Beloved by both royalty and celebrities, Karuizawa is often deemed as a re-sort reserved for the rich and famous. Indeed, many Japanese famous figures have built their summer homes here, lending an air of luxury to this serene resort town. Indeed, there are many upmarket shopping and high-class dining places in Karuizawa, but the rich, dense green of the forests and the crystal clear lakes surrounding the resort gives it a relaxed feel absent in the gray metropolitan city of Tokyo. Everything seems to move at a slower pace here, perhaps owing to the town’s proximity to nature. The songs of birds and rus-tles of tree leaves perl through the cool crisp air as you amble along this cozy town wrapped in nature’s greens.

Getting to and around Karuizawa

By taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo or Shinagawa Station, you will be able to reach Karuizawa in around an hour’s time. Once there, you will have to get around Karuizawa via bus and train or taxi, as the various attractions are not neces-sarily within walking distance. However, the buses and trains are very infrequent, so you should take note of the timing and plan your schedule accordingly to max-imize your stay. Alternatively, you can also rent a bicycle or even a car to get around the town. Karuizawa is mainly divided in three areas, Shin-Karuizawa, Kyu-Karuizawa and Naka-Karuizawa.

Nature to soothe your soul

With so many places to explore, how exactly should you spend your precious cou-ple time in Karuizawa? Heaven wasn’t exactly on our side when we were at Karuizawa, the rains were relentless even by the time we left, but before it began to pour, we made sure to first visit a place of nature, because we live in a concrete jungle, surrounded by grey all day, we needed to see some green, to feel nature’s energy seep through our skin. The two most renowned spots blessed with natural beauty are Kumoba Pond and Shiraito Falls. Kumoba Pond, with a romantic nick-name “Swan Lake”, is a mere 20-minute walk from JR Karuizawa station. Calm and still, the pond is like a mirror reflecting the changing colours of the seasons, and especially beautiful in autumn.

If you prefer a place of power, be prepared to have your breath taken away by the Shiraito Falls. Located a few bus stops away from Kyu-Karuizawa, and a short, pleasant 5-minute walk up to the falls, Shiraito Falls is strikingly gorgeous in sum-mer, surrounded by lush vegetation that paints the water green. While the falls may only be 3 metres tall, the width along with the water that cascades down like mil-lions of silky white threads onto the moss-covered rocks and jade green pool creates a spectacular view.

Shiraito Falls
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Best Shopping Spots

After visiting the falls, we backtracked to Kyu Karuizawa, the central town of Karuizawa, with a romantic shopping street with European influence known as the Karuizawa Ginza. You will enjoy strolling down the little alleyways filled with trendy cafes and whimsical shops. Also, there are many places where you can drop in to sample their food products entirely for free. We sampled many things from wine to sausages to honey.

Best Shopping Spots of Karuizawa
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Best Shopping Spots of Karuizawa
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Jam is probably the most renowned local specialty in Karuizawa, you will find many shops here selling jams of all flavors, and you can also sample them with lit-tle bread crusts. Nakayama’s Jam is the most famous amongst the jam stores, with over 100 years of history and producing hundreds of different flavored jams ranging from Kyoho grapes to watermelon lemon. Another popular store right next to Na-kayama’s Jam is St. Cousair Winery, with their vineyards located in the northern part of Nagano, the winery specializes in Chardonnay, but they also produce many other varieties of wine such as Merlot and Pinot Noir. Besides wine, there are so many delicious jams and sauces sold in the store, and you can actually try them all.

Nakayama's Jam
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If you are looking for some serious shopping, right at the entrance of the south exit of JR Karuizawa station, Shin-Karuizawa is a shopper’s paradise with the seemingly endless shops in Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza. With over 200 shops, there is a good mix of both international and Japanese brands in this enormous outlet mall, and one can spend an entire day shopping with all the great bargains found here. As the mall is spread out over five different areas, you will actually need to take a shuttle bus to get from one shopping area to the next. The plaza is also close to the ski resort with low slopes ideal for beginners, and even if you don’t feel like skiing, you can still take the ski lift to get a panoramic view of Karuizawa.

Naka-Karuizawa, though offering fewer shops and restaurants than Kyu-Karuizawa, has a beautiful wooden terrace shopping area with many specialty shops and restaurants surrounded by haruire (Japanese elm) trees known as the Hirunire Terrace, which is just next to the Hoshino Onsen. The walk to Hi-runire Terrace from the bus stop is particularly scenic as well, as you will pass by a bubbling stream and towering trees.

The Churches of Karuizawa

Karuizawa is also famed as a romantic destination wedding spot, and when you see all the beautiful churches nestled deep in the green forests, you will not be able to stop yourself from envisioning the two of you taking a wedding vow in a holy sanc-tuary amongst the tranquil nature. There are a few churches within Kyu Karuizawa, such as the St Paul’s Catholic Church and the Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church.

Located at the back of Karuizawa Ginza, Shaw Memorial Church is Karuizawa’s oldest church built in 1895. Nestled within the woods, this rustic wooden church gives one a feeling of serendipity even from the outside.

Shaw Memorial Church
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Naka-Karuizawa also has its own share of beautiful and interesting churches such as the Karuizawa Stone Church, a truly unique church carved out of stone, and the Karuizawa Kogen Church, which has a distinctive triangular roofing reaching all the way to the ground. Karuizawa Kogen Church holds a summer candles night event lasting an entire month every year, and is positively enchanting in the amber glow of the thousands of candles lit during the event.

Karuizawa Kogen Church
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Naka-Karuizawa also has its own share of beautiful and interesting churches such as the Karuizawa Stone Church, a truly unique church carved out of stone, and the Karuizawa Kogen Church, which has a distinctive triangular roofing reaching all the way to the ground. Karuizawa Kogen Church holds a summer candles night event lasting an entire month every year, and is positively enchanting in the amber glow of the thousands of candles lit during the event.

Dining at Karuizawa

Dining options abound in Karuizawa, whether you are looking for a quick bite, or an elegant meal, Karuizawa has it. But to up the romance factor, why not visit the places where Karuizawa’s most celebrated couple loved?

John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono are the two most famous guests of Karuizawa, and if you are a Beatles fan, you should definitely check out their favourite haunts, most notably French bakery, which was John Lennon’s favourite hangout spot, and Mampei Hotel, the summer home for the Lennons. Mampei Hotel, just a short 10 minute scenic walk from Karuizawa Ginza, is full of classic Western charm and a perfect place to while the afternoon away with an enchanting forest view. While in the hotel’s cafe, be sure to order the Royal Milk Tea, a recipe said to be taught by John Lennon himself.

Mampei Hotel Karuizawa
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If you are looking for a restaurant serving authentic local Japanese cuisine, Sonmin-Shokudo at Naka-Karuizawa is your best bet. Known for their fresh locally sourced ingredients, this casual Japanese restaurant has a chic interior with a great view of nature as its ceiling-high windows and glass doors flood the entire place with natu-ral light. It also boasts a bar area right at the entrance perfect for couples looking for a drink in the middle of the wilderness.

Sonmin-Shokudo at Naka-Karuizawa
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And if you are looking for a meatier choice, Kastanie Rotisserie will not disappoint. Just a 5-minute walk from Karuizawa station, this restaurant is known for their roast chicken. It is a very popular place, so you should definitely make a reservation in advance, or be prepared to wait. The set meal course for two will put both you and your partner at a food coma with its quantity of scrumptious sides served along with the main course. And when the roast chicken arrived, the fragrant aroma wafted to our noses, making our mouths water even before we took a bite of the meat. The chicken was not only crispy, the juices were well sealed within the meat. It was re-ally, the best roast chicken I have ever had. Their drinks menu is extensive as well, and they provide excellent house wine, which ends the night and your stay in this beautiful resort town on a perfect note.

Kastanie Rotisserie Karuizawa
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