Karuizawa is a mountain resort situated on a high plateau at an altitude of 900 to 1,000m, located on the eastern edge of Nagano Prefecture on the border with Gunma Prefecture. Mt. Asama, towering above and known as a symbol of the town, is a representative active volcano of Japan that had kept erupting almost every year until Showa 40s (1960s to 1970s). As a result of these eruptions, it has produced very rare scenic beauty of miraculous rock formations, such as nearby Oni-oshi-dashi, a volcanic stone magma park. Karuizawa can be accessed easily from Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train).
Spring Spring is slow to arrive in this mountainous region. Buds start to appear on the trees from about mid-May and gradually the region is covered with verdure toward June. Many different species of flowers grow here, and coupled with the magnificent view of Mt. Asama with lingering snow, this is known as the most beautiful of Karuizawa’s four seasons. Summer Karuizawa offers a cool climate and for that reason has long been, literally, a summer retreat to which city dwellers come to escape the heat and humidity of Japan’s summer. Autumn The trees turn a blaze of color around mid-October. Visitors can enjoy successive days of pleasant weather with cloudless autumn skies and clear air. Winter The first snow flurries appear in Karuizawa toward the end of November. After the New Year, the buildings and trees are dusted with snow, hoarfrost forms and nature shows us a different face from other seasons. Many people make Karuizawa their base camp for enjoying winter sports during this season.
The average temperature in Karuizawa is approx. 9°C (48°F) throughout the year, earning it a reputation as a cool climate perfectly suited to a summer retreat. In summer, although there can be days when the heat reaches 30°C (86°F), the average temperature stays around 20°C (68°F). Thus, even in mid-summer, the environment is relatively cool. Conversely, winter brings harsh, cold weather and sometimes it can be as cold as 15 °C below zero (5°F). Karuizawa is known for its foggy environment – the town is shrouded in fog for more than 100 days a year!
Karuizawa was a bustling post town during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), yet it is difficult to find remnants in the area today, with the exception of the Oiwake post town district. In 1886 Alexander Croft Shaw, a Canadian-born Anglican Church missionary, visited Karuizawa and was so impressed with the magnificent natural environment, that praised the town as “a hospital without a roof” and spread the word among his acquaintances. Thereafter, summer residences of politicians or business elites and hotels were built in Karuizawa, and it gradually established its reputation as a spot for health and recreation amidst nature. Today, Karuizawa is known as venue for resort meetings, having hosted numerous international meetings, including the G7 Transport Ministers’ Meeting in 2016.
Karuizawa has developed as a summer retreat for domestic and foreign people due to its climate and mountain location. Since its start as a summer resort, tennis and golf have been played as popular sports activities in Karuizawa. Today, various sports including ice skating and curling are enjoyed throughout the year. In fact, Karuizawa was the site of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics’ curling competition.
6. Sightseeing spots around Karuizawa
Shiraitonotaki Falls The sight of the abundant ground water flowing down over rock cliffs at 3m high and 70m wide looks just like hundreds of delicate white strings, the name of the falls. Fill your senses with the negative ions created by the pure water and forest. Kumobaike Pond This pond’s nickname is “Swan Lake,” and the placid water surrounded by the lush greenery under the clear blue sky of early summer is an indescribably beautiful sight. Equally impressive is the reflection of the vivid autumn foliage on the pond. Visitors can enjoy a 10-20-minute walk along the walking path that encircles Kumobaike Pond. Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church Alexander Croft Shaw, the Anglican Church missionary who brought the development of Karuizawa as an international summer retreat, built this chapel here in 1895. This is the oldest church in Karuizawa. Former Mikasa Hotel The original Mikasa Hotel was the purely western-style wooden hotel designed and constructed by the Japanese at the end of the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912). The façade remains much the same today, evoking the visage of those who founded modern Japan in the early 1900s. The building was designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government in May, 1980.