Today I would like to introduce you to one of the places I like to take my friends from abroad to, the western part of Gunma Prefecture, especially the town of Higashi-Agatsuma.
The reason why I want to introduce this place is because for me, it is a place that I was fortunate enough to be introduced to by an acquaintance by chance, and which I regularly visit and which has become my second home. When you go to a normal tourist destination, you can make memories of staying at an inn or eating at a restaurant, but you don’t get the chance to talk to ordinary locals as often as you might expect. There are no fancy tourist attractions in Higashi-Agatsuma, but there are people who grow delicious vegetables, there are small hot springs, and there is a rich natural environment and peaceful satoyama （rural natural areas) scenery. And it is relatively easy to get to from Tokyo. (It is about 150km from Tokyo station, which is about 3 hours by car or train.) Here is a report on eating in Higashi-Agatsuma and the surrounding towns.
My most recent visit to the town was on a weekend in November, and I started with a bowl of udon at this restaurant in Shibukawa-City.
The udon noodle is served with bonito flakes, spring onions and a raw egg on top. I also took a picture of the tempura that the person I was with ordered. The vegetables are all fresh and very tasty.
Next we visited the gallery of a sculptor who has moved to Higashi-Agatsuma. It is a unique gallery where the sculptor has renovated a private house and added a workshop space.
On this day, there was an art event in the neighbouring town of Nakanojo, so we went to see the exhibition created by this sculptor.
There is an imaginary bird, the Phoenix, floating in the air, formed by a small disc made of copper wire. Many mirrors are placed on the floor. When you look into the mirror, you can see a dark swamp under the floor and the image of the phoenix, and feel the fear of sinking into the swamp. It is a strange work that appeals to the human senses.
We spent the day meeting and chatting to a variety of people.
The next day we decided to visit again Nakanojo town, famous for its hot springs, and I was accompanied by a friend who is involved in various local activities. First we went to the town’s day spa facility. I can’t photograph people taking a bath in the hot spring, so I’ll just post a link to the website.
The exterior of the building has an interesting design, similar to that of an inn.
Next, we went to a hot spring hotel called Sekizenkan, which is said to be the model for the movie “Spirited Away”. It was built before 1800 as a two-storey building, and later the third floor was added.
On this day, due to measures against a pandemic, the day spa was closed to non-residents.
The Kashiwaya café near Sekizenkan has a delicious menu called “Hanamame （The flowering bean） Parfait”.
The flowering bean is a rare bean, produced only on the plateau. They are boiled with sugar and eaten as a snack.
As we wandered around the area, we found a public “drinking hot spring” where anyone could drink. The people in front of me took a sip and said, “It tastes like iron! “.
After that, my friend took me to Lake Okushimako in search of a place with beautiful autumn leaves, because it was November and it was the season of autumn leaves. (Japanese people like to enjoy the four seasons, having parties under the cherry blossoms in spring, morning glories and goldfish in the garden in summer, going out to the suburbs for the autumn leaves, and taking a hot spring bath in the snow in winter.)
Here you can enjoy looking at the most ordinary wild plants. This is probably “Murasaki Shikibu”.
Now it’s time for lunch. We went back to Higashi-Agatsuma town and visited this cafe.
We had spaghetti, but I forgot to take a photo. We had coffee after lunch. The owner of the restaurant is a Beatles fan and he gave us an impromptu guitar performance. In addition, he asked us, “Can you play any instrument? You can play it now!” He said. If you want to play music or sing, this is a good place to stop by.
Now it is almost time to go back to Tokyo, but one thing I always buy in Higashi-Agatsuma is freshly made ” Konnyaku “. Konnyaku is said to be made from konnyaku potatoes and is a healthy food that cleanses the intestines. There are many ways to eat it, such as sashimi, simmered vegetables, fried kinpira and dengaku miso. Click here to see our recommended konnyaku shop.
When I got back to Tokyo, I cooked a delicious dinner from the vegetables I had bought or received in Gunma Prefecture.
Left: fried burdock, carrot and konnyaku with sauteed vegetables
Bottom centre: fried spring onion, green pepper and shiitake mushroom with olive oil
Right: rice with sweet potato and miso soup
Top left centre: sashimi of konnyaku (eaten with wasabi and soy sauce)
Top right: boiled spinach and small fish in vinegar
Fresh vegetables are very juicy and tasty.
I wasn’t able to stay there this time, but you can stay in the following House in Higashi-Agatsuma town.
What did you think? If you thought it sounded interesting, you’ve got to go to Gunma Prefecture!