Only 60 minutes away from Tokyo, Karuizawa is an international highland resort that stays cool even during the summer. Its atmospheric shopping streets, museums and cafes are surrounded by lush forests and mountains. Take in the fresh air of the countryside while shopping or dining, cycling through wooded streets, or visiting tranquil ponds and waterfalls.
The History of Karuizawa
For centuries, Karuizawa has been connected to Tokyo by the Nakasendo Trail. Travelers would often stay at one of the two post towns here, Oiwake-juku and Karuizawa-juku, on their journey between the capital and the city of Kyoto.
While the trail eventually fell into disuse, the area itself was rediscovered in the late 1800s as an escape from the sweltering heat of the city. Influential members of Tokyo society began building villas around Karuizawa, and before long it became the international resort it is known as today.
The man credited with popularizing the area was a Canadian missionary, Alexander Croft Shaw. A church dedicated to him can be found at the end of the Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street, with his Karuizawa home located behind it.
Where to Go in Karuizawa
The Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
Directly outside of Karuizawa Station, you’ll find the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza. Adjacent are the Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort and Karuizawa Prince Hotel. From the station, buses connect you to the other main areas of Karuizawa: Kyu-Karuizawa and Naka-Karuizawa.
The Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is one of the main destinations for visitors in Karuizawa. It has over 220 outlet shops in a tranquil natural setting. Centered around a large grassy lawn and pond, the plaza is a great place for shopping or just relaxing in the outdoors.
The Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort is right next to the shopping center and is open for the winter season from November to the end of March.
Kyu-Karuizawa’s Shopping and Sightseeing
In Kyu-Karuizawa is Karuizawa’s former main street, which runs along the old Nakasendo Trail. Many bakeries, cafes and souvenir shops line the street leading up towards Usui Pass. Notable buildings here include the Shaw Memorial Chapel, built in honor of Alexander Croft Shaw, the Kyu-Mikasa Hotel, one of the oldest standing western style hotels in Japan, and the Manpei Hotel, often frequented by John Lenin during his stays in Karuizawa.
Naka-Karuizawa lies in the woods to the west of Karuizawa Station. Along the Yugawa River here, you’ll find Hoshino Resort, the Harunire Terrace, the Keraike Skating Rink, several hot springs, and the Picchio outdoor center. Architecture buffs will also enjoy the Stone Church.
There’s more to see in Karuizawa beyond the town itself.
Shiraito Falls is one of Karuizawa’s main symbols. While the falls are only 3 meters tall, they span an arch of 70 meters across. Groundwater spills over the arch in delicate, silky strands. Verdant greenery surrounds the falls, and in autumn the leaves turn brilliant shades of orange.
The falls are 20 minutes by bus from Karuizawa Station.
Komoro Castle Ruins Park
In the neighboring town of Komoro is Komoro Castle Ruins Park. While the castle itself is gone, its labyrinthian stone walls remain. In spring, cherry blossoms bloom around the park, and in autumn, the surrounding woods show exquisite fiery colors.
An otherworldly landscape of lava rock at the base of Mt. Asama, the result of a volcanic eruption here hundreds of years ago. Small patches of hardy green shrubbery have taken hold among the pumice here like natural bonsai trees. In the middle of the park is a crimson and white temple, dedicated to appeasing the volcano's wrath.
Onioshidashien Park is 40 minutes away from Karuizawa Station by bus.
How to Get to Karuizawa
By Train and Bus
The easiest way to get to Karuizawa from Tokyo is to take the Hokuriku Shinkansen train from Tokyo Station. The train reaches Karuizawa Station in just 60 to 70 minutes.
Express buses are available from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations to Karuizawa Station, taking about 3 hours.
It takes about 2.5 hours to drive to Karuizawa from Tokyo by car (depending on traffic). The closest exit is the Usui Karuizawa IC exit on the Joshin'etsu Expressway, about 35 minutes away from Karuizawa Station.