purchased throughout the year at Daimon-ya across the Usui River from the temple. This shop is popular because you can draw the eyes and/or a mustache on a daruma to make an original face. If you are at Takasaki Station, try the popular Daruma Bento ekiben (box lunches sold at stations).
Tomioka Silk Mill in Tomioka City, the first government-run industrial silk mill, was established in 1872 by the government aiming to modernize the country. In those days, it was one of the largest silk mills in the world. After closing down in 1987, it was designated a national historic site, an important asset with original warehouses and silk reeling factory. Furthermore, it was inscribed on Japan’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2007. When you step into the silk reeling factory, you will be amazed by the huge area without supporting pillars for the silk reeling mill that was operated by 300 workers.