Access : Tokyo Station take Nagano Shinkansen (about 11-12K yen round trip) to Karuizawa Station (50mins)
After my first brush with Karuizawa back in 2009, I have dreamt of spending more time there. Little did I expect that I would be fortunate enough to spend many summer days here in 2012.
While quite a lot of time was spent under the influence of the birch trees and larch trees, absorbing the rare moments of solitude, there are many parts of the town that I love and that transport me to an imaginary life. I sometimes imagine living here and being a real part of this town. The quaintness of it reminds me of the little Sullivan Family toys I used to love playing with as a child. I felt like I was almost in a perfect little Sullivan Family town.
*Titbit – Karuizawa is the only city in the world that has hosted both the Summer and the Winter Olympics (Summer 1964 and Winter 1998)
There are plenty of bicycle rental shops in town, it is a good way to get around Karuizawa and to get to the nearby Shiraito Falls. It is also a scenic cycle to Karuizawa Prince hotel compound and the outlet shopping plaza. I heard there are not many places in Japan that allow tandem bikes but Karuizawa is one of them. If you do rent a bike, it is easy to go around town to Ginza Dori, Church street, the Prince Hotel Shopping Plaza and just around the little roads to admire the pretty houses along the streets.
Ginza Dori is the one, historic shopping street in town with low rise buildings and specialty shops. The architecture have heavy western influences, not surprising since it was a British theologian who promoted Karuizawa in 1886, and attracted many western residents as well as city dwellers from Tokyo.
On weekends Ginza Dori is closed to cars and people can stroll up and down the straight street shopping and snacking and sampling the famous Karuizawa jam, honey, leather goods and other knick knacks.
The one shop I spent a lot of time at (like 3 hours straight) is the Rakuyaki painting shop 楽焼 (Japanese pottery), usually populated by children.
I get really into it! This summer I was quite fascinated with painting and drawing cherry blossoms. I know I already have too many of these lying around at home though, from previous visits.
Actually I think I did this in 2009. The ‘rakuyaki guy’ or Oniichan (big brother) seem intrigued that a big kid would sit in his shop for so long. When I returned in 2011, he remembered me as the girl from Singapore (whowouldsitinhisshopfor100hours) and always welcomed me warmly.
This piece was particularly interesting. I had not painted horses for a long time ( prob when I took Chinese calligraphy and brush painting lessons when I was a kid ) and spending way too much time at the shop again. Ike wanted to go play mini golf. While I was finishing another piece, Ike drew a pile of poop under my horse and thought it was hilarious.
The ‘rakuyaki guy’ got mad at her though and told her off for ruining my painting. He was always nice to me and excited to put my pieces in the oven and varnish them for me.
This summer of 2012, I was happy that he still remembers me. Sometimes he introduces me to other patrons and tells them (or their parents) that I am from Singapore. He once asked if i am an artist and Ike responded with a rolling of eyes.
Ike said ‘his other customers are all kids is why..’
I don’t go in to paint every single time I am in Karuizawa now, but he waves when I walk by. Really sweet.
The rest of the photos are sites in Karuizawa that caught my eye and that make up the charm of this little town.
A gallery, a museum, a wedding shop and a phone booth.
Church Street – the famed St Paul’s Church
Japanese people seem to love taking their dogs everywhere with them, sometimes in a pram. The Karuizawa prince hotel has a pet spa, and I saw a Karuizawa pet hotel featured in a magazine here once. (Proceeded to beg my mom to fly our dog over… “No.” Okay mom you can come too. “NO! Siao.”)
The most interesting pet story I have from Karuizawa was meeting this couple along the church street shopping plaza. They were walking 13 dogs, all chihuahuas. Check the picture out. Now imagine those little royalties x2.
Karuizawa Prince Hotel
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (link to website) has a ton of outlet shops as well. It is HUGE! And many people bring their pets so you will always see handsome dogs running around. The East wing is newer and circular, surrounding a nice green grass field and a pond. There is also a big open kids playground and sometimes lots of cute little food trucks around.
I cycle all the way there to and reward myself at the Godiva outlet shop after a long cycle 😀
More about Karuizawa coming up soon.