Home to the famed Kusatsu Onsen hot spring resort and Minakami Kogen ski resort, Gunma Prefecture boasts a lot of must-visit destinations. With mountains occupying 85 percent of the prefecture, the area is also famous for a strong, dry wind called "karakkaze," which blows onto the plains.
Last year, the Tomioka Silk Mill, which was established in 1872, and three related sites were added to UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage list. And women in the prefecture have long been known to engage in manufacturing-type work going back more than a hundred years or so.
Still, the prefecture has a lot of lesser known but great products to offer. The humorous-looking "daruma" figurine has eyebrows that represent a crane and the area around its nose and mustache symbolizes a tortoise. The two animals are believed to bring good luck, so daruma dolls are also called "fuku daruma" (good luck daruma).
Modeled after a sitting Zen monk seeking enlightenment through meditation, round daruma dolls have been cherished in Japan as a good luck charm representing the concept of "nanakorobi yaoki" (fall down seven times, get up eight), or when life knocks you down, get back up. It is a Japanese custom to paint in the eyes when politicians win elections or students pass entrance exams to celebrate their success.
In Gunma Prefecture, silk farmers started making daruma dolls some 200 years ago. With about 900,000 dolls manufactured each year, the prefecture has become the country's largest producer by region.
A set of daruma dolls representing the five colors of the Olympic rings have become a must-buy item after Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Summer Games. Selling for 2,020 yen ($17), the dolls are certain to serve as cute ornaments.
A wide variety of local specialties from Gunma Prefecture are also available at the prefecture-run Gunma-chan Chi (Gunma-chan's home) shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district.
Address: 5-13-19 Ginza, Chuo Ward, Tokyo.
Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Closed during the year-end and New Year’s holidays.