Karuizawa 軽井沢 is a highland town in the eastern part of Nagano Prefecture. For years, it has been a favourite destination among visitors, both domestic and international, for a weekend getaway or a day trip from Tokyo.
In summer, Karuizawa is a popular retreat to escape the heat and humidity in Tokyo, as the town is just over an hour away from the metropolis by the Shinkansen bullet train. Located on an elevated plain at the foot of Mt. Asama, the summers in Karuizawa are comparatively less humid and the average highs are merely 25 degree Celsius.
After the Kyu Karuizawa Ginza, Kumoba Pond, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, Former Mikasa Hotel, and Shiraito Falls in the part.1 of this article, let’s continue to look at the other 5 famous sights of Karuizawa in this part.2 article!
- Karuizawa Hoshino Area 軽井沢星野エリア
Image: fto mizno on flickr / CC BY 2.0
Nestled in the forests and surrounded by a river, this elegant resort area of Hoshinoya Karuizawa is encompassing of Harunire Terrace, a shopping and dining area set on a wooden terrace; Sonmin Shokudo, a restaurant serving up meals using seasonal ingredients, and Tonbo-no-Yu, an onsen with open air and indoor baths that also open to visitors. Easily reachable by a free shuttle bus, the area is worth a visit for its natural setting, and for a relaxing walk filled with the soothing sounds of flowing streams and birds’ chirping.
Access: from Karuizawa Station or Naka Karuizawa Station, take the free shuttle bus to the Hoshino area. Otherwise, take a Seibu Kogen bus from these stations to the “Hoshino Onsen Tonbu-no-Yu” 星野温泉トンボの湯 stop and walk for 1 minute.
- Usui Pass Lookout 碓氷峠見晴台
Kumano Kotai Shrine
Usui Pass is a mountain pass that straddles between Nagano and Gunma Prefectures. At 1,200 metres above sea level, the lookout point offers amazing views of Mt. Asama, the Yatsugatake mountain range, and the Southern Alps. Also in the area is Kumano Kotai Shrine 熊野皇大神社, which has its main hall interestingly sitting right on the Nagano-Gunma border, and the other two buildings each stands on the Nagano side and Gunma side respectively.
Access: about 15 minutes by car from Karuizawa Station, then walk for 3 minutes. There is also bus service to the area during specific seasons, which you can check out at the tourist information centre in Karuizawa Station.
Website: http://www.geocities.jp/kumanokoutai/index.html (Kumano Kotai Shrine)
- Onioshidashi Park 鬼押出し園
Image: bizmac on flickr / CC BY 2.0
A natural park with unique rugged volcanic rock formations created from a major eruption of Mt. Asama in 1783. The park is located within Gunma Prefecture but is often visited as part of a trip to Karuizawa. Also contribute to the park’s spectacular sight are the towering Mt. Asama and the vast open plains below. In the middle of the park is a Buddhist Kannon temple from which you can enjoy stunning views over the surroundings, a nice stopover as you wander around the park.
Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM (last entry at 4:30 PM)
Admission: 650 yen
Access: take a bus from Karuizawa Station (40 minute ride) or Naka Karuizawa station (30 minute ride) to “Onioshidashi-en” 鬼押出し園 stop.
Shaw Memorial Chapel
Karuizawa also boasts several churches and wedding chapels, such as St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Shaw Memorial Chapel in Kyu Karuizawa, as well as Stone Church and Kogen Church in Hoshino Area, which are a testament to the town’s past as a popular summer retreat for foreign missionaries living in Tokyo. Particularly, the Summer Candle Night held by Kogen Church is one of the events not to be missed when visiting Karuizawa in summer. These churches are open to the public except when a wedding ceremony is being held.
Finally, the selection of museums in Karuizawa is impressive, making it a destination not just for nature and shopping but also for museum hopping. Among the notable ones include the Museum of Contemporary Art Karuizawa, Karuizawa New Art Museum, Sezon Museum of Modern Art for the fans of modern and contemporary art; Hiroshi Senju Museum which demonstrates terrific union between architecture and Nihonga (Japanese paintings); Karuizawa Picture Book Museum and Erzgebirge Toys Museum for children and those young at heart, and many more.
Enjoying summer in Karuizawa
Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa
Karuizawa can get very busy during the summer season, meaning the traffic to and around the town can get heavy, and the accommodation can be more expensive too.
If you don’t drive, I would recommend using the JR Tokyo Wide Pass which allows unlimited use of JR trains in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto area for 3 consecutive days. The pass costs 10,000 yen and is available exclusively for non-Japanese passport holders.
With a ticket from Tokyo to Karuizawa that costs about 5,500 yen one way, it already pays off when you make a round trip between Tokyo and Karuizawa using the pass. Moreover, Tokyo definitely has more accommodation options that suit every budget!
JR Tokyo Wide Pass > https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/tokyowidepass/
Once you are in Karuizawa, bus is the most common way to get around, though the services are rather infrequent. The schedules of buses frequently used by visitors can be found on this page:
Cycling is also a good way to explore Karuizawa, but do note that the town has many steep roads here and there. You can find bicycle rental shops near Karuizawa Station and Naka Karuizawa Station. As for sightseeing spots that are less accessible by public transportation, taxi or rental car would be a more convenient option.
Lastly, have a light jacket or a cardigan ready even when you are visiting Karuizawa in summer because it still gets chilly in the evenings.
With crisp air, cool breeze, a number of natural sights and attractions, it is no doubt Karuizawa is a wonderful place to go in the hot summer months. If you are visiting Japan in the summer, do consider including this chic mountain resort in your travel itinerary!