The old roads and Ryokans:
Uncovering more history in Karuizawa
Karuizawa is literally caked in history. And, with every shop, church and street having its own unique background, you’ll be hard pressed to find something that doesn’t capture your interest.
Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street
This is perhaps the best known and, maybe my favourite, street in Karuizawa, for a few good reasons. Firstly, nostalgia. While being named Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street, the street actually contains some ridiculously modern looking structures in and amongst the old relics. ‘Church street’ for example, looks almost exactly like a miniature version of a modern shopping center I’d find in England; likewise, for some of those upmarket outdoor wear stores that I was drawn to. Second is the food. I love snacks, sweets and trying new and interesting flavours and I could do it all in Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street. From the largest array of homemade jams and jam stores I’ve witnessed, to the satisfying crunch of curry pan (essentially a curry filled savoury doughnut), you can taste them all, or sample some for free. Lastly are those interesting little Japanese, traditional craft stores. You could spend hours just looking at interesting trinkets, the likes of which can’t often be found in Tokyo.
Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street is not only a mix of the old and the new, it’s also home to a blend of cultures, all in the relaxed environment of a quiet, local town. It really is something quite special, and should I have the chance, I’d visit again without hesitation.
Staying amongst the history: Aburaya
Aburaya is a comfortable ryokan stay with historical relevance. The front entrance was a hive of activity, with people looking around, sitting and talking by the fire or browsing through trinkets. This was far from some of the quieter, practically deserted, country ryokans I’ve stayed in before.
Also a culture center
Turns out, the first floor of this Ryokan was in fact a culture center, featuring works of art, vintage records, an array of books and other items waiting to be explored. There’s no way one could be bored staying here.
The guest rooms were all located upstairs, lining a corridor filled with some beautiful artistic pieces. The room held the kind of creeks, beams and unique Japanese features that signified a room with character. It was simple, but had beautiful natural views from the windows, screen doors and other comforts such as a heater, plug sockets and tables, not to mention a yukata, towels and even a hand fan.
The facilities were the biggest highlight for me. Taking a stroll to the bathroom, I found a fridge full of beer, wine and soft drinks which, if you put money into the box, you can simply take. This honor system was used throughout the ryokan for things from tooth brushes, shavers and towels to coffees, teas and even cup noodles. Considering I couldn’t even locate the nearest convenience store, this was one of the greatest amenities one could have hoped for.
Aburaya is situated on the popular street that connected Edo (modern day Tokyo) to Kyoto. This street, named Oiwakejuku, is part of the Nakasendo highway and was actually the preferred route to Kyoto as it avoided having to pass difficult rivers. As a result, this old post town area began providing rest and entertainment for those travelling through.
Famous visitors and creepy statues
Aburaya itself has housed many famous individuals, even including a Daimyo; powerful Japanese lords who ruled most of Japan (until their decline in Meiji period) because of their vast land holdings. Other old school celebrities include the Japanese translator of Sherlock Holmes, who stayed and worked in this Ryokan and whose presence will be remembered through the Sherlock Holmes statue erected in his honor. The statue has since become a somewhat famous site for visitors, being featured on post cards and in travel guides. I found the experience fairly haunting myself, since the statue is so incredibly life like, and the atmosphere was so intensely spooky. But getting creeped out is a pretty good experience in itself I think and I couldn’t miss out on seeing it, since this kind of Holmes statue can only be found in around 3 or 4 other places in the world (including England, of course).
Oiwakejuku: street vibes and honest locals
The street itself was a delight to walk down. It was remarkably clean and well kept, and lined with beautiful trees, the colours of Autumn and interesting houses, Ryokans and cafés. What I found the most interesting though, were these small, post box-like shelves, which housed a few small books each. They were not locked and it seemed that you could just take a book, read it and return it when you’d finished. I found the whole concept endearing, heart-warming and special. I only wish it could be implemented further around the world.
It seems like every new area in Karuizawa comes with its own history and new, fresh atmosphere. Explore all of Karuizawa and discover the feeling for yourself.