Karuizawa is often known as the locals’ 避暑胜地 (a place to escape from the summer heat) due to its higher altitude and cooler weather during summer. It is easily accessible by Hokuriku Shinkansen, a merely 1 hour away from Tokyo on shinkansen ride. There are many things to do over here, you may explore the Kyu-Karuizawa or Naka-karuizawa. You may also enjoy activities such as golfing, hiking and cycling, also skiing during winter.
With JR Tokyo Wide Pass that cost only ¥ 10,180, I made it to Karuizawa for a day trip for the first day. As I had only one day here in Karuizawa, I only made it to Kyu-Karuizawa. Here I am going to record down what I did in Karuizawa.
Do note that this pass is only available for sales in Japan (not from HIS, KLOOK or JTB). This pass covers the unlimited rides on Shinkansen and limited express trains within the valid area for 3 days consecutively. It is also valid for travel from Narita and Haneda Airports to Tokyo too. This pass is very worth paying for if you can utilise it to the max.
For full itinerary, check out Japan Trip Autumn 2019: 9D8N in Tokyo and Explore Tokyo Wide Area
Things to do in Karuizawa
We hopped onto the Hokuriku Shinkansen bound for Kanazawa from Ueno Station. Ate a breakfast and in just a blink, we were here in Karuizawa.
Do note that you are required to walk a lot over here. Alternatively, you know how to ride a bicycle; I will suggest you to go on the bicycle. People like me who doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle will have to rely on the legs, so be read for the tiredness. There are also bus running around but the buses are infrequent.
As I only have one day in Karuizawa, I only made it for Kyu-Karuizawa. Naka-Karuizawa which is a station away from Kyu-Karuizawa offers attractions such as Stone Church, Museum, Harunire Terrace, and high end resort such as Hoshino Resorts.
1. Check out the mountainous view from Usui Pass Observatory Platform (Usuitoge Miharashidai)
This is a small observatory situated at 1200 meters above sea level, offers the beautiful mountainous view of Gunma prefecture on one side and Mount Asama on the other side. We were here a little past the peak of autumn, so there weren’t scenic autumn view left here but we managed to catch a glimpse in later places (as below).
We boarded the very cute retro-looking Aka bus (red bus) or Kyu-Usuitoge Miharashidai Bus from Hotel Harvest Club. The one way bus ride to Usui Pass Observatory Platform cost ¥ 500; while return ticket cost ¥ 800
Usui Pass Observatory Platform (Usuitoge Miharashidai)
Toge0machi, Karuizawa-machi, kitasaku-gun, Nagano
2. Pray in Kumano Kotai Shrine
A very special shrine as it sits on the border of Gunma and Nagano Prefectures, also located just a stone throw away from the Usui Pass Observatory Platform.
As you can see, I was stepping on both prefectures now, with my left leg on Nagano Prefecture and my right leg on Gunma Prefecture.
A sacred tree in the shrine.
3. Slurp up the delicious handmade soba in Kawakami An
Located just a few minutes away from Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza, Kawakami An is a popular sobaya that is specialized in handmade soba noodles. Its’ bestsellers go to these Kamo Seiro and Kamo Soba which is the “duck” soba.
Read my review here: Kawakami An 川上庵
Kamo Seiro (¥1,720) was very delicious! The soba was made al dente, firm and slurpy; had them dipped into the richly flavoured dipping sauce to adsorb the flavours before slurping them up. To be honest, this was our very first time having “duck” soba and we were totally in love with its distinctive aroma and flavour, also the fattiness of the dipping soup.
Ten Seiro (¥1,720)
Kamonan Soba (¥1,720)
There are also Kawakami An in Tokyo, located in Azabu Juban and Aoyama, but you are here in Karuizawa, you guys must check out Kawakami An here as this is the region famous for buckwheats!
6-10 Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken
Opens daily from 11am to 10pm
4. Shop for souvenirs in Old Karuizawa Ginza
Or also known as Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza is a 50 meter shopping street that is lined with restaurants, coffee house, galleries and boutiques. Here you may find a lot of local produces and souvenirs, also local delicacies.
5. Eat mocha soft cream from Mikado Coffee
Established since year 1948, originated from Tokyo, Mikado Coffee is a famous kissaten (coffee house) that offers its specialty mocha soft serve whereby you may have it in cone, cup or as coffee float too. It has a very mild soft hint of coffee flavour in the creamy soft serve. If you ordered their cup soft serve, it will be garnished with a dried prune.
786-2 Karuizawa, Karuizawa, Kitasaku, Nagano
Opens daily from 10am to 5pm
6. Drink the cold milk from the milk specialty store
We strolled along the street and found that there was this shop selling milk produces, immediately we bought a bottle of creamy and milky milk to try. Rich and delicious!
7. Eat Karaage!
Why? Because of the word limited and use only local chicken, we were hooked. LOL. And this was sold in the pudding shop!
8. Catch the beauty of Kumoba Pond
Kumoba Pond, or the Swan Lake is a very scenic attraction located about 20 minutes’ walk away from JR Karuizawa Station. Autumn is the best time to come over here where you will be able to get the beautiful reflection of autumn colours in the gentle water surface.
9. Tea in Sawamura Bakery & Restaurant
If you have extra tummy space, do spare time for a round of pastries and tea or coffee in Sawamura Bakery & Restaurant which is located right opposite Kawakami An. Sawamura offers French-style bread and pastires, as well as western delights such as burgers and pasta.
Once you push open the door, you will be welcomed by the aromatic bread and pastries’ scent that has filled up atmosphere. How I wished my stomach has more space for those baked treats! There is also another outlet of Sawamura Bakery in Harunire Terrace, which is at Naka-Karuizawa area, another perfect place to zen.
Such a scenic atmosphere
Sawamura Bakery & Restaurant
〒389-0103 Nagano, Kitasaku-gun, Karuizawa, 12−１８
Opens daily from 8am to 9pm
10. Shop till you drop in Karuizawa Price Shopping Plaza
An outlet shopping mall that offers a wide variety of local and international brands; this place is super huge where you can spend a whole day here just for shopping. The space is seriously very spacious. If you are really into shopping, I will suggest you to have a night stay in Karuizawa, slowly explore and enjoy shopping.