Gunma #3: Fukiware Falls (吹割の滝)

Gunma’s “Niagara Falls of Japan” is a beautiful falls that is relatively unknown outside Gunma. It is in Numata, a small city well known for its beautiful nature and outdoor activities. The falls are only 7 meters high, but span a good 30 meters in length. Moreover, you’re able to go right up to the falls, which is a fun experience! There are also bridges above and below the falls, giving you a great chance for some nice pictures.

I visited the falls in winter, when the water level was at its lowest, and the vegetation around not very pretty. During summer the area around the falls are lush and green, but probably the most spectacular season is fall, when the leaves around the falls turn beautiful colors.

A map of the area around the falls

Looking downstream

And from the edge of the falls looking upstream

The falls aren’t easy to get to… the best explanation I found is here, and there are some really great pictures of the falls as well.

Gunma #6: Yakimanju (焼きまんじゅう)

So my city’s summer festival was this past weekend, and despite the frankly torrential rains both days, I managed to find time in between being tossed around on a mikoshi and running to shelter in the downpour in geta and yukata to take pictures of my FAVORITE summer festival food, Yakimanju!

Okay, so it isn’t technically a summer festival food… you can actually eat it at little shops around Gunma all year round, and any time there is a “yatai” food booth throughout the year, you’ll find yakimanju sold. So what is it? Yakimanju are soft bread buns brushed with a yummy sweet and salty miso sauce, then grilled, then coated some more. They are SERIOUSLY good!

Woo Yakimanju booth! Okay, 200 yen for a stick of 4, here we go…

That’s the stuff!

The ladies liked my postcard after they noticed I took this picture!

YES! Why did I only get one stick?!

If you’re ever around Gunma, do yourself and your tastebuds a favor and look for a yakimanju shop, or an event that sells them. You wont be disappointed!

Gunma #1: Daruma Dolls (だるま)

I’d be an awful Gunma-ite if I didn’t start posting any postcards from my adopted prefecture! And where better to start than with the postcard that started it all and my very first one, Gunma’s Daruma Doll. This is the postcard that first caught my notice in my local post office. I bought one or two as gifts, and didn’t think anything of them, until I saw another one in another prefecture’s office while traveling, and grew curious. So you can thank this guy for this site!

Daruma dolls are “okiagari” dolls, which means they have rounded bottoms which allow them to stand back up if pushed down. I’ve already written about Fukushima’s Okiagari Koboshi dolls here, and will get to Ishikawa’s Okiagari dolls eventually.

Gunma style dolls are modeled after the Buddhist Bodhidharma, and are sometimes also called “Dharma” dolls. They are traditionally red in color, though these days come in many colors and styles, and are considered a symbol of good luck. The Gunma-style dolls are said to originate at the “Daruma-dera” Temple in Takasaki. Priests were overwhelmed with the parishioners need for charms, since all charms in Japan have a one-year expiration date, so they set the parishioners themselves to making the dolls to save them the work. A few major families around Takasaki still make these today, and sell them at Takasaki’s “Daruma-dera”, actually Shorinzan, on the “Daruma-Ichi” Market on January 6th every year.

Daruma are usually painted with the symbol for “luck” on them, and are bought with both eyes blank white. The buyer then paints in the right eye while making a goal or wish for the year. When the goal or wish comes true, the other eye is painted in. This makes them very popular with businesses, which wish for a successful year. Therefore large Daruma are often seen in offices around Kanto and Gunma especially.

The main temple associated with Daruma is Shorinzan in Takasaki, which holds the annual Daruma-Ichi Market on January 6th every year. I visited this temple for the market before I even knew of these postcards, so I didn’t have one to take pictures with at that time. I hope to update later with some new pictures featuring the postcard, but meanwhile, enjoy a few pictures of the Market!

There is a large Daruma statue on the temple grounds, but they are featured everywhere… along the roads, on the bridges, all over the station… Takasaki holds a lot of pride for their famous goods!

Piles and piles of Daruma for sale, in all different sizes…

…and all different colors!

Even the “ema” for the temple are Daruma-shaped!

The original Daruma himself! Can you see the resemblance?

Before buying new daruma, you give the old one back to the temple to be burned later. Giant piles of daruma result when everyone brings theirs back!

I’ve never attended a burning at Shorinzan, but I have gone to a local one, which we call “Dondoyaki”.

Finally, even for those unable to attend the Daruma-Ichi Market at Shorinzan, you can still enjoy Daruma around Takasaki!

Even the drink machines are Daruma-themed!

In Takasaki station, there is a store that sells a large amount of Daruma of all different sizes and colors, including themed Daruma, such as painted for the Zodiac year, or featuring Gunma’s cute character Gunma-chan. I like collecting the different styles almost as much as I like the original.