Minakami – More Than a Resort Town

Places are often segregated depending on what they are used for, or dedicated to. You may see a lot of shopping centers in the middle of cities, as well as offices buzzing with salarymen who want to get their jobs done. If there are areas dedicated to jobs, hobbies, and entertainment, then there are also areas dedicated to rest and relaxation. Japan has many areas that focus on giving you the best vacation and/or tour experience, and those areas are called the resort and/or spa towns.

What Is Minakami?

Minakami is known to many as a resort town, though its name represents much more than that. It is also less popularly known as the name of a certain place in the video game “Fatal Frame II”, a character in “My Ordinary Life”, and a Karate Dojo brand. 

A Town Ripe for Outdoor Winter Fun

Otherwise, Minakami is a simple, often snowy town found in the mountainous Tone District, which is within the Gunma Prefecture, located in Japan’s Kanto region. It is known to locals as “Minakami-machi”, and is written as “みなかみ町”.

As of February 2015, it has a population of 19,572 people, with a density of 25.1 square km. It follows the Japan Standard Time for its time zone. As most towns in Japan have a representative tree, flower, and bird, Minakami uses the Siebold’s Beech for its tree, the Kerria Japonica for its flower, and the Japanese bush-warbler for its bird.

The reason it’s perfect for outdoor sports involving snow is that of its mountainous terrain. There are 5 mountains here, namely

  • Mt. Mikuni, which stands at 1636 meters tall
  • Mt. Asahidake, at 1945 meters
  • Mt. Omine, Mt. Tanikawa, and Tanikawadake at 1977 meters
  • Mt. Sennokura, measuring 2026 meters
  • And Mt. Hiragatake, the tallest of them all, at 2141 meters.

The bodies of water in Minakami include the Atakani River and Tone River. The Dams are Naramata Dam, Fujiwara Dam, Aimata Dam, Yagisawa Dam, and Sudagai Dam. As for lakes, there’s Lake Dogen, Lake Fujiwara, Lake Naramata, and Lake Okutone. 

The History of Minakami in Gunma, Japan

Way back during the Heian period (794 to 1185 A.D.), there was an ancient road called the “Mikuni Kaido” that crossed what is known as Minakami today. It connected the areas of Niigata and Takasaki, forming nine post stations. Because it was a popular route, by the wartorn Sengoku period (1467 to 1603 A.D.) many clans fought for control of this area. Three main clans fought neck and neck; the Sanada Clan, Takeda Clan, and Uesugi Clan. 

Once the Edo period too place, the Tokugawa Shogunate decided to categorize Minakami as under the Numata Domain, with some parts of it under the Kozuke Province (tenryo holdings). It stayed this way until after the Meiji Restoration, where municipalities were established, thus the reclassification of Minakami village being under the Tone District in Gunma Prefecture on April 1, 1889. 

By August 10, 1947, Minakami grew large enough to be proclaimed as a town. It grew even larger by the 1st of October in 2005, when a town and village merged with it; Tsukiyono and Niiharu, respectively.

A Quick Guide to Minakami

Most of the businesses in Minakami serve tourism purposes, which makes it a huge hit for both summer and winter vacations. Whether it’s to soak in a hot onsen, ski and/or snowboard, Minakami’s got it. Looking for ideas on what you can do while you visit this onsen resort town? Here are a few.

Enjoy Outdoor Activities

No matter what time of the year it is, you’ll find something to do in Minakami. 

  • Hiking is another popular activity for this area during summer and spring, particularly up and around Mount Tanigawa. The reason most people choose this time is that of the changing leaf colors. Some people even go out of their way to watch and report on this phenomenon, brought on by the Koyo front. 
  • Mountain Biking is another fun pastime. The time of the year that this is made available by tourism companies is from April until November. The fee for joining could cost 6,000 yen for half-day, while it costs 10,000 yen to go mountain biking for the whole day. 
  • During Spring all the way until mid-Autumn (April until November), you can go whitewater rafting (around 8000 yen for half-day, 14,000 yen for full-day), and have many different choices of companies that’ll send you launching down Tone River. Don’t worry about the language barrier; there are guides who speak English. For those who are extra adventurous, come during April, May, and/or June. The water is at its roughest at that point.
  • For those who are braver, they can opt to try bungee jumping off the 42-meter high Suwakyo Bridge, or participating in the extreme sport of canyoning, both of which start around April/May and end in October. Canoeing for half a day costs 8,000-yen, whole day costs 14,000 yen, while bungee jumping costs 8,000 yen for the initial jump – add 5,000 more yen per jump after.
  • Last, but not the least, is to take part in different snow sports. To test out Minakami’s snowy slopes, you can opt to stay in a resort, or sign up for a snowboarding/skiing session. 

Book A Hotel or Ryokan Near Minakami

When in Minakami, choosing where you stay is essential. Because it’s an onsen resort town and not an ordinary town, it has premium choices when it comes to its ryokan (Japanese inn) and hotel options, as well as decent restaurant selections. Not only would you have a lovely bath to go home to after a day of fun and sports, but you are also served a scrumptious meal.

All awarded the “Certificate of Excellence” tag by TripAdvisor are the following four places you should consider when looking for accommodations in Minakami.

  • Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku costs around 22,000 yen a night and has 411 reviews that rate it 4 out of 5.
  • Bettei Senjuan costs thereabouts of 62,000-72,000 yen a night and has 113 reviews that rate it 4.5 out of 5.
  • Kamimoku Onsen Tatsumikan will set you back 18,000 to 22,000 yen a night and has 96 reviews that rate it 4.5 out of 5.
  • Lastly, Hoshi Onsen Chojukan costs around 22,000 yen a night and has 224 reviews that rate it 4.5 out of 5.

Minakami Sansou: A Top Onsen Pick

Also known as “Minakamisanso”, this rates 12th place out of the 95 ryokan/hotels in Minakami-machi to date. The beauty of this inn is that there are no nearby residences, so you get maximum peace and quiet as you soak in their lovely hot baths. They boast of guest room options that are situated in the closest proximity to Mt. Tanigawa. Aside from its prime location, it also serves an amazing kaiseki (small sizes of traditional Japanese dishes) in 13 different courses. 

The address of Minakamisanso is 556 Tanigawa, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun 379-1619, Gunma Prefecture. With only 18 rooms available to guests, this can get packed. This luxurious stay costs around 33,500 yen a night, and promises an experience unlike any other; perfect for a romantic getaway, honeymoon, or just a relaxing weekend.

Information About the Minakami Station 

Called by the Japanese as “Minakami-eki”, and written as “水上駅”, Minakami Station is operated by JR East, also known as East Japan Railway Company, and sits on the Joetsu Line. It is located at 96 Kanosawa, Minakami, Tone, Gunma, and was opened on October 30, 1928. It has 3 train tracks, and as of 2010, served 514 people daily. 

This station is also home to a bus hub, which can take you to Jomo Kogen Station (a 25-minute trip), Mount Tanigawa, and Takaragawa Onsen. An option to travel to Tokyo is to ride a bus to Jomo Kogen Station and ride the Shinkansen to Tokyo.

What is the Weather Like in Minakami?

Because Minakami is in a mountainous region, and thus has higher altitude, making the weather temperate and cold. It rains relatively more often in Minakami, compared to other parts of Japan, amounting an average sum of 1,864 mm yearly. On average, temperatures reach 6.8 degrees Celsius. Come prepared with the right clothes and gear to tackle the chilly climate. 

Minakami’s hottest month is August, with 19.6 degrees Celsius as its average temperature, and coldest in January, with -5.2 degrees Celsius as its average temperature. The coldest Minakami usually reaches is -9.7 degrees, also during January. 

Other Meanings of the Word Minakami

The origin of the word “Minakami” may have come from the most popular understanding of it, which is an area. In older times, some people took the name of the place that they lived in as his or her own. It may also have been used as inspiration for its other renditions.

Minakami Village, A Haunted Area in Fatal Frame 2

Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is the second installment for the Fatal Frame video game franchise for the PlayStation 2. It falls under the survival horror genre, as the point of the game is for Mio Amakura to save her twin sister from ghosts by exorcizing them with a special weapon: a camera obscura. Most of the plot takes place within the eerie Minakami Village (皆神村).

It’s not known as “Minakami Village” in all of the editions of the video game. Some call it “All God’s Village”, others call it “The Lost Village”. The creepiness of Minakami Village in this video game is supposedly based on the legend of a haunted Japanese village called “Sugisawa Village”.

Mai Minakami, A Character in “Nichijou” otherwise known as My Ordinary Life

If you are a fan of reading manga, you may also recognize the word “Minakami” from the quiet character Mai Minakami. She is a person who stars in Nichijou, or in its North American translation, “My Ordinary Life”, which was written by Keiichi Arawi. This comedy manga series ran from December 2006 until December 2015 and had 10 volumes. 

Mai Minakami (known as Misuzu Togashi in the Japanese VA) is known to be very smart, talented, and most often expressionless – but this hides her naughty pranking side, which is something she loves to do. 

Learn Martial Arts at the Minakami Karate Dojo

Open to teaching both kids and adults, the Minakami Karate Dojo has 9 different dojos open, spread throughout the U.S. and U.K. It was started by a man named Minakami Shihan (Shihan is defined as a “master instructor”, thus it is a title given to one who has mastered a skill – in this case, it’s Kataredo), who’s had a lifelong goal of teaching karate to anyone open and willing, and spread awareness of this martial art. He has been doing this since 1968.

He has also earned many “dan” (degrees/ranking) in other martial arts, such as Judo, Kendo, and Chinen Yamani Ryu Bojutsu, aside from Karate – where he has earned 7th and 8th dans, from the Federation of All Japan Karatedo Organization and Hayashi-Ha Shitoryu-Kai, respectively. 

As for the dojos themselves, Yelp reviews score them highly claiming that they have been taught with patience and positivity, no matter what level of skill they come in with. For those who want to sign up, there are dojos in Seattle, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania in the U.S. While in the U.K., there are facilities in Abbots Langley, Redditch, Banbury and Berkhamsted.