While Tokyo is unbearably hot and humid in the heat of the summer, in Karuizawa verdant grass and moss carpet the floors of forests and the mountain air is perfumed with the scent of larch leaves and wild flowers. The area is a little over a one-hour train ride from Tokyo, enabling visitors to quickly escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and enter a world where nature rules.

Sitting on a plateau at the foot of Mount Asama, Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture has long been a popular summer destination in Japan. Last year, over 7.5 million people visited this highland resort with summer visitors topping 4.5 million, according to the town office.

Although Karuizawa attracts a number of weekend tourists, it is best known as a summer retreat where people like to rest and relax for an extended period. The town boasts over 13,000 holiday homes. Karuizawa's history as a summer retreat dates back to more than 100 years ago when British missionary Alexander Shaw stopped over in 1886. It was then a shabby village, but Shaw fell in love with the cool climate and landscape, which is so often shrouded in mist; it reminded him of his homeland. He found it an ideal summer retreat and built a summer house for his family -- the first villa in Japan -- and invited fellow missionaries and other foreigners to do the same.