Easy access to historical relaxation
Spectacular art, exquisite nature and strong historical vibes; Karuizawa has it all.
You’d be hard pressed to find a destination as unique and as close to Tokyo as this. And, with the interesting local cuisine, relaxing atmosphere, beautiful nature and an activity to match pretty much any interest, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about this place sooner.
Just one train?!
That’s right. Karuizawa is just a single Shinkansen ride away from Tokyo station, via the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen Hakutaka No. 553 Bound for Kanazawa. The warm comforts of travelling via Shinkansen will cost you just ￥5,390, or a little extra if you want to secure yourself a seat. As if this journey could get any simpler and more convenient, you can also use a JR Pass. With no need to change or wait for trains and complete with plug sockets, reclining seats, tray tables and copious amounts of leg room, the journey is not only easy and stress free, but also at the height of comfort and relaxation.
Where should I stay?
For the most historical, relaxing and interesting experience, you simply have to stay in a Ryokan. And, what could be better than the unique fusion of culture and guest house created at Aburaya? Explore the relics of times gone past, the trinkets, the art and the culture on the ground floor, then wander upstairs to your traditional Japanese-styled room, the likes of which probably hasn’t changed much since they hosted a Daimyo (old Japanese lords, who used to run Japan due to their vast land wealth in the Meiji period), and the writer who translated Sherlock Holmes into Japanese.
An Old Ryokan on an Old street
Not only is this Ryokan historical in itself, complete with the beams and creaks characteristic of a relic of old, the street it’s situated on, named Oiwakejuku, also holds great significance in time. Oiwakejuku was and is still part of the Nakasendo highway; one of the more popular routes connecting Edo (modern day Tokyo) and Kyoto, since it didn’t involve crossing any difficult rivers. It’s beautifully paved streets are lined with archaic architecture, amazing autumn leaves, cafes and even little book shelves at the bus stops! Take a stroll through time, and reminisce about the past.
Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street
Once again part of the passage between Edo and Kyoto, but with a completely different vibe, is Ginza street. Now lined with shops combining a range of retro, modern, western and Japanese styles, it is a combination of cultures the likes of which would be hard to find anywhere else in Japan.
This is all down to the historical mark a Canadian missionary, Alexander Croft Shaw, made on this town in 1885. After visiting, he would brag about its fantastic nature and climate to others, resulting in an influx of western visitors. Such visitors brought with them aspects of their own cuisine, architecture, goods and churches, the likes of which can still be found today. Look out for the Jam stores on this street, making use of the original recipes handed down to them from visiting westerners, and have a taste!
Unique Snacks await!
Karuizawa seems to be one of the greatest places to try new food, snacks and sweets; ranging for the bizarre, bright green wasabi buns to the sweetness of a pudding filled dorayaki (Japanese pancake). But aside from the vast snacks available up and town Old Ginza street, hearty, family prepared meals await you just a short train ride away.
Hearty, homemade meals and fancy restaurants
If you want something authentically Japanese, you can’t beat the freshness at Kagimotoya. Watch the soba noodles be transformed from a grey, wet, clay-like ball into the luscious, smooth noodles that are brought to your table. You can even watch people in the kitchen dipping and frying seasonal tempura before plating them and taking them straight to the table. You can’t get much fresher than this. Complete with a hearty supply of soba dipping sauce, warming miso soup (called Kenchin Jiru), pickled vegetables and the soba, topped with satisfying dried seaweed, this is a meal worth waiting for. And, as an added perk, you’re even sent on your way with a bag of deep fried soba as a snack for later.
If you’re after a fancier atmosphere, you can’t beat Sonmin Shokudo, part of the Hoshino group. With delicately prepared food, a small book of different wines, craft beers and cocktails, and the kind of attentive staff you only need to nod at to bring to your table, this is the kind of place you could easily spend a good few hours at. And, with a rather famous Onsen just next door, this could turn into one of the most relaxing evenings you’ve ever had.
If the weather is cooperative, there’s no better way to get around than by bicycle. With many different cycling routes, maps, bike choices and the added bonus of the staff taking care of your luggage as you cycle, you can enjoy the richness of the surrounding nature with no stress at all. From famous nature spots to historical streets to outlet stores, you can experience it all with plenty of time to spare. Simply hop on your bike and stop where ever you like.
I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the beauty of Karuizawa. Complete with some of the best art museums I’ve ever witnessed, culinary delights, nature, outdoor activities, hikes, mountains, onsens and even extreme sports, Karuizawa seems to be the perfect get away from the madness of Tokyo. For more information visit the Karuizawa tourist association website http://www.kita-karuizawa.jp. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.