Rising 3,280 feet above sea level, the resort town of Karuizawa in the highlands of the Nagano Prefecture is the perfect destination to escape the heat and humidity that plagues Japan during the summer months. Easily accessible via the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station and with average summer temperatures hovering around 77°F, Karuizawa is the preferred destination of many of Japan’s affluent, who own summer homes here. Even John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent time here in the 1970s!
Located at the foot of the active volcano, Mount Asama, Karuizawa offers cool, fresh mountain air and stunning views. The town was first discovered and promoted as a mountain resort by Westerners living in Japan in the late 1800s. Today, what was once considered an upscale resort town for the rich and famous, is easily accessible and can be enjoyed by everyone. Certainly, the exclusive hotels and elegant second houses of the rich are still here, but the town also has a relaxed and casual atmosphere and is a joy to explore either on foot or by bicycle.
The main shopping street is known as Ginza-dori (the old Karuizawa Street/ Kyu-Karuizawa) and is located about half a mile north of the train station. The street is lined with cafes, restaurants, interesting souvenir shops and food stalls. The street is known as Ginza-dori because branches of stores from Tokyo’s famous Ginza district open here during the summer months. It would not come as a surprise to find a fur coat featured in the window of one of these stores for ¥5,000,000! Also on this street, you will find a little bakery called France Bakery. It is a must see for any Beatles fan, as this is the bakery John Lennon frequented. Karuizawa is also famous for its food, especially its local fruit jams and honey. Definitely check out the famous croquettes and the local European style sausages while you are here.
There is also a sprawling outlet mall called, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza near the train station (south exit side), where you can indulge in some retail therapy in any one of the 200 shops and restaurants. The surrounding area includes camp grounds, hiking trails, horseback riding trails, golf courses and tennis courts and is perfect for those who love the great outdoors.
Japan’s version of Germany’s Romantic Road stretches over 217 miles from Ueda City in Nagano Prefecture through the mountains of Gunma Prefecture to Utsunomiya City in Tochigi Prefecture. Karuizawa is located along Japan’s Romantic Road and is a nice place to enjoy the autumn colors around mid-October to early November each year.
Naka-Karuizawa is the secondary town center and although it has fewer shops and restaurants than Kyu-Karuizawa, it contains several other interesting sites. In particular, Harunire Terrace, a trendy, upscale shopping and dining area built on a wooden terrace and surrounded by a forest. It features an array of restaurants and boutiques, housed in attractive rows of shops with wooden facades. But please take note that Harunire Terrace can get quite crowded during meal times, especially during the weekends. There are also several museums and parks with additional recreational spaces to take advantage of.
Shiraito Waterfall, which literally means “the waterfall of white threads,” measures 9 feet high and 229 feet wide. It is located in the forests north of downtown Karuizawa and is a popular sightseeing spot. John Lennon, Yoko Ono and their son Sean were photographed here during their stay in Karuizawa.
Although Karuizawa is a favorite summer destination for many, keep in mind that it draws visitors year round with opportunities to ski, golf, hike or just relax in the cool and calm atmosphere.