In mid-April, Karuizawa is quiet but for the buzz of saws and taps of hammers readying shops for the tourist season. Many shops, few of which rise higher than two stories, remain shuttered until then, and the streetscape surprises after the lofty skylines of Tokyo. But Karuizawa, in eastern Nagano Prefecture, has room to spread, and at an elevation of nearly 1,000 meters it already scrapes the sky.

Strolling along Karuizawa Hon Dori, I noticed a poster of a dapper couple gazing at a foliage-bowered pond beneath the words "Choice Karuizawa." For those who buy the message, realtors dealing in summer homes in Karuizawa are as plentiful as agents brokering apartments in Tokyo.

I turned onto Kyukaruizawa Main Street, part of the former Nakasendo Highway joining Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. At the Tourist Bureau I asked about the late Nobel Prize-winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata's cottage in Happy Valley and was told it is no more. "I'm sorry," the staffer said, "but I can't talk about Happy Valley; it's off limits to tourists. See the tennis clubhouse and the churches."