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The Long Journey to Karuizawa

September 6, 2011

Last week I went to Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture. I went there together with some friends using the so-called seishun-18-kippu (青春18切符). It’s a ticket which is very cheap and can be bought until the age of 25. You can travel with this ticket on JR-trains all over Japan, but you’re not allowed to take express trains such as the shinkansen which charge extra. Also in many regions trains may leave only once an hour or even less, so a journey by seishun-18-kippu can take a looong time… That’s what we experienced, too.

Our Journey was planned to take around 10 hours from Osaka, but it was a tight schedule and the time to change trains was barely enough to get to the next train. As soon as someone had to go to the toilet or wanted to buy some food, the schedule wasn’t practicable anymore. Of course someone had to go to the toilet and while we thought to catch up with him later at first, it turned out that we had to wait somewhere to meet him. There was only a choice left whether to wait 40 minutes in Nagano or up to two and a half hours later. We opted for waiting in Nagano, but this meant that we had to wait at other stations, too, which stretched our journey to 13 hours in the end.

At least we could use the breaks and have lunch or buy food (and booze 😉 ) for later. This was a good decision because shops close very early in Karuizawa and we wouldn’t have been able to buy anything when we finally arrived at our blockhouse at around 9 pm.

Because it is quite cool and not humid Karuizawa is a famous vacation spot in summer and many wealthy Japanese, especially from Tokyo, have a cottage here. It is said to be crowded throughout August, but when we arrived there at the very end of August the season seemed already over. Only in the shopping street, the Karuizawa Ginza, it was still lively.

We had great weather on our first day at Karuizawa and walked to Karuizawa station to catch a bus for the Shiraito waterfalls (白糸の滝). If you have a Japanese driving license and travel with a group, the cheapest and most convenient way to get around in Karuizawa is to rent a car. Although there are a few bus lines they depart only once an hour and if you miss one you can only walk or take a taxi. Their service also stops quite early, often around 6 pm. If you don’t intend to go further into the mountains renting a bicycle is also an option. Tandems can also be seen frequently in Karuizawa.

The Shiraito waterfalls are very low but wide so they look like a broad curtain. If you go there by bus you just have to walk a few steps to reach the waterfalls from where the bus stops. There are also souvenir and snack stands and if you like fish you shouldn’t miss the freshly grilled Iwana (いわな).

We then headed back to Karuizawa but left the bus some stops before the station to go to the shopping street. Just like the famous street in Tokyo it is called Ginza and I also noted some other place names that find their aequivalents in Tokyo. There are various shops and restaurants and you’ll have many opportunities to taste the delicious jams, honeys and sauces that also make good souvenirs. I sent sets of different jams to my boyfriend’s family and also brought one glass of carrot jam home for me 🙂

After eating soba noodles we went back to our blockhouse to relax for the rest of the day.

On the next day it looked like rain and was foggy. I would have liked to see the Onioshidashi (鬼押出し), a site consisting of rocks which formed after the outbreak of a nearby volcano. But due to the heavy fog I cancelled this plan. Instead we went to the south of Nakakaruizawa where there is a small lake. It looked very promising but when we reached the entrance of the park surrounding the lake we saw that you have to pay an entrance fee to enter! It was quite expensive, too, so we went to Karuizawa once more.

This time we decided to have a look at the other side of the station. There’s a huge shopping park with lots of outlet stores. If you’re into shopping you shouldn’t miss it. I also made a few great bargains 🙂 After that, we split up into different groups to satisfy everyone’s interests. One group just wanted to relax at the blockhouse, another wanted to see a church and me and my boyfriend opted for a onsen.

On the way back we had dinner at a tiny restaurant which had only two tables. The owner was very nice and it was interesting to chat with him. He told us many things about the region about which I will write another post soon 😉 I had soba again, this time with tempura and it was really delicious. There are many fancy restaurants in Karuizawa and most serve Italian or other Western food, but if you want to try the food of the region go for soba.

The fourth day was already our last and we went back 10 hours by several trains just like we had planned to come. This time everything went smooth and without delays. It was an exhausting trip but a lot of fun and I would like to go there again to see the Onioshidashi.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. A Modern Girl permalink
    September 7, 2011 13:59

    Great post–now I want to make the long journey, too. 🙂

    I wanted to invite you to participate in the Japan Blog Matsuri, a monthly blogging showcase that’s been around for a few years. This month’s theme is “Reasons to Visit Japan,” which is very broad. Places, people, food, sports, events, customs, seasons, abstract concepts or feelings—you name it, it’s fair game. You’d be welcome to enter this post on Karuizawa or a new one. For more information, check out the Matsuri announcement:

    http://amoderngirl.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/september-2011-japan-blog-matsuri-call-for-submissions/

    Let me know if you have any questions!

    • franeymoon permalink*
      September 7, 2011 15:03

      Thanks! I’ll think about something new to write, but if I can’t make it I really might submit this post ^^
      It’s been a while since I wrote something for the Blog Matsuri. Tanoshimi☆

  2. May 13, 2013 18:00

    very nice trip 🙂 if you have EU driving license you can use it in Japan without problems, it works the other way around too. Don’t Japanese trains have toilet on them?

    • franeymoon permalink*
      May 16, 2013 16:01

      I think you need a translation of your EU license and then you can drive like that for up to a year. After that you’d need to get a Japanese license.
      And not all trains have toilets, unfortunately…

  3. March 20, 2014 19:42

    Hi, I went to Karuizawa last month on the 04th (Tuesday), and a strange thing happened. All the shops in the so-called shopping district were closed.

    Why? Were they closing due to lack of business, or was that a special day? Thanks, appreciate it

    • franeymoon permalink*
      March 27, 2014 18:13

      Hi, sorry for the late reply. I think you just happened to go there on their regularly closed day. Most shops choose one day a week they will be closed and as I google for Karuizawa shops, most if not all seem to have chosen Tuesday. There was no national holiday or anything.

      • March 27, 2014 18:32

        Thanks for the reply. I guess it’s just my luck then 🙂 Do you read Japanese? I tried google before I posted as well but can’t find anything in English 😦

      • franeymoon permalink*
        March 28, 2014 04:34

        Yeah, I googled in Japanese 😉 For someone living in a big city it’s very rare that everything closes at once, but I know for example that the shopping district in Wakayama also closes every Tuesday. It’s probably very common in the countryside.

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