Minakami (水上) is a town in Gunma prefecture.
The town, which includes Minakami Hot Spring Village, commands superb views of Mt. Tanigawa, Mt. Hotaka, and Mt. Shibutsu. Adventurous visitors can enjoy outdoor sports such as rafting. But if you plan to do some mountain-climbing during your visit, be aware that Mt. Tanigawa has the Guinness world record for the most deaths while climbing!
Tenjindaira , or Tenjin Temple, is renowned for receiving massive amounts of snow, and during the 2014-2015 season it scored 17 metres of snow! Tenjin Daira is an old Japanese word meaning “powder paradise”. OK, maybe that’s not quite a literal translation, but “tenjin” does refer to the God of the Sky and Weather, and Mt. Tanigawa's Tenjin Temple certainly gets the weather in full force – all that snow doesn’t come from out of the blue!
Meanwhile the Mt. Tanigawa [backcountry] that’s easily accessible from the Tenjin Ski Resort is notorious[simultaneously famous and infamous]. There is a huge range of backcountry terrain ranging from [mellow trees] to steep chutes and cliffs. The legendary mountain offers [snow porn] at its best, and associated with the avalanche of hype about the terrain is, well... avalanches. The risks are high and one of the main lines, Nishi Kurosawa, aka Tenjin Bowling Alley or Avalanche Gully, is very aptly named!
Tourist Information Center
Located outside of Minakami station, the tourist information center is open from 8:45AM to 5PM.
Staff can communicate fairly well in basic English.
The centrally-located JR Minakami Station is on the JR Joetsu Line, between Takasaki to the south and Echigo-Yuzawa to the north. Jomo-Kogen Station is on the Joetsu Shinkansen line, but it's only served by the all-stops Tanigawa. Buses run about every hour from Jomo-kogen to the city center, taking 25 min and ¥620.
If you want to do the whole route by train, allow at least 2hr 15min from Tokyo. Take a Joetsu or Hokuriku Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Takasaki or Echigo-Yuzawa (which offers the shortest transfer varies). Then transfer to Joetsu Line (standard line) to Minakami Station. Minakami Station is the final stop.
It is 2-3 hours by car from Tokyo.
Mt. Tanigawa (谷川岳)
Mount Tanigawa, also known as Tanigawa-dake, is one of Japan’s 100 Most Famous Mountains. On the border between the Gunma and Niigata Prefectures in northern Minakami, the mountain sits right at where the weather systems from the Asian continent and the Pacific meet, often colliding in severe storms. Notorious for its nasty weather and chest-deep snow, the mountain affords wonderful panoramic views of Gunma and an abundance of flora.
Tanigawadake Ropeway is at the end of Japan National Route 291. The journey is around 1,400 metres, crossing Doaiguchi station and Tenjintaira station.
The first peak you’ll see is called Tomanomimi (トマノ耳), while the higher peak is called Okinomimi (オキノ耳). After scaling the two peaks, you can continue traversing along the ridge or go back the same way you came.
There are only two other ways off the mountain. The first one is to take the trail leading away from the [Kuma-ana?] hut. This trail is very rocky, with lots of [chains and ladders], which probably makes for a safer ascent than descent.
The other way is to retrace your steps back to the Kuma-ana hut, and take a right. This trail will eventually dump you out at Minakami station (水上駅). [I ended up flying back down to the base of the gondola to escape an incoming rainstorm.] [Grab a map and explore the vast network of trails that this legendary peak has to offer.]
Thick with foliage in the fall and heavy with snow in the winter, it's location right at the nexus of two weather systems makes it easy to disappear into the beauty of Mount Tanigawa- both figuratively and literally. Between the initial explorations in the 1930s and today, more than 800 people have disappeared on its snowy peaks. That’s four times more casualties than on Everest in an equivalent period of time.
The casualties started early in Mt. Tanigawa's history. In 1943, a climbing party disappeared, their bodies undiscovered until 30 years later. Near Tanigawa’s base, you can find a small monument inscribed with the names of all those who have lost their lives on the mountain.
It’s possible for a novice to hike Tanigawa in the more temperate months of July through November, following a number of gentler trails. In the autumn, particularly mid-October, the colors of fall foliage light up the valleys and mountainsides. In the winter, visitors can ski at the Tanigawadake Tenjindaira ski resort, which is located halfway up the mountain. Though there are only six chair lifts running, [it also has some of Japan’s deepest snow.]
However, as for winter and off-trail climbing, that should be left to the experienced climbers. There is a high risk of death by avalanches and overexposure, and climbers need to have their route plans approved by local officials before making attempting a climb. There are two small emergency huts along the upper ridges, but they have restricted capacity.
Tanigawa is a majestic mountain, glowing rust red and burnt orange in the fall, and then sparkling a blinding white in the winter. It is both serene and severe, welcoming and deadly.
Traditionally a hot spring town, Minakami has over 120 onsen, or hot spring baths.
A gentle breeze, dense fog and the melody of the gurgling river stream drift through the forest in Minakami. The cool breeze helps neutralize the searing heat of the hot spring. Close your eyes and listen to the chant of wind, the river and the forest as you become a part of nature. All this can be experienced at the Takaragawa Onsen in Minakami. Besides being named the “Number One Outdoor Hot Spring in the world”, it was also the filming location for Thermae Romae II. You can access this famous onsen from JR Minakami Station by bus.
Bungy Japan has been operating a bungee jump since 2007, and over 40,000 customers, including some of Japan’s most famous television personalities and celebrities, have jumped. If you're brave enough to try it out, the course has you bungee jumping towards an incredibly rapid river while facing enormous mountains.
Minakami offers a wide range of other outdoor activities to choose from, such as rafting, para-gliding and golf.
Most stores and businesses can't accept foreign cards, so it is best to carry at least enough cash for a few days. Most foreigner bank cards/debit cards can be used withdraw money from ATMs, which can be found at 24/7 convenience stores such as 7-11, FamilyMart, et cetera. These ATMs have several languages to choose from, including English.
Eat and drink
- 1 Koarai-seika (小荒井製菓), Yubara 1680-20, ☏ , fax: . 8AM-6PM. Their “dorayaki” (kind of Japanese pancakes) are a famous sweet sold in Minakami. They are also a favorite treat of the Japanese animated character "Doraemon". The red azuki beans used in these Dorayaki are carefully selected and roasted, then blended until smooth with fresh cream. Besides red bean paste, there are a wide variety of other fillings to choose from, including Tirumisu, Custard, Chocolate, and Blueberry. You can eat them immediately or buy them in a gift-box.
- 1 Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku (宝川温泉 汪泉閣), Fujiwara 1899 (Joetsu Shinkansen Toki 323 to Jomo-Kogen (arrive at 1:43PM); or Joetsu Shinkansen to Takasaki, then JR Joetsu Line local to Minakami (arrive at 2:51PM). Shuttle available from either station if you arrive at the designated time; call to reserve a seat. Returning shuttle will drop you at Minakami at 10:10AM, or Jomo-Kogen at 10:30AM for the MAXTanigawa 408. Otherwise, take a bus between Jomo-Kogen and Minakami (¥620), and between Minakami and the ryokan (¥1150).), ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. A spacious traditional ryokan located on the Takara River (Treasure River). There are four outdoor baths adjacent to the roaring rapids of the river, the biggest of which is among the largest in Japan. One secluded one is female-only, while the other three are mixed-gender (men just get the standard-issue hand towel, while most women wear the free drapey bathing suit). From the ryokan's main building, you cross a bridge to access three of the baths (including the women's), then — still undressed — cross another bridge to access the largest one. Some rooms also overlook the river, providing a lovely view and background noise from the river that's surprisingly quiet until you open the window. Various rates are available depending on the building and whether you take meals in your room or in a dining room with private booths. Reasonably accommodating for English-speaking guests. Various plans roughly ¥10,000-15,000/person/night.
- 2 Tanigawadake Raspberry Youth Hostel (谷川岳ラズベリーユースホステル) (a 20-minute walk from JR Minakami Station). Check-in: 4PM-10PM, check-out: 10AM. It offers simple, affordable dormitory-style accommodation. Rooms mostly consist of shared, single-sex dormitories, but the hostel also offers private rooms. Breakfast and dinner are available at an extra cost, but must be reserved at least 1 day in advance. The menu varies daily and features a variety of cuisines. Vegetarian meals are also available. Staff are very familiar with the area and are happy to recommend things to do, see, and eat locally. unisex dormitory: ¥3600 for HI members, ¥4300 otherwise ; private room (1-5 pers.): ¥4700/pers. ; family room (2-5 pers.): ¥5200/pers. ; breakfast: adult ¥800, child ¥650 ; dinner: adult ¥1250, child ¥900.
|Routes through Minakami|
|Niigata ← Echigo-Yuzawa ←||N S||→ Takasaki → Tokyo|
|Nagaoka ← Echigo-Yuzawa ←||N S||→ Numata → Shibukwa-Ikaho → Maebashi|