Karuizawa, just an hour away by shinkansen from central Tokyo, is a longtime vacation destination for international residents living in the metropolitan area, whether it’s to get away from the city’s summer heat or experience its beautiful nature in milder seasons.
The Nagano Prefecture town will be the host of the Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth on June 15 and 16.
The origins of Karuizawa’s enduring fame as a summer getaway can be traced all the way back to the 19th century after missionary Alexander Croft Shaw of the Anglican Church of Canada visited the town in 1886.
Through word of mouth, Shaw shared the nature and comfortable climate’s allure with others, including missionaries and their families. As more learned of the area, they began visiting and relocating, leading to the construction of numerous Western-style buildings and churches as they integrated themselves with the local community. Today, the town continues to serve as a space for friendly exchanges between foreign residents and Japanese from all walks of life.
In tandem with its amiable history, the area’s breathtaking nature continues to draw visitors from across Japan — and beyond — to the town, just as it did with Shaw some centuries ago.
“Being from a very flat land makes me admire and appreciate the intense beauty of the mountains. My favorite spot in Karuizawa is, therefore, Mount Asama and its surroundings,” said Ann van den Borne, a Dutch physical and outdoor education teacher at UWC ISAK Japan in the town. “I love that you can see the magical volcano from almost anywhere in Karuizawa.”
Each season reveals a new side of Karuizawa’s enchanting atmosphere. In addition to the charming Mount Asama in the distance, the town is framed by deep green woods blanketed by moss; from the forest’s snowcapped serenity in winter, to its vibrant greenery in spring and beyond, residents and visitors are privy to a rare harmony between man-made luxury and the beauty of the wilderness.
Preserving this beauty is also a major focal point for Karuizawa; the picturesque buildings work to complement the scenery and the town enforces regulations to prevent new buildings from disrupting this balance.
Local shops and restaurants make up part of the charm, but Karuizawa also boasts an abundance of unique architecture that ranges from modern to postmodern buildings that include hotels, churches, the A.C. Shaw Memorial House and other structures designed by famous architects.
Those with an eye for the arts may find themselves drawn to the town’s many galleries and museums. The plethora of exhibits honors both international and local artists, artisans and authors from past and present day.
For example, the Nakasendo Museum displays ukiyo-e related to the Nakasendo, a route that connected Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Gardens, parks, temples, shrines and onsen (hot springs) are other classic locales for outdoorsy adventurers looking to relax and delve into the traditional side of Japanese culture.
“I also love visiting onsen in Nagano Prefecture. We picked up the book, ‘100 Onsen of Nagano,’ and we have been visiting them one at a time,” van den Borne said.
In addition to its reputation as a fantastic summer retreat, the town is known as a sports town throughout the year. To van den Borne, Karuizawa’s biggest draw is “the amazing nature and outdoor possibilities.”
“There are wonderful hiking spots and waterfalls, and in the winter there is skiing and many other winter sports,” she said. “The air here is crisp and fresh, and the stars are bright and plentiful.”
While cycling, horseback riding, tennis and golf dominate during the summer, the town has gained popularity as a mecca for winter sports — especially following the Nagano Olympic Games in 1998. In addition to skiing, ice skating, snowboarding and curling are popular pastimes during colder months.
Gourmet culture is another attractive aspect of Karuizawa. Soba — a well-known facet of Japanese cuisine among international tourists — is one of the town’s main delicacies. Thanks to clear, pristine water, as well as varied day and nighttime temperatures, the area produces top-quality buckwheat that stands out from the rest of the country.
Foodies will also be pleased to discover a wealth of locally grown ingredients. Not only is the landscape beautiful, its harvests yield an enticing array of culinary staples and indulgences.
“I was thrilled when I found out that Karuizawa has a lot of regional products like jam, honey, beer and other fresh produce,” said van den Borne.
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