25 Things To Do In & Around Karuizawa
Some people come to Nagano for the winter sports scene, other for the history, culture and nature. Then again, some just come to soak in the rich, nourishing waters of the hot springs or perhaps indulge in a bit of shopping. Few places can offer all of the above, and indeed so much more. One such place however, is Karuizawa.
Sitting in the east of the prefecture – and a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line which runs from Tokyo to Nagano and onto Kanazawa – Karuizawa is perfectly positioned both as a holiday resort in its own right and also as the perfect place for a one or two day escape from the dazzling lights of Tokyo.
Karuizawa also has the distinct honor of being the only town in Japan to have hosted events at both the summer and winter Olympic Games. It played host to the horse riding events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as curling event at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
These days, Karuizawa is a place that draws visitors from all walks of life and it’s not hard to see why. Few places in Nagano or indeed in Japan offer such a diverse range of attractions. For directions to the town, please see our ‘How to Get to Karuizawa’ page. Once there, these are our suggestions for 25 things to do in and around Karuizawa:
1 / Shiraito Falls / best: spring to autumn
We begin today’s list with a place of great natural beauty. Shiraito Falls is a three meter high waterfall, spanning some seventy meters across. The name ‘Shiraito’ literally translates into English as ‘White Threads’ which is quite appropriate when you see how the wispy, white waters of the falls mingle and coalesce as they fall into the lake below.
The falls are open to the public all year round, but it is debatable as to when is actually the best time to go there. Many say that summer is the best, when the lush vegetation surrounding the falls is at its peak. However, I personally prefer the autumn, when the reddening leaves, and the brownish gold foliage contrast beautifully with the crystalline clear waters of the falls.
In either case, getting to Shiraito Falls is pretty straightforward. There is a direct bus that leaves every 30 minutes or so from JR Karuizawa Station and takes about 25 minutes to reach the falls.
Get off at Shiraito no Taki bus stop and the falls are about 5 minutes away on foot.
2 / Kumoda Pond / best: spring to autumn
A short distance from Shiraito Falls, and around a 20 minute walk from Karuizawa Station, you will find Kumoda Pond, another one of Karuizawa’s great natural beauty spots.
Similar in some ways to Togakushi’s Kagami Ike Pond, Kumoda Pond also offers a striking mirroring effect when the surrounding greenery is reflected in the pond’s clear and unspoiled waters.The entire pond is also encircled with a boardwalk, making this the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful summer stroll, or perhaps pull up a chair and take some time out from the stresses and strains of daily life. The pond is also popular with cyclists and nature lovers. If you’re lucky, one of the families of ducks who call the lake their home may even come over to say hello.
3 / Onioshidashi Volcanic Park / all year round
Have you ever wondered what the aftermath of a volcanic eruption looks like? Well, the answer is: something like Onioshidashi Volcanic Park. In 1783, the nearby Mount Asama erupted violently. Covering the entire area in a thick layer of lava, ash and molten rock. In time, as these elements cooled, they formed the rough, jagged terrain that characterizes Onioshidashi Park today.
Volcanic rocks formed from the sediment of the 1783 Asama eruption give the park an appearance that looks less like a conventional Japanese nature reserve and more like the kind of rocky landscape one would expect to see on a “Star Trek” away mission to some strange, new world. From this elevated viewpoint, visitors can also enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding towns and villages.
In the center of the park, you will also find a shrine to the Shinto Goddess Kanon, said to bestow mercy on those in her care. The shrine was built in the hope that it will protect the locals from any further eruptions from Mount Asama. Two hundred years on, and, fingers crossed, it seems to have done the trick so far!
Mt. Asama is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Asama/Onioshidashi Park, we recommend checking the following website.
4 / Prince Shopping Plaza / all year round
Of course, one thing we all love to do when we are on holiday is treat ourselves to something special. At the Prince Shopping Plaza in Karuizawa, we can do so without breaking the bank. The plaza is one of Japan’s biggest outlet shopping malls, offering a huge range of fashion and other goods to the public at wholesale factory prices. The mix of shops on offer is somewhat eclectic too. Big name brands such as Adidas, Coach and Disney sit alongside local fashion labels, handmade goods and souvenir stores.
There’s also no shortage of food and drink options too, with Chinese, European and Japanese restaurant options joining the obligatory coffee shops, delis and cafes. Tourists will also be glad to know that many of the stores in Prince Shopping Plaza allow tax free shopping and accept all major credit cards. Paying by credit card can sometimes be problematic in what is still very much a cash-based society here in Japan. The Plaza also has an onsite currency exchange making it easy to get hold of Japanese yen if you need to.
5 / Old Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street / all year round
Whilst the Prince Shopping Plaza offers the very best in modern conveniences, maybe you’re looking for something a little more ‘old school’ and authentic. If that’s the case, then you need look no further than Old Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street. Whilst much of Karuizawa has undergone a certain level of renewal and urbanization in recent times, the Ginza Shopping Street has, thankfully, remained unspoiled.
Indeed the street continues to enjoy international recognition to this day, thanks to the vote of confidence it received from The Beatles’ John Lennon, when he visited it during one of his many trips to Japan alongside his partner Yoko Ono.
However, you don’t need to be one of the all-time legends of popular music to enjoy this charming little area. Among the handicraft shops, various other homemade goods and local fashion stores, you will also find some great little cafes, where you can sit back, relax and “imagine” a world of possibilities.
6 / Harunire Terrace / all year round
Throughout my travels in Europe, undoubtedly one of the most pleasant experiences, was to sit down at one of the waterfront bars or cafes in Spain, France or Italy and enjoy some food, drink and the relaxing atmosphere.
Well, now, thanks to Harunire Terrace, visitors to Karuizawa can enjoy a very similar ambiance. This lakeside terrace and its immaculate boardwalk play host to a range of locally run restaurants selling fine food made usually locally sourced produce.
Whether it’s Chinese, Italian or Japanese food that you fancy, Harunire Terrace has got you covered. And after dinner, why not take a stroll along the waterfront and take in the magnificent atmosphere of this little bit of European culture, right in the heart of Japan.
7 / Hoshino’s Tombo-No-Yu / all year round
The healing and health-boosting qualities of the legendary Onsen hot springs are known all across Japan. Hoshino Onsen Tombo-no-yu in Naka-Karuizawa is a relatively new addition to this legend, with these springs only being used by the locals since 1916.
However, their Hydrogen Carbonate and Chloride enthused waters are said to help alleviate a whole range of human ills, from arthritis to headaches, to nerves and anxiety. In any case, as this writer will testify, nothing refreshes both the body and the spirit quite like a good long soak in an onsen. Tombo-No-Yu offers both indoor and outdoor baths, with admission priced at 1300 yen for adults and 750 yen for children.
8 / Manpei Hotel / all year round
Earlier, I mentioned John Lennon’s affection for Karuizawa, and nowhere is this more deeply felt, perhaps, than at the Manpei Hotel, where he stayed during one of his visits to the area. However, the history of this fine hotel goes back a lot further than the days of The Beatles. In actuality, this hotel’s history dates back more than 250 years.
Originally built as an inn in 1764, the inn underwent a transformation in 1894, when then owner, Manpei Sato, hosted a group of Canadian missionaries. He then hit upon the idea of blending a western style hotel experience with the best elements of traditional Japanese hospitality. And so the Manpei Hotel was born. Today it offers guest rooms that capture both the spirit of historical Japan, yet still offer the comforts one would come to expect from a typical, high-class European hotel. Being popular with both local and international visitors, the Manpei Hotel tends to fill up fast. As such, advance booking is essential.
9 / Former Mikasa Hotel / all year round
Another historic local hotel in Karuizawa is the Former Mikasa Hotel. First opened in 1906, this hotel was, for several decades a gathering point for some of Japan’s most influential people. Political leaders, celebrities, writers and musicians all called this great hotel their temporary home at one time or another. Although the hotel itself closed in the 1970s, the building remains a local point of interest and is open to visitors, with much of the original décor and design still preserved in pristine condition. The Mikasa Hotel is perhaps one of Japan’s earliest examples of truly international design. The frame was based on an American approach to housing from the time, with the doors inspired by British colonial era accommodations, with the windows and other fixtures and fittings following a German design. A truly international project, in the heart of rural Japan.
10 / Cycling around Karuizawa / best: spring to autumn
If Karuizawa has any great attributes to recommend to city-dwellers, it is the remarkably clean air, and the freshness that comes with being immersed in nature. With this in mind, perhaps one of the best ways to get around town is to get on your bike, literally! Karuizawa, with its setting at the base of Mount Asama, offers some brilliant cycling routes, along with some breathtaking views.
Around JR Karuizawa Station you will find a number of bicycle rental shops, with very fairly priced hourly and daily rates. Karuizawa’s slightly more elevated position in relation to the surrounding area also means it is noticeably cooler, even in the heat of summer, with the gentle breeze being a very pleasant counter to all the heat and humidity.
11 / Golf in Karuizawa / spring to autumn
If there’s one thing most Japanese businessmen love to do in their free time, besides drinking, its playing golf. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that, with its perfect blend of mountains, lakes and rivers, Karuizawa plays host to more than a dozen golf courses. The undisputed jewel in the crown here is Karuizawa golf club, which has even hosted national championship events in the past.
However, it is an exclusive membership, and with less than 10,000 rounds played at the course each year, you could face a bit of trouble getting in.
Thankfully, however, there are also a number of equally enjoyable public golf courses dotted around the area. Perhaps the best of these can be found at the Karuizawa 72 Golf resort, which offers 6 different courses of varying difficulty. However, with so many courses, both private and public in Karuizawa, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a mini-golf veteran looking to step up, Karuizawa has a course for you.
12 / Karuizawa Ski Resort / all year round
Of course, it wouldn’t be Nagano if it didn’t involve skiing at some point, and naturally, Karuizawa is no different. With 10 trails, covering a wide range of both elevation and difficulty, Karuizawa Prince Hotel Snow Resort has long been a favourite with visitors to the area. 50% of the trails on offer at Karuizawa are geared toward beginner level skiers, with 30% catering to intermediate level and 20% aimed at experts.
For those visitors new to the sport, the on-site ski schools at the Karuizawa Resort also offer Private skiing lessons, in English. Prior booking is required. Karuizawa is also one of the few ski resorts in the area to offering sightseeing tours, so even if you don’t plan on skiing, you can still take some enjoyment from visiting this fine resort.
13 / Snow Kids Fun Area / winter
As part of an ongoing plan to encourage future generations to enjoy skiing across Japan, The Prince Hotel, which is on the site of Karuizawa Ski Resort has, since 2012, been running the Snow Kids initiative. As well as offering free ski-lift access to kids under the age of 13, the resort also offers a variety of games and events geared towards younger skiers throughout the year.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet Tonakky, Karuizawa Ski Resort’s ample-antlered mascot! For an additional fee, the resort also offers specialzed children’s ski lessons. Advance booking is recommended.
14 / Oiwake-juku / best: spring to autumn
Much has been written, sung and shown onscreen about the pioneers who blazed a trail across America’s mid-west more than a century ago. However, the US wasn’t the first place to have such ‘country roads’. During the Edo Period, Japan also had these trading routes that crossed the entirety of the country. Oiwake-juku, in Karuizawa, is what was known at the time as a ‘post town’, a place where these trade routes met and diverged. As such, many traders, travelers, military officers or government officials of the time would stop over at Oiwake-juku before continuing on to either Zenkoji Temple to the north, or the Sea of Japan coastline to the west.
Oiwake-juku, in Karuizawa, is what was known at the time as a ‘post town’, a place where these trade routes met and diverged. As such, many traders, travelers, military officers or government officials of the time would stop over at Oiwake-juku before continuing on to either Zenkoji Temple to the north, or the Sea of Japan coastline to the west. In days gone by, a great many writers, thinkers and other literary minds would pass through Oiwake-juku. To this day, it remains something of a mecca to Japanese writers. The nearby Hori Tatsuo Museum of Literature is a reflection of this.
15 / Kusatsu Onsen / all year round
After a long day of cycling around the town, or skiing down the piste, there are few better ways to unwind than with a good long soak in a hot spring bath. Kusatsu Onsen is not only one of the best hot spring resorts in the region, it is considered by many to be one of the best in Japan.
Located just over the border into Gunma Prefecture, it is about a one hour drive, or 90-minute bus ride from Karuizawa. In all, there are 13 different public bathhouses to sample in Kusatsu Onsen Town.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that each of the baths has a slightly different water. Some are cloudy, others are clear. This is due largely to the biodiversity found on Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, from where the waters in these baths are derived.
Each bath has its own unique blend of minerals, and are said to help with a wide range of ailments. According to local legends, the only thing these magical baths can’t cure is a broken heart!
16 / Mount Shirane / spring to autumn
A short distance from Kusatsu Onsen, you will find Mount Shirane. This is one of Japan’s currently active volcanoes. However, it is not thought to pose any immediate danger to the public. However, just to be on the safe side, temporary exclusion zones have been put in place in the area.
Although there are still ample hiking and hill-walking opportunities in the area available during the summer months, for the time being at least, members of the public are not allowed to go within 1 kilometer of the Yugama crater or within 500 meters of the Karagama crater. In spite of this, vehicles can still drive through the area, however parking is not allowed. A visit to Mount Shirane is still highly recommended, just remember to follow the safety guidance and don’t take any unnecessary risks.
17. / Yokoteyama Ski Fields / winter
Another of the region’s best known ski resorts, playing host to a variety of events at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Shiga Kogen, is renowned throughout Japan. There are many ski resorts which come together to form Shiga Kogen, one of which is Yokoteyama.
Yokoteyama offers plenty to suit all levels of skiing enthusiasts. It is also the highest point of all the various ski fields that make up Shiga Kogen Ski Resort, with a high point of over 2300 meters. In addition to all the usual aspects one would expect from a top class ski resort, Yokoteyama also offers night skiing (subject to weather and seasonal conditions) as well as specialized kids skiing sessions.
It is truly a ski resort for all the family.
18 / Jigokudani Monkey Park / all year round
As the unofficial mascots of Nagano Prefecture, there are few things in nature more heart-warming than the site of the ever-adorable snow monkeys, soaking in their hot onsen baths to get a temporary respite from the cold winter chills.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park offers the perfect opportunity for visitors to see these wonderful creatures up close and personal in their own habitat. Unlike many other nature reserves or safari parks, you can freely move amongst the monkeys and see how they go about their daily lives in this beautifully unspoiled landscape.
The Snow Monkey Park is just one part of the guided tours we offer here at Snow Monkey Resorts. Want to combine a visit to the park with some skiing, snow mobiling or sake drinking? We’ve got you covered!
19 / Zenkoji Temple /all year round
One of Nagano’s most famous landmarks, and indeed it was the root from which Nagano City itself sprouted from the Temple’s 7th century foundation onwards, Zenkoji Temple is considered a national treasure of Japan.
The Temple is dedicated to the Amida Buddha and also houses a statue of the legendary healer Binzuru. According to local beliefs, if you or someone you care about has an illness or ailment, you should say a prayer to the statue, located in the Zenkoji Hon-Do (the main building at the rear of the temple complex). After offering prayers, you should touch the part of the body affected by the ailment on Binzuru’s statue. For example, if you’re suffering migraines, touch his head.
In addition to Binzuru, there are a host of other beautiful and rare artefacts to view across the Temple complex, and a wide selection of events taking place throughout the year. Zenkoji Temple is also included in many of the guided tours we offer here at Snow Monkey Resorts.
20 / Usui Toge Trail / best: spring to autumn
There are many great hiking trails throughout the Shinshu region of Japan. However, there aren’t many that span two prefectures. Traversing Gunma and Nagano Prefectures, The Usui Toge Trail is such a route. In the days before Shinkansen trains or highway buses, The Usui Toge Trail formed part of the main trade route connecting Nagano and Gunma with Tokyo and Yokohama to the south east.
In time, as Japan modernized towards the end of the 19th century, The Usui railway line was built, connecting Yokokawa in Gunma with Karuizawa in Nagano. The line was closed almost a quarter of a century ago, but the trail endures, and indeed with trains no longer an issue, it is a hiking trail that continues to grow in popularity day by day.
Along the trail, why not stop off at the Usui Line Railway Heritage Museum to look back on the history of the line and perhaps even have a go at driving an electric train yourself.
21 / Myogi Shrine / all year round
Many of Japan’s great shrines are enchanting not just as beautifully constructed monuments themselves, but also for the stunning landscapes that often form their backdrops. Myogi Shrine, located on the outskirts of Tomioka City is such a place. The Shrine is set against some absolutely stunning mountain and forest terrain.
The Shrine is especially worth a visit in the autumn, from mid-October to late November when the leaves take on that beautiful blend of brown, red and golden colors. One of the Shrine’s most striking features is the rock gates, carved out of the mountain itself, which offer a rugged and unconventional welcome to the shrine itself.
22 / Gunma Safari Park / best: spring to autumn
Also in Tomioka City, you will find Gunma Safari Park. The safari park offers visitors the chance to see over 100 different species of animal. From small rodents to huge elephants. Familiar favorites such as tigers, giraffes and of course monkeys also feature prominently.
Whilst you have the option of bringing your own car to tour the park, if you don’t want to risk the paintwork on your pride and joy the park also offers bus tours. Specialist off-road vehicles are also available on site that allow you to get a closer view of the park’s residents. There is also a small amusement park and ferris wheel on site for families to enjoy.
23 / Cherry Blossom Viewing / spring
Each year in April, all across Japan, people young and old from all walks of life come together to see the sakura. Sakura are cherry blossom which bloom every year across Japan, but only for a couple of weeks. Traditionally, Japanese people like to gather in parks, look at the trees and enjoy food and drink together with family and friends.
In the area around Karuizawa you will find, many great options for Cherry Blossom viewing. However, of all these, your best options are probably Ueda Castle and Komoro Kaikoen.
Ueda Castle Park always draws big crowds, especially on evenings and weekends, so be sure to scout out a good spot early if you plan to go. Snow Monkey Resorts offers Cherry Blossom tours in April of each year. The venue will vary depending on the weather.
24 / Karuizawa Station / all year round
As a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, Karuizawa Station is readily accessible from Tokyo, Nagano, Toyama. It is a small station which can be easily navigated, including direct access to Prince Shopping Plaza and other nearby attractions.
The classical design of the station’s main building, is a throwback to the old European style aesthetic seen throughout the town.
It is also perfectly positioned for day trips from Tokyo, being a little over one hour from Tokyo Station using the Hokuriku Shinkansen.
25 / Accommodation in and around Karuizawa / all year round
In keeping with the general character of the area, most of Karuizawa’s hotels offer a charming blend of western style and Japanese hospitality. Hotels in Karuizawa tend to be a little more expensive than they are elsewhere in Nagano Prefecture, but the higher levels of service, comfort and convenience make them more than worthwhile.
There are different hotels on offer to suit different tastes and budgets. From Ski lodges, to cottages to onsen ryokan, Karuizawa has something for everyone.
Book a private tour or charter with Snow Monkey Resorts
As the suggestions above show, there is a lot to do around Karuizawa and the wider region. Based in Nagano City and operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1-rated tour and charter operator, offering a range of services including group tours, private tours and charters.
We can arrange transport including a private vehicle and driver, along with an English-speaking guide, to transport to, from and between any of these destinations and more! Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations, in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Karuizawa and Central Japan? Feel free to contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!