Kiryū lies about about 90 km northwest of Tokyo (as the crow flies), and just across the Tochigi prefectural boundary from Ashikaga. During Edo times, Kiryū was known for its fine silks, an eastern match for Kyoto in western Japan. The lord of Kiryū supplied over 2,400 silk banners for the troops of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and thereafter continued to pay the same tribute to the victorious Tokugawa Shogunate every year. It later became an important center for textile manufacturing during Japan's industrial revolution, and now is one of the major manufacturing centers for pachinko machines.
Kiryū's international sister cities are two other textile and manufacturing towns in the foothills: Biella, Piemonte, Italy, and Columbus, Georgia, USA. Kiryū's Columbus Street features pink and white dogwood trees and azalea bushes reminiscent of its sister city in Georgia.
The Kiryū School of Textiles, founded in 1915, has now grown into Gunma University's Faculty of Engineering , one of the largest in the country. Its website contains much useful information in English about the city and its history, and its many international engineering students lend Kiryū a more cosmopolitan flavor than many cities its size .
In 2005, Kiryū doubled its size by incorporating a largely rural region across the upper Watarase River valley . But the most scenic gorges and valleys of the upper Watarase fall within the bounds of Midori, a separate jurisdiction, while the headwaters and the infamous Ashio copper mine fall within the bounds of Nikko city. Nevertheless, Kiryū remains the jumping-off point for trips to Mt. Akagi and to the Watarase River valley.
Kiryū lies about halfway between Oyama and Takasaki on the JR Ryōmō line, about 1 hour by local train from either end. About 30 trains per day pass through in each direction, and the fare runs about ¥1000 each way.
The Tōbu Isesaki line express train Ryōmō, which requires seat reservations, stops at Tōbu Shin-Kiryu station on its run between Asakusa and Akagi. It leaves Asakusa at 40 mins past the hour, costs about ¥2400, and takes about 90 mins in either direction. The short local Tōbu Kiryu line stops at Shin-Kiryū on its run between Ota City and Akagi.
The Watarase Keikoku (Valley) railway starts at JR Kiryū station and intersects the Tōbu Kiryū line at Aioi before heading up through the scenic mountains and gorges to the headwaters of the Watarase River valley. There are 18 trains a day each way between Kiryū station and Ōmama in Midori City, but only 11 that cover the full distance to Ashio and Matō, which are now administered by Nikkō. The first train leaves Kiryū at 6:39 and the last train leaves Matō at 7:51 pm. The full-distance fare is about ¥1050 each way.
For travelers already in Maebashi, the tiny Jōmō Dentetsu line runs between Chūō Maebashi and Nishi Kiryū station (near JR Kiryū station).
The Keisei Bus Salvia line runs directly between Narita airport and Kiryū 4 times each way daily for ¥4300 one way. The trip takes about 3 hours, depending on Tokyo traffic. Four buses leave JR Kiryū station South Exit between 4:20 am and noon, and four buses leave Narita for Kiryū between 3:15 and 7:50 pm.
A Limousine Bus Route also runs directly between Haneda airport and Kiryū 4 times each way daily for ¥3300 one way. The trip takes between 2 and 3 hours, depending on Tokyo traffic. Four buses leave JR Kiryū station South Exit at 3:00, 4:00, 5:50, and 8:00 am, and four buses leave Haneda airport for Kiryū at 4:25, 6:55, 8:25, and 9:55 pm.
The overnight Sendai Liner leaves JR Kiryū station South Exit nightly at 11:50 pm, arriving at Sendai station at 6:00 am. It leaves Sendai station nightly at 11:00 pm, arriving in Kiryū at 5:10 am. Adult fare one-way ¥5800; round-trip ¥9800.
Because Kiryū was largely unscathed by World War II bombing, it contains one of the highest concentrations of prewar urban architecture in Japan: wooden-sided warehouses, sawtooth-roofed textile mills, merchant stronghouses, and Meiji-era adaptations of Western buildings. The old urban core of the city is easily walkable. Here's one suggested footpath through a living—indeed, bustling—architectural museum .
From the North Exit of JR Kiryū station, swing to the right around the plaza and look for Fuji Halal Foods on the corner of Yamate-dori, running north, and Suehiro-dori, a major east-west thoroughfare lined with shops of all kinds. Walk up Yamate-dori past the modest Nishi Kiryū terminus of the Jōmō commuter line. Yamate-dori will drift toward the right as it hugs the base of the hillside to its left.
When you see the entrance to Nishinomiya shrine with old stone steps from the sidewalk down to the street, turn right and walk east to Honcho-dori, Kiryū's major north-south thoroughfare (and where Prefectural Route 66 passes through the city). You'll be at the boundary of Honcho 1-chome (to the north) and 2-chome (to the south), with a branch of Mitsukoshi on your right, and a gentrified cluster of former warehouses (Yūrinkan) to your left across the street. If time and interest permit, take a walk through the art and craft galleries inside.
Then go straight up Honcho-dori for a few blocks before turning right and coming back down Nakacho-dori, which is roughly parallel to Honcho-dori but drifts east. Look down side streets for interesting architecture as you go. Be sure to stop at the textile museum (Yukari) across the street from Kiryū Catholic Church down a side street on the left a few blocks north of Suehiro-dori.
When you get back down to Suehiro-dori, turn right to head back to JR Kiryū station. There are many choices along Suehiro-dori of places to reward yourself with food and/or drink after the walk.
Yūrinkan (有隣館), Hon-cho 2-6-32, tel. 0277-46-4144. Open daily except M and the day after a holiday, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. Former warehouses converted to art galleries. Free admission.
Textile Museum ‘Yukari’ (織物参考館[紫]) , Higashi 4-2-24, tel. 0277-45-3111. Open daily except M 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. A former sawtooth-roofed textile mill converted into a comprehensive museum of textile production over the centuries, with demonstrations ranging from silkworm cocoons to looms to dyes. Adult admission ¥700.
Headwaters of the Watarase River, now billed as Japan's "Grand Canyon" due to caustic pollution from the Ashio Copper Mine
Buy a one-day pass (¥1800) on the Keikoku Railway that runs up the Watarase River valley, get off at one of the larger stops, hike around a bit, and hop back on the next train. Trains run at less than hourly intervals, so check the schedule at each station before setting out. Take your provisions with you and bring your trash back out. Here are a few possibilities, starting from the top:
Matō - Hike into the Akagane [Copper] Shinsui Park, billed as Japan's Grand Canyon, much of it man-made as the industrial revolution came to Japan's leading copper mine and first major industrial polluter, with ugly but now recovering results. The working hillside village along the way has no shortage of snack shops and vending machines. Across a wing bridge below the highest spillway is a small museum (admission ¥200), snack shop, public toilet, and park with cherry and alder trees. The 2-room museum has little English, but lots of visuals that easily convey the gist of the history of industrialization, environmental destruction, and recuperation. Allow about 2.5 hours to walk up and back, gawking at relics of the huge ghost mine complex across the river, barren hillsides streaked with erosion and flood control structures, some hardy Japanese macaques and, if lucky, a mountain goat.
Tsūdō - Take a trolley ride into a copper mine 400 years old and related educational exhibits. About 5 mins walk from the station. Admission ¥800.
Sōri - Hike down to Gōdo station along the east side of the scenic Kusaki Reservoir—through cherry blossoms in April, green foliage in summer, and autumn leaves in the fall—then across Kusaki Dam and through a park near the station. About 3.5 hours.
Gōdo - Hike up to the Kusaki Dam (about 400m wide, nearly 500m high), across it, and down the road on the other side back to the station. About 2.5 hours.
Mizunuma - Take a refreshing public bath at the Onsen Center in the station. Or take a 2.5-hour hike to the top of nearby Kōjin-san and back if not ready for a bath yet.
Ōmama - Take a leisurely 1-hour stroll up toward the small dam, across the pedestrian wing bridge, then back downriver along the stepped footpaths overlooking a scenic gorge, then back across the bridge below the station. The trains between Ōmama and Kiryū are more frequent than the ones farther up the line, with extra runs for commuters during 6:00 to 8:00 am and 4:00 to 6:00 pm.
Jamuna Indian Restaurant, Suehiro-cho 8-24, Watacho Bldg 1F (cross the North Exit plaza of JR Kiryū station, turn right on Suehiro-dori, pass between Denny's on the left and KFC on the right, then look for the next small sidestreet corner on the right), tel. 0277-46-1817. Open Tu-Su (closed M) 11:00 am to 10:00 pm. Run by two Bangladeshis and a friendly Japanese waitress in a sari, Jamuna offers five degrees of spiciness: mild, medium 1, medium 2, high, and extreme. Each curry sidedish ¥750, drinks ¥630-780, biryani rice with salad and lassi ¥1050-1250, dinner combinations ¥1600-2600, party menus ¥2000-5000.
Kawanoya Honten (川野屋本店), Naka-cho 3-9-1 (south and east from the South Exit of JR Kiryū station), tel. 0277-44-5630. Open daily 11:30 am to 7:00 pm. Specializes in handmade udon noodles. Sesame-sauce cold noodles ¥600.
Miyajima-iori Honten (宮島庵本店), Guzen-cho 2-7-31 (across the street on the south side of Jōmō Nishi Kiryū station, which is just two blocks north of JR Kiryū station), tel. 0277-22-3680. Open W-M (closed Tu) 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. Udon shop. Chikara udon ¥680.
Shitamiya Honten (志多美屋本店), Hamamatsu-cho 1-1-1 (walk about 3 blocks south of JR Kiryū station, then go left on Columbus Street, lined with dogwoods and azalea bushes, for about 6 blocks, past a small park and big school on the right, then look for the yellow-walled restaurant across a large sunken parking lot), tel. 0277-44-4693. Open Sa-Th (closed F & every 3rd Th) 11:30 am to 2:00 pm, 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. This is the place to try the local favorite, sauced pork cutlet over rice (ソースカツ丼). Put your name on the waiting list. It's a popular place. Former sumo wrestler and now traveling gourmet Mainoumi has eaten there. A generous helping of cutlet donburi with miso soup, salad, and pickles is ¥830 for 4 pieces, ¥1050 for 6 (slightly more if you want the teishoku with rice separate from the cutlet).
Uotami (魚民 'fish nation'), Hon-cho 5-52, Takeuchi Bldg 1-2F (on the east side of Hon-cho-dori, half a block from Suehiro-dori, which runs past the north exit of JR Kiryu station), tel. 0277-47-0388, . Open daily 5:00 to 10:00 pm. A large Japanese-style izakaya with a wide range of seafood and other snacks to go with an equally wide range of drinks, including regional sakes. Extensive picture menus for both food and drink, but not much English. Small bottles of sake run about ¥500 to ¥800, snacks start from about ¥250, with many choices in the range of ¥350–650.
Global Lounge (American Style Bar) 3-5 Suehiro-cho, Kiryu (Opposite NOVA one block west from the North exit of JR Kiryu Station), Tel 0277-47-1888, Email jason@Globallounge1.com, Open Weekdays 10am-12am, Friday and Saturday 10am-2am, Sunday 10am-12am, CLOSED Mondays. An 'English Fusion' bar run and owned by an Korean-American who was previously an English teacher in Kiryu. It has a lively atmosphere with many Japanese- and English-speaking regular customers. English ability is a must for all staff members but both Japanese and English flow freely within the bar. American-style food (around 650-1100yen a dish) and a wide variety of drinks from many different countries are available. Eikaiwa (English conversation classes) and English lessons are taught during the day, before the nighttime fun begins. Daily special offers avaible, email for more details.
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