Just an hour away from Tokyo by bullet train lies a charming mountain town you’ve probably never heard of. But Karuizawa, a popular summer home location for Tokyo residents looking to escape the city heat, welcomes approximately eight million visitors per year, according to Mari Kashiwagi, secretary of the Karuizawa Tourist Association. For several summers in the 1970s, John Lennon and his family were among those visitors, regularly staying at the Mampei Hotel.
Situated in Nagano Prefecture, Karuizawa – where PAX is currently on location – has been a summer resort town for more than 150 years. It emerged as a winter destination more recently, when the town hosted the curling competition for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Karuizawa now welcomes visitors throughout the year thanks to the small, family-friendly ski hill at the Prince Grand Resort Karuizawa. Artificial snow machines allow the hill to open consistently from early November to March, and there was a bustling line-up for the lift today.
The Olympic curling venue, Karuizawa Ice Park at Karuizawa Kazakoshi Park, is open to tourists, who can take a 60-minute curling course to learn the basics of the sport and try a quick game. During our visit, the only other players on the ice were one win away from becoming Japan’s national men’s team.
Karuizawa is also home to an unusual Shinto shrine. Situated on the border between the Nagano and Gunma prefectures, the Kumano Kotai Jinja Shrine is technically located in two cities – Karuizawa and Annaka – and therefore has two chief priests. The shrine is home to an 850-year-old tree, considered a source of power and life. Walking a full circle around the tree is said to make wrinkles disappear, though our testing of this claim unfortunately did not deliver immediate results.
Just steps down the street from the shrine, the Usai Pass observation platform, known as Sunset Point, offers stunning views of the Nikko Mountain Range, the Southern Alps, and Mount Asama, an active volcano.
Travellers can get to Karuizawa on the Hokuriku Shinkasen train from Tokyo Station.
Learn more about Karuizawa at the Karuizawa Tourist Association website, karuizawa-kankokyokai.jp (in Japanese with some automatic English translation), or on the Japan National Tourism Organization’s Karuizawa Area page - click here.