Straddling the skyline in Shibu Toge Pass

Ever since I moved to Gunma, I’ve wanted to visit the caldera of Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane. Unfortunately, I’m doomed to disappointment as the volcanic activity levels have been too high to safely allow visitors for the past 3 years. Despite this, it’s still well worth the effort to make the drive up the mountain. The twisty-turny road goes up Kusatsu-Shirane, around the caldera, and then branches off. One route leads to Manza Onsen, and the other leads to Shibu Toge Pass.

Be careful, and make sure to check the status of the road before you go. The pass is closed in the winter due to snow, and conditions may change due to volcanic activity.

The Highest National Route in Japan

I truly wish that I had made the drive out to Shibu Toge Pass earlier, so that I could have seen it in different seasons. Route 292 snakes through the mountains and opens up to beautiful panoramic views of Yoshigadaira Wetland, and the town of Kusatsu far below. When I saw it in early spring, it was gorgeous – but I’ve seen photos of the view in the fall and it’s absolutely stunning. The area is also very popular among astrophotographers, as there is almost no light pollution in the area.

As you drive along, you’ll run into a large marker on the side of the road. This tells you that you’ve officially reached the highest point on Japan’s national highway system. At this point, you are 2,172m above sea level. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this at the time I went, but you can visit the Shibu Toge Hotel and pay 100円 to get a certificate to officially say you’ve been to this point.

Prefecture Straddling Shibu Toge Hotel

Just a little further beyond the Highest Point marker is the Shibu Toge hotel. It’s a pretty simple lodge nestled up to the base of the Mt. Yokote ski area. It has basic rooms for skiers, a restaurant, and an enormous fireplace for those cold winter nights. What’s most notable about it is that it sits directly on the border of Nagano and Gunma. You can get a bowl of curry in Nagano, and then go to your room in Gunma. Obviously this makes is a popular spot for whimsical photos of visitors standing over the border.

Nagano on the right, Gunma on the left

Even the architecture of the building celebrates it’s unique border-straddling status: as you can see, the Gunma and Nagano sides look totally different!

Shibu Toge is a gorgeous area that I would happily recommend visiting in any season. Grab some food to take with you, and pull over at one of the rest areas for a picnic – or wait to grab something at the restaurant at the hotel. On the way down, you can stop at Manza or Kusatsu onsen and enjoy some of the incredible bath experiences these towns have to offer.

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