25 Must-See Tourist Spots in the Resort Town of Karuizawa
Ever wondered where Tokyo residents spend their holidays? Here's an answer for you. Accessible in around 1 hour by bullet train from Tokyo, Karuizawa is a popular resort town at the foot of an active volcano called Mt. Asama (Asama-yama), in Nagano Prefecture. With waterfalls, hiking trails, lush forests, churches, shopping areas, interesting architecture, and more, the area offers plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages, and it's beautiful all year long! Here is a roundup of the best 25 spots to visit.
Feb 26 2019 (Mar 24 2020)
1. Kumoba Pond [Roppontsuji]
To start things off, take a stroll on the promenade around Kumoba Pond (Kumoba-ike). It will take you around 20 minutes. As you may have already guessed, this small lake reaches its peak beauty in fall, when the red and yellow leaves double up with their reflection on the water surface. This gorgeous view will make the perfect cover for your Karuizawa travel photobook!
2. Shiraito Falls [Kose]
Due to the resemblance with a sequence of thin white threads dangling from the rocks, there are several waterfalls named "Shiraito" ("white thread" in Japanese) throughout Japan. Although, very few of them are as welcomingly large, beautifully arched, and easy to access as these ones in Karuizawa! Stretching out for 70m and gushing out of 3m-tall bare rocks, these waterfalls offer a different view each time of the year, so whenever you visit Karuizawa, save some time to see them!
3. Regina Resort Kyukaruizawa [Kyu-Karuizawa]
You will naturally want to stay in a top-notch hotel when surrounded by the stunning nature scenery of Karuizawa. One recommended spot to spend the night is Regina Resort Kyukaruizawa, which is located in a tranquil vacation resort area that is quite popular among Japanese locals and allows visitors to spend a blissful time admiring the natural beauty of Karuizawa that changes with the seasons.
It’s in a prime location as it is just 10 minutes on foot from Kumoba Pond, a famous Karuizawa sightseeing spot prized for its stunning scenery of a pond surrounded by trees, as well as within walking distance of Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza, a shopping street that retains the nostalgic look of the past and is packed with eateries making use of local ingredients, souvenir shops, knickknack shops, and fashion boutiques.
The hotel is surrounded by an environment that lets you enjoy to the fullest the temperate climate and serene nature of Karuizawa, and the guest rooms are calming spaces imbued with the scent of wood. Furthermore, there are many 40 – 85 sq.m. rooms outfitted with stylish furniture, including a bed, sofa, and desk, which will let you relax in the room as if you are at home.
A special limited-time accommodation plan will be available only on the following dates! This is a popular hotel, so try to book as soon as you can.
Jan. 26 (Sun) – Feb. 7 (Fri), 2020 (13 days)
Feb. 24 (Mon) – 28 (Fri), 2020 (5 days)
If you'd rather compare and contrast multiple hotel options before deciding on the right one, check out our longer list of Karuizawa hotel recommendations here:
4. Former Usuitouge View Point [Toge-machi]
Grab your camera and go take a panoramic shot from Former Usuitouge View Point (Kyu Usui-toge Miharashidai), located at the border between Nagano and Gunma. Whether you take the bus or climb up there, for sunrise or sunset, the view of all those mountaintops, among which Mt. Asama and the Yatsugatake volcanic group, will leave you absolutely breathless!
5. Sengataki Fall [Nagakura]
Ever heard of "shinrin-yoku"? Recently trending on the web, this expression literally translates to "bathing in the forest", meant as a form of nature therapy. If you feel like trying that, head to Sengataki Fall (Sengataki), whose 20m make it the tallest drop waterfall in Karuizawa. Enjoy a light hike in the valley surrounded by water streams and vibrant ferns, through which blows a pleasant fresh wind.
6. Karuizawa Lake Garden [Nagakura]
Surrounded by a freshwater lake, this is a huge natural garden comprising 8 different areas and a whole lot of beautiful flowers and plants! In particular, head there in June to admire its many roses in full bloom, but know that the garden has so many species that it's beautiful and unique every other time of the year!
Among the various bridges, footpaths and facilities, make sure you stop by the Brasserie Nakagawa for a lunch break (reservation strongly recommended), or at one of the shops to buy some flower-related goods and souvenirs, or even some seedlings.
7. Karuizawa Yacho no Mori [Nagakura]
If you're after a place for wildlife encounters and bird-watching, Yacho no Mori (literally "wild birds' forest") is strongly recommended. There you can take a 2.5km hike through mountain streams, swamps, larches and acorns, with birds chirping as your background music.
If you want to fully experience the forest and its fauna, everyone recommends booking a guided tour, especially for safety reasons. In fact, among the wild animals you may bump into, many visitors reported feeling the presence or even actually coming across moon bears (white-chested black bears native to Asia)! Exciting as it may sound, you may want to carry a bell to keep them at a distance. Birdwatching hot tip: grab binoculars and go in winter, when the bare trees will allow you to spot the birds more easily!
8. Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church [Hoshino]
A jaw-dropping architectural wonder nestled in Karuizawa's vibrant nature. Composed by an alternate sequence of stone and glass arches of increasing size, through which the sunlight creates a solemn atmosphere, this uniquely designed structure will go down in history as a rare example of organic architecture, a building style that prioritizes balance with the surrounding nature. It's the perfect venue for weddings and other ceremonies, although the church has no religious symbols like crosses or altars. Kanzo Uchimura was a Japanese Christian philosopher and this place was dedicated to him by American architect Kendrick Kellogg.
9. Karuizawa Kogen Church [Nagakura]
Another marvellous church in Karuizawa surrounded by nature. Here, your Christian ceremony can be made even more unique and evocative thanks to a phenomenon known as "komorebi", which refers to when the sunlight filters through the trees creating a warm and soothing atmosphere.
Ceremonies are also enriched by live performances of organ and harp! According to the season, you'll find interesting events all year long, like a koyo (autumn leaves) light-up in fall, or the Candles Night on Christmas.
10. St. Paul's Catholic Church [Karuizawa]
This small wooden church in the old town was established in 1935 by a British priest and belongs to the Catholic Diocese of Yokohama. Designed by the architect Antonin Raymond, it has the typical triangular roof of chapels and churches of the Alps. Take a peek inside and you'll be amazed at the peaceful and warm atmosphere given by the wood interiors! If you're lucky enough, you may even witness a beautiful wedding.
11. Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church [Karuizawa]
Keeping with the church theme, another one you shouldn't miss is the Shaw Memorial, which is an Anglican Church of the Diocese of Chubu. It sits in a tranquil grove of verdant trees you can get to through the lively Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza-Dori (Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street). The church was established in 1895 by Alexander Croft Shaw, a minister of the Anglican Church of Canada, and other than a statue of him, the premises also include his residence. The cozy wooden interiors and the crypt's stained-glass portraying sceneries of Karuizawa are just lovely!
If you find this series of Western-style churches in Japan fascinating and are looking for more, another possible destination is Nagasaki. Check out our intro article here:
12. Kumano Kotai Shrine [Toge-machi]
Should all those churches make you forget you're in an Asian country, get back in the Japanese mood by visiting this unique shrine. Located at 1,200m above sea level, on top of the Usui Pass, and embedded in Karuizawa's lush nature, what makes Kumano Kotai Shrine (Kumano Kotai Jinja) unusual, is that its premises are half Nagano and half Gunma Prefecture. Therefore, there are 2 priests with their own separate offices. There are also separate matsuri (festivals) for each prefecture. Combine your tour with a walk to the aforementioned Former Usuitouge View Point!
13. The Former Mikasa Hotel [Karuizawa]
Buildings like these are not something you see every day in Japan! That's why this lovely wooden structure, which used to be a hotel, was designated Important Cultural Property. Despite its pure western architectural style, it was entirely designed and built by Japanese hands in the late Meiji Era (1868 - 1912).
Both the outside and the interiors have the elegant traits of hotels of that period, with a lot of details thought to best suit the westerners' taste, as it was meant to house mainly foreign guests. Also ideal on a rainy day, the hotel can even be visited with a convenient ticket that combines with other attractions in Karuizawa.
14. Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza [Karuizawa]
Time for some shopping! This huge outlet area offers a large variety of brands that could keep you busy a whole day, or even 2. In fact, this is so much more than just a shopping center! First of all, the facilities are all new and fancy, scattered around a large area with a nice green lawn and a lake. Other than an extensive food court, with restaurants and cafes of all kinds, there's also a spa and other services exclusively for pets! Plus, it's super easy to access by train or bus!
15. Harunire Terrace [Hoshino]
One of the main attractions of Hoshino area is a wooden deck built in the middle of a forest of over 100 Japanese elms ("harunire") growing wild by the stream. Get some fresh air by strolling around 15 modern-style facilities, including a gallery, stylish restaurants, and shops!
During the cold season, it gets even more magical with the Christmas decorations and the large skating rink created by the frozen pond nearby. Stay after sunset and you may get to admire a stunning illumination of the terrace as well! Any season you go, note that it gets crowded in the weekend and the parking lots are limited, but it's definitely worth a shot!
16. Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street [Karuizawa]
The old town of Karuizawa is best represented by this lovely shopping area known as Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street. A lineup of historical shops and delicious restaurants makes the perfect destination for an afternoon stroll, as well as some souvenir shopping! Visited by millions of tourists every year, this is a key spot if you're interested in Karuizawa's past, both in terms of lifestyle and architecture.
17. Church Street Karuizawa [Karuizawa]
Despite its somewhat misleading name, Church Street is simply another shopping arcade. It owes its name to the fact that it leads to St. Paul, the most important church in Karuizawa, so it's recommended for a coffee or shopping break on your way to/from the church. It's a nice way to experience the contrast between the sacred and the non-sacred sides of Karuizawa. The 2-storied arcade hosts around 20 different stores selling food, fashion and miscellaneous goods.
18. Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa [Nagakura]
Another great idea if the weather doesn't cooperate: museums! In case you're not familiar with him, Hiroshi Senju is a world-famous Japanese artist, and he designed this museum himself in collaboration with the architect Ryue Nishizawa as a representation of the harmony between art and nature in Karuizawa.
The bright and white-themed building runs along beautiful gardens with its sinuous glass walls creating a soul-soothing footpath, along which you can admire the greenery on one side and Senju's artworks on another. Do sit on the wavy sofas and take your time to contemplate the beauty. Inside you can also find a bakery/cafe and a shop!
19. Sezon Museum of Modern Art [Nagakura]
"Museums are for the human society what stick insects are for the ecosystem." This is how Sezon Museum of Modern Art chose to introduce itself, to point out how art contributes to develop a peaceful society, just like stick insects help the trees grow new leaves by eating the old ones.
Living in symbiosis with the surrounding nature, the museum hosts a wide collection of paintings ranging from major artists of the early 20th century, such as Paul Klee, Kandinsky and Pollock, to the newest creations of Japanese contemporary artists.
20. Karuizawa Picturebook Museum [Nagakura]
Complete your artistic tour with a visit to Karuizawa Picturebook Museum and dive into the world of Japanese illustration! The area is divided into multiple facilities, like the first exhibition hall in the above picture, scattered around a lovely 15,000 sqm English-style garden, which is sometimes chosen by newlyweds as their photo shooting set!
This is the second exhibition hall - isn't it adorable? Your visit will truly feel like a relaxing stroll in a fairytale, enchanting both children and grown-ups. There's also a library with plenty of picture books on sale and a cafe where you can stretch your legs and eat a sandwich.
21. Picchio Wildlife Research Center [Hoshino]
If you're a wildlife aficionado, this place will keep you occupied for days! Located in the furthermost area of Hoshino, Picchio is a research center dedicated to the local fauna that organizes related tours and events for people of all ages. Take on a fantastic adventure in the woods to observe flying squirrels, wild goats, and a large variety of local birds and insects.
The tours available change on a seasonal basis and can be both during the day and at night. You'll be provided binoculars for your nature watching tours, and flashlights if you go on a nocturnal tour. Just make sure to wear long sleeves and pants to prevent insect bites, and don't worry if it gets chilly: you can rent winter wear for free!
22. Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort [Karuizawa]
Being a mountain town, Karuizawa couldn't miss a ski area, so with a little bit of artificial snow they created a winter sports paradise! Smooth, safe and particularly recommended for beginners and children, the ski slope is not the only attraction of this area. There is also a scenic lift to get on the summit that will offer you a stunning view of the surroundings. Moreover, you can have a fun ride on an amazing zipline!
23. Karuizawa Taliesin [Nagakura]
This picture exudes peace and tranquility from head to toe, doesn't it? Welcome to Karuizawa Taliesin, an area around Shiozawa Lake (Shiozawa-ko) with plenty of facilities and attractions for all kinds of activities. This is Suikyuso, the villa where a famed Japanese novelist used to spend the summer.
Let the greenery soothe your soul while you stroll around art museums, villas full of history, lovely gardens, and delicious eateries. The above photo shows the Peynet Museum, where you can admire a collection of original works from a French illustrator. If you're tired of walking, hop on the cycle monorail or a swan boat to enjoy the view from a different (and even more romantic) perspective!
24. Tombo no Yu [Hoshino]
Every reputable tourist destination in Japan has its own version of onsen (hot springs). Tombo no Yu is a natural onsen facility whose abundant hot waters, supplied directly from the source, are highly beneficial for the skin. Designed with a Japanese minimalistic style, this bathhouse actually has colorful dragonflies (tombo, in Japanese) floating around the area. Don't miss the beautiful open-air bath (rotenburo) nestled among granite rocks and trees, to relax and recover from a day out trekking or sightseeing.
If you prefer a convenient hot springs-and-hotel experience, check out our list of 20 Japanese-style inns with hot springs in Karuizawa:
25. Karuizawa Sengataki Onsen [Nagakura]
Named after the above-mentioned Senga Falls, this is another valid option for onsen goers. If you find Tombo no Yu too crowded, you can drop by this day spa and pamper yourself with its soothing waters, instead. In fact, comprising 2 open-air baths, a large indoor bath, a Finnish sauna, and a cold bath, the space is relatively wide, allowing you to bathe and move around in complete relaxation, surrounded by flaming momiji in autumn or white fluffy snow in winter.
Karuizawa is a fantastic destination recommended for all types of tourists: families with kids, couples on a relaxing vacation, friends in search of adventure, and even history and art lovers. Use this article as a reference next time you get in the mood for a trip and you'll make the best of it!
By the way, if you've visited Karuizawa before and you're looking for a new way to experience the town, why not try a different method of transportation to get around? Here are some articles that go into more detail on other possible transportation methods, including what places you can visit using them:
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.