Inimitable natural landscapes, an eclectic dining scene and cooler temperatures are just some of the things people love about Karuizawa. This resort-style area is a popular destination for faraway travelers and Tokyoites alike to flock towards for a sense of calm and some space to breathe. When planning a weekend getaway, be sure to include these six must-visit spots.
1. Shiraito Waterfall
It’s no surprise that Shiraito Waterfall is celebrated as one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls. Three meters high and 70 meters wide, the waterfall gives the appearance of a natural curtain that skirts the edge of the forest. The name “Shiraito,” which means “white threads,” is another nod towards the ethereal feel of the waterfall and refers to the way the drops of water fall like spun silk.
2. Karuizawa National Wild Bird Sanctuary Forest
It’s nature galore at Karuizawa National Wild Bird Sanctuary Forest, a conservation home to over 80 different kinds of wild birds. Nature lovers and bird aficionados will be able to wander freely through 100 hectares of open forest as they spot native Japanese birdlife such as pheasants, woodpeckers and owls plus other wildlife including deer. Guided tours are also available in Japanese with English interpreters and include a range of options depending on the season.
3. Harunire Terrace
Part of the revered Japanese hospitality group Hoshino Resorts, this location sits riverside and showcases a variety of restaurants, cafés and shops, most locally-owned. A saunter down the boardwalk is a delight, especially on a sunny day as patches of light filter through the trees, komorebi-style. Dining establishments of note along here are Cercle Wine & Deli, the Italian restaurant, Il Sogno and Sawamura, a bakery with a penchant for peddling some of the best croissants we’ve ever tasted. Also part of the terrace collective is Tombo-no-yu, a contemporary onsen featuring both indoor and outdoor baths made up of mineral-rich water.
4. Karuizawa Ginza
Located in the nearby town of Kyu-Karuizawa, Karuizawa Ginza refers to a cozy shopping street that could not be more different from the glitzy part of Tokyo of the same name. The area has a wide range of quaint cafés and quirky stores, as well as a bowling alley and an arcade. Stop by for souvenirs such as the local specialty of homemade jam and don’t forget to give the curry bun shop a visit as well.
5. Mampei Hotel
Step back in time with a visit to Mampei Hotel, a 120-year-old emblem of Karuizawa and one of the most well-known classic hotels in Japan. Formerly known as the Kameya Inn, it wasn’t until a visit from several Canadian missionaries that the owner, Mampei Sato, was inspired to take a more “Western” approach. The exterior architecture is a nod toward the style of a European lodge while the inside has a mix of traditional and retro styles. Famous former patrons include John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
6. Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
Pick up branded items at bargain prices over at Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza. This expansive shopping complex houses a variety of Japanese and International brands including designer goods, homeware, perfume and more. For a shopping mall, the area is also surprisingly scenic with several viewpoints overlooking a lake and some lush greenery. Take a breather at one of the many cafes and restaurants. You may be pleasantly surprised by the view.
Karuizawa can be reached in under 90 minutes from Tokyo via the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. For those with a bit more time to spare, there are also highway buses from Ikebukuro Station.
The real conundrum lies in getting around when you arrive in Karuizawa. While many of its attractions are easily reachable on foot from Karuizawa Station, the town itself is quite spread out with a fairly infrequent local bus network. To avoid being at the mercy of a bus schedule, we suggest driving from Tokyo. Or you can book a rental car in Karuizawa. Those feeling a little more adventurous could even rent a bicycle as their main mode of transportation.
Photos by Samantha Low
Featured image by Colin Hui via Shutterstock.com