Earlier in June this year, we had the opportunity to bring the kids along to Karuizawa as part of the Saturday Kids Unplugged Summer Camp. I was part of the organising team, and I wrote about my reflections following the trip on the Saturday Kids blog - you can read all about it here.
Karuizawa is a very idyllic mountain resort area 1-hour by bullet train from Tokyo, and traditionally known as a summer retreat for the imperial family. It does feel like a very wealthy town - the tree-lined streets were very manicured, there’s a lot of huge houses with some situated right in the forests presumably for the wealthy Japanese who can afford to make this their summer homes. I find it slightly ironic and a bit of a contrast that the first thing that we noticed the moment we stepped out from from the train station were: 1) the fresh smell of nature / trees, and 2) a giant illuminated Prada sign at the outlet mall situated right by the train station.
. . .
Days in Karuizawa were filled with time spent in the outdoors, nature walks and whenever we could muster the energy, dining out with the kids at night. We returned with a lot of good memories and the kids speak very fondly of time spent catching butterflies, playing catching, dipping their feet at the chilly waterfalls, finding twigs in the forest, AND they absolutely loved sweeping the campsite (!). Read on to see a few recommendations on where to eat and what to do should you plan to visit in the future.
…And a little guide
Here’s a sampling of the places that I like, there were others that we didn’t get to check out: Harvest Nagai Farm, Stone Church, Yo Ho Brewery, Bird Izakaya. Our team has put together a more comprehensive Saturday Kids Guide to Karuizawa, worth checking out if you’re planning to visit.
The place we stayed at was very modest and a little run-down so nothing to write about there, however, just take a look at this new gorgeous boutique property Shishiiwa House - the wood, the light, zen to the max. Read more about it here and here. If you ever stay there, please let me know how it is.
Sandaimekoko: One of the best ramen I have EVER had. Avoid lunch hour if possible. I’d go back just for this.
Suju Masayuki: Good quality Japanese food with a focus on miso-based dishes. Didn’t realise this is the original spot for one of my favourite Japanese restaurants (same name - Suju)
Sawamura Bakery and Restaurant: One of the bakeries that open earlier (8am+). Excellent pastries and bread.
Maruyama Coffee: Great coffee and space.
Nature walks and onsen: The Japanese call this forest bathing, and it is very therapeutic and pleasant to walk in the forest, soaking in the fresh air. There’s an abundance of trails (just Google it). There’s a few in the Hoshino area which is near an onsen called Tombo No Yu and the surrounding shops/cafes make for a nice side trip altogether.
Karuizawa Bookstore: Situated right next to Delica (great supermarket!), this bookstore has a nice collection of books, wares and stationery. Doesn’t matter if you’re non-Japanese speaking, the kids’ books are equally interesting and fascinating in Japanese.
Karuizawa Station Children’s Play Area (Mori no Korisu Kids Station): This was a lucky find, so spare yourself (and your kids) at least 30 min - 1 hour prior to departure to play at this super play space, complete with replica of steam trains, cabins, and the whole works. It’s really all kinds of wonderful (and is free).
Saturday Kids Unplugged Summer Camp: If you’re planning to visit the area in June (and have kids 4-12 years old), then it might be an interesting way for you and them to spend part of the vacation where they go on a 4-day summer camp (without stayover). All the details here.