I asked a few Japanese friends what came to mind when they thought of Karuizawa. Everyone had the same reaction:
I only found out about Karuizawa recently, actually. After the summer holidays, a colleague told me about his great trip there with his ‘well-off’ friends! Curious to see this resort for myself, I made it the destination for the second day of my two-day trip. After a day exploring the town of Matsumoto, I jumped on the train and made my way around the mountain range to Karuizawa.
The town lies about an hour’s train ride from Tokyo (via bullet train). It’s roughly divided into five different areas, with plenty to do in each – camping, swimming, fishing, birdwatching, playing golf or tennis, horseback riding, hiking and lots more. It’s all about being able to relax and enjoy being surrounded by nature! And at 1,000m above sea level, this cool mountain town makes for the perfect getaway during hot July and August.
For those less ‘outdoors’ inclined, Karuizawa is also home to lots of boutique stores, gourmet restaurants and one of the biggest brand outlet shopping malls in Japan, the Prince Shopping Plaza. This massive, and very beautiful I might add, mall sits on a 26-hectare lot complete with a lake and gardens. With about 240 shops, I was hoping to snag a bargain, but alas even outlet items are still far beyond my reach. It was nice to dream though!
Karuizawa is not just any old summer resort. It is also known as a playground for the rich and famous. Since the late 1800s, the town has been frequented by the Imperial family, prime ministers, sportspeople, actors, musicians, writers and poets. Many wealthy Tokyoites have second houses here (like my colleague’s friend). Over half of the homes in the area are used only as holiday houses! In the summer, so many people migrate here that the population of the town increases tenfold!
Despite the allure of shopping malls and mansions, it was a walk through the woods that really captivated me. The air was so pure, so cool, so fresh! I just wanted to stand there and breathe it all in. From the bus stop, the walk up to Shiraito Falls is a short 5 minute one. But once you get there, it’s hard to leave! The waterfall naturally comes out from the rocks, although I did read that the rocks have been altered in some way to help the whole ‘curtain’ look. Still, it is impressive.
I can definitely understand why thousands of people flock here in the summer. Luxury meets tranquility. It’s a beautiful place and has made me see Japan in a new light. I had no idea such a resort existed! So Japan is not all about ‘work work work’, but they do enjoy a dash of ‘play’!