Tomioka Alps (Mt Kannari 320m) & the Gunma Museum of Natural History

I had first read about this hike in my Gunma hiking book, but it was too short and too far for a day hike, so I reluctantly set it aside. Later on, I found out that the Kanto Fureai no Michi also went through the area, and I could use it to extend the hike eastwards. The path passed by the Gunma Museum of Natural History which I could also visit, if time allowed. I generally don’t drop by museums on hikes, but this one had a high rating on Google Maps, and I was interested in learning more about the local animals and plants. I was excited about checking out another “Alps” trail; according to online reviews, it was “the cleanest hiking course in Japan, ” apparently because the locals sweep the leaves off. It was a station to station hike on the Joshin Dentetsu line, a railway line I had used many times before. The weather forecast showed the sun mark for the whole day, so I was looking forward to some good views of the mountains of western Gunma.

The mountains of western Gunma under a grey sky

I reached the small Nanja station a little after 10am. The promised sun was hiding behind grey clouds, and it seemed unlikely that it would emerge anytime soon, a rare miss for the Japanese Meteorological Agency. I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and these ones were high enough for the surrounding mountains to be still visible. After half an hour of walking, I reached the small shrine at the base of the Tomioka Alps (富岡アルプス tomioka arupusu), also known as the Kannari Hiking course.

Mt Inafukumi, climbed 2 years ago

The trail is definitely clean of leaves

It took just ten minutes of climbing to reach the top of Mt Azuma (328m 吾妻山 あずまさん azumasan), and the first views. Looking west, I could see the outskirts of Shimonita village, with Mt Ozawa behind; directly ahead was the triangular shape of Mt Inafukumi. As expected, the trail went up and down along the ridgeline and over several minor summits. I reached the halfway point just before noon where there was a mini natural museum (ミニ自然博物館) consisting of a glass cabinet with various exhibits related to the local plants and animals, a foretaste of my museum visit planned for the afternoon.

The Mini Nature Museum

At the extreme left, the pointed tip of Mt Ushibuse

I reached the second viewpoint of the day thirty minutes later, next to the summit of Mt Kannari (神成山 かんなりやま kannariyama). Looking east, I could see the pointed summit of Mt Ushibuse. Directly beneath, a train on the Joshin Dentetsu line was moving along the valley floor (see video). After a brief stop for lunch, I set off again, now heading down to the bottom of the valley. I passed by a somewhat scary statue of “fudosama” lurking among the bamboo next to the trail. At 1pm, I was off the mountain and walking through Tomioka Town. It would take 45 minutes to reach the museum, which was starting to seem like a good place to spend a cold and cloudy winter afternoon.

See the views from the Tomioka Alps

A good thing the museum has a high roof

I spent nearly two hours exploring the Gunma Museum of Natural History, but could easily have spent three hours or more. Of the five sections, the most impressive one by far was “The Age of the Earth” which held full-size dinosaur skeletons and scaled-down animated models (see video and gifs). The most interesting section, for me, was “The Nature and Environment of Gunma.” It contained a forest diorama, and seeing different kinds of trees side by side helped me understand the subtle differences between them. There were also many mounted animals, some of which I had never seen or only glimpsed briefly while hiking.

A fossil dig display

I’ve seen many copper pheasants fly away from me

Visually, the museum is stunning; a pity there are no English explanations. By the time I had satisfied my curiosity, it was already past 3pm, and I had to rush through the three remaining sections. I had originally planned to continue walking the Fureai no Michi and finish at Higashi-Tomioka station. However, I now had to leave that for another day. At 4pm, I walked back to Joshu-Nanokaichi Station, the closest station to the museum. Although the weather was disappointing, the museum visit definitely made it a success. By 4h30 I was back on the train for Takasaki, for the 2h30 minute trip back to Tokyo.

To hear them roar, watch the video below

See the animated Tyrannosaurus Rex

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