At first glance, Gunma may not seem to have a whole lot going for it. It’s one of Japan’s few landlocked prefectures, which means less access to Japan’s legendarily fresh seafood. The lack of a coastline also means Gunma doesn’t have a vibrant urban heart like Japan’s largest cities which grew out of its busiest ports, so economic and modern entertainment opportunities are limited compared to Tokyo, Osaka, or Fukuoka.
What Gunma does have is mountains, hot springs, and shrines, though. It’s also got Gunma-chan, its lovable horse mascot who shows off the prefecture’s attractions and some adorable dance moves in this new video.
First, let’s address the obvious issue here. Yes, Gunma-chan is indeed the most lazily named of Japan’s many, many regional mascots referred to as yurukyara. It’s simply the name of the prefecture the character represents with the cute suffix “-chan” tacked onto the end.
We imagine the creative meeting at the Gunma tourism association went something like this:
Section Chief Yamada: “Tanaka! Did you think up a name for our new yurukyara?”
Mr. Tanaka (who snuck out of the office early yesterday and spent all night drinking bourbon): “Ah, why yes, sir, I did! It’s…ah…Gun…ma….chan…?”
Section Chief Yamada: “Brilliant, Tanaka! You’ve saved the prefecture!”
The creativity of the character’s moniker aside, there’s no denying Gunma-chan’s cuteness. While the character’s popularity may not have hit the same peaks as Yurukyara Grand Prix winners Kumamon, Bari-san, and Funasshi, you can often spot fans with Gunma-chan merchandise such as decorative straps and notebooks, even in cosmopolitan Tokyo
Now, the folks at JOMO JET, an international cultural exchange association in Gunma, have put together the video Gunma-chan’s Day Out.
The two-minute whirlwind tour through Gunma features the prefecture’s favorite horse grooving in front of some of its biggest tourist draws. Given Gunma’s mountainous topography, some of these are bridges that cross through the prefecture’s valleys.
Given that so much of Japan’s population is clustered in urban areas, when travelers head out to the countryside, many of them like to visit farms, like Green Bokujo, where Gunma stops to dance with the dairy’s own mascot.
Gunma-chan picks up another dance partner when he swings by Akagai Shrine and meets up with one of its shrine maidens.
Akagi Shrine is said to have been founded over 2,000 years ago, but it’s not Gunma’s only notable religious institution. Gunma-chan also visits Tenangu Shrine, which was built in 1799, and the Buddhist Shorinzan Temple, site of one of Japan’s many towering statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
And finally, no trip to Gunma is complete without a dip in the hot springs in Ikaho or Kusatsu.
Between the catchy music, clean visuals, and easy to imitate dance moves, this is a great little video, made all the more impressive by the fact it’s the first put together by JOMO JET. We can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned yet, but for now, they, and Gunma-chan, have convinced us that while Gunma may not have the glitz and glamor of some other parts of Japan, it definitely has a spot on our next vacation itinerary.