GUNMA – Herd of Horses 群馬県

GUNMA - Herd of Horses

“Gunma” is one of only four prefectural names that includes an animal (other three are Tottori, Kumamoto, and Kagoshima).

・”Gunma” likely originated from local nobility named Kuruma-mochi-no-kimi (車持公) in the 7th to 8th century. First there was the Kuruma District (車郡) in the province that would become Gunma Prefecture.

・Around 713, having two kanji characters for place names was deemed favorable, so the current Gunma kanji characters (群馬) were chosen for “Kuruma.” The kanji character for horse (馬 ma) was likely included because the district was one of Japan’s leading horse breeders, even providing the Imperial Court with horses.

・The pronunciation was officially changed from “Kuruma” to “Gunma” during the Meiji Period (late 19th c.).

・Gunma District (群馬郡) originally encompassed both Maebashi and Takasaki cities. There was major debate over locating the prefectural capital either in Maebashi or Takasaki. A compromise was reached by placing the prefectural capital in Maebashi (then in Seta District), but naming the prefecture after Gunma District where Takasaki was located.

・The English spelling has two variants: “Gunma” and “Gumma.” The former is the spelling favored by the prefecture and most local foreigners. The latter follows the Hepburn romanization system used by JR train lines and Japanese passports.

・Although the “Gumma” romanization is also officially accepted by the prefecture, the problem is that it’s also an English word for the soft, non-cancerous growth of tertiary syphilis. Oops! Mr. Hepburn likely never thought about this.

Herd of Gunma-chan horse mascot stuffed toys.

・Gunma’s official mascot is Gunma-chan (ぐんまちゃん), modeled after a horse. It celebrated its 30th birthday in Feb. 2024. Quite popular and famous. It was originally created for the National Sports Tournament for Intellectual Disabled Athletes in 1994.

・Today, Gunma does not have that many horses. Japan’s main horse-breeding area is Hokkaido where thoroughbred racehorses are bred and raised.

・Gunma used to have the Takasaki Race Course for horse racing, but it closed in 2004 after 80 years in operation. The site is now the Gunma Convention Center.

Old province name: Kouzuke-no-Kuni (上野国), also pronounced Kamitsukenu-no-Kuni, Kamitsukeno-no-Kuni, Kamitsuke-no-Kuni.

*The AI-generated image is for illustrative purposes only and may not accurately depict any particular place in the prefecture.
*Major reference sources: Official prefectural website, Japanese Wikipedia, other websites.

Origin of other prefectural names (etymologies)
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