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First-timer’s guide to visiting Karuizawa, Japan

Few places on earth possess the same unique and timeless beauty that Japan has to offer. The stunning resort town of Karuizawa is no exception. Located in the mountains of Nagano, this awe-inspiring location hosts a myriad of exciting sights and attractions for its many visitors. Whether you are a fan of outdoor sightseeing and recreation, high-end shopping, or taking in new and fascinating cultures, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Karuizawa.

Shiraito Waterfall (白糸の滝, Shiraito no Taki)

Shiraito Waterfall Japan

Measuring at three metres high and 70 meters wide is the stunning Shiraito Waterfall magically located in the forests located just north of downtown Karuizawa. The name Shiraito Waterfall (白糸の滝, Shiraito no Taki) translates to ” the waterfall of white threads, and for good reason. This dazzling waterfall resembles multiple whitewater ribbons that exquisitely flow over its surface. The stunning mountain slopes that lie above this spectacular sight contains a volcanic stratum for the groundwater to flow through before surfacing on the edge of the waterfall. A truly incredible sight to see by any waterfall or scenic enthusiast. The Shiraito waterfall can be viewed year-round. However, it is suggested to visit in the summer months, when the most favourable weather conditions occur/ This is also when you can see the waterfall while surrounded by lush vegetation. The autumn is also a great time to visit if you enjoy the changing autumnal colours that Japanese vegetation has to offer. You may also like best places to visit in Japan.

How to get there

If you’re visiting by car, the Shiraito Waterfall can be found by traversing along the Shiraito Highlandway toll road. There are street signs placed throughout the Shiraito Highlandway to help direct tourists towards the waterfall.For those planning to travel by bus, Kusakaru Kotsu operates buses that travel between Karuizawa Station and the Shiraito Waterfall. These bus rides take approximately 30 minutes each way and drop off at the Shiraito no Taki bus stop which is a short 5-minute walk to the waterfall. The buses run about every half hour in the spring, summer, and autumn. Buses to Shiraito no Taki run in the winter as well but on a more limited basis. If you’re planning to visit in the winter months, it is advisable to call ahead for winter schedules.

The Onioshidashi Park (鬼押出し園, Onioshidashien)

Onioshidashi Park

Located just across the prefectural border in Gunma Prefecture, the Onioshidashi Park offers a virtually unending view of rugged landscapes of volcanic rock, that has been created by spectacular volcanic sediment that deposited there during the massive Mount Asama eruption in 1783. While not technically part of Karuizawa, The Onioshidashi Park is a popular destination for tourists visiting Karuizawa. In addition to having an opportunity to get an up-close and personal look at various uniquely shaped volcanic rock formations, Onioshidashi Park also allows a spectacular view of the nearby towns below. Mount Asama can also be visible on bright days.

If its unique Japanese architecture that you fancy, the centre of the park boasts an extraordinary temple that a dedication to Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). Volcano enthusiasts can also visit the Asama Volcano Museum located a short distance from the park, and learn about the geography of volcanoes, as well as the various animal, and plant life, that resides on and around volcanic terrain via large-screen video presentations, as well as a simulated ride.

How to get there

visiting Karuizawa, Japan

Seibu buses are provided daily for visitors wishing to visit the park, the buses operate on an hourly basis, and run between Karuizawa Station,  Naka- Karuizawa Station, and The Onioshidashi Park. The bus ride takes approximately 30-40 minutes each way.

The Usui Pass Observation Platform (碓氷峠見晴台, Usui Tōge Miharashidai)

Usui Pass Observation Platform

Located approximately four kilometres northeast of Kyu-Karuizawa town centre is the breathtaking Usui Pass Observation Platform. This is a place where tourists and locals alike can enjoy the stunning views of Mount Asama. This location has been a tourist favourite for many years. Those visiting the Usui Pass Observation Platform are only a short distance to the Kumano Kotai Shrine that sits on the border of Gunma and Nagano. The shrine features three halls – Hongu (the main hall) located on the top of the border, Nachi Hall located on the Nagano side to the left, and Shingu Hall located on the Gunma side to the right.

How to get there

If you are planning to visit the Usui Pass Observation Platform between late April and late December, you can take advantage of a retro red bus that travels between the Manpei Hotel and the Usui Pass Observation Platform every hour. If you are travelling between December and March, you will need to reach it by car or taxi.

Places to Stay

Le Grand Karuizawa

Le Grand Karuizawa

Less than a twenty-minute walk from the North Exit of Karuizawa Station is the luxurious Le Grand Karuizawa. This beautifully designed brick-built hotel offers comfortable Italian furnished rooms, as well as onsite dining that provides a wide range of continental and French-inspired cuisine. The hotels most notable feature is its natural open-air hot spring nestled by relaxing lush green surroundings to enjoy.

Karuizawa Prince Hotel East and West

Karuizawa Prince Hotel East and West

The Karuizawa Prince Hotel East and the Karuizawa Prince Hotel West are some great options for accommodation in Karuizawa. The West is an upscale rustic-chic 4-star hotel which is located very near the bullet train station and is surrounded by beautiful natural surroundings. Rooms come with wood-panelled ceilings, and come with TVs and sofabeds and there are some excellent on-site facilities including a charming tearoom which also doubles as a cocktail bar, a great selection of restaurants, a Japanese style bathhouse featuring both indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, a golf course, table tennis and a kids’ club.

The East version is another rustic luxury hotel (and pet-friendly too) and also caters to a skiing crowd too. It features elegant, modern decor with iPod docks and flat-screen TVs and cosy timber cottages with living rooms and verandas. There are also three restaurants, spa facilities, a dog grooming service and a hot-spring bath with beautiful forest views.

RUZE Villa

Visitors who are looking for lavish accommodation will get just what they’re looking for at RUZE Villa. This hotel offers a stately European design with all the amenities that one would expect from a five-star lodging. Enjoy a spacious room that features a living room, bedroom, and full bathroom, stocked with luxurious Detaille La Maison amenities. If you’re looking to enjoy Karuizawa in absolute luxury, then this is the best option in the area.  But make sure you have plenty of time to book your reservation because this exclusive location only has five rooms!

With all this to experience, you’re sure to have a fully packed visit to Karuizawa when you get there!

Michael Anderson

Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always been a sucker for an adventure. As a kid he was lucky enough to live for many years in some exotic far-flung locations and since then he’s developed a taste for new cultures. So much in fact he now travels the world as a trading digital nomad, exploring the sizzling street markets of Bangkok to yoga retreat dotted Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for exotic cuisine and fine wine and definitely knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Tanzania, Amsterdam, Laos and Cambodia as his favourite destinations.


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    Bimal Maharjan

    8 December, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Thanks for providing the essential information I needed to visit the magnificent town resort. I’m going to Japan for the first time, and I’ll not miss those places. Can you provide some more tips on travel cost, it will be very helpful for me to plan the trip. And how many days enough to visit Karuizawa?


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