When staying at the Hoshino Resorts, you should block out a sunny Saturday morning to head down to Karuizawa for a stroll down the main street north of the station and into the old town.
Top tip: you can hire a bicycle for a few hours or a day from one of the many rental shops in town, as Karuizawa’s flat, wide streets are ideal for two wheel cruising. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even get cosy on a tandem bike. Note that the rental gets cheaper the further you go from the station.
One of the best things about strolling Karuizawa is the cafes. Karuizawa has embraced café culture on a whole different level to the rest of Japan, so take this opportunity to sit at an outside table in the sun with a cup of hot fresh coffee and some cake or bread at one of the many unique cafés in the town.
If you’re here later in the day, you may prefer to have a cold, locally brewed Karuizawa Kougen Beer at the Karuizawa Kitchen near the beginning of the old town, though it is also available various places around town.
Down the main street there are plenty of clothing and gift stores, ranging from quirky to gorgeous, and including toys, Middle Eastern imports and silver. At Ginga silver store, they will even engrave a name for you on any ring you buy.
The top attraction on the main street is the New Karuizawa Art Gallery, a spacious, light gallery with three floors of contemporary art, and next door, the Sakuranoki Gallery—the twin of the one in Tokyo’s Ginza—a carpeted vintage-chic gallery full of couches and secret doors. Both are free, and have a regular rotation of exhibits.
There are also a handful of small gallery slash shops around town with a diverse range to suit any interests.
At the end of the main street you hit Kyu-Karuizawa, the old town. This is where the crowds of people and well-dressed dogs fill out and the shops get busy.
There are some excellent stores in the old town, with heaps of local produce and craft, street food, soft cream (I think I saw a carrot flavored one) and souvenirs. Although it’s called the old town, it has a very contemporary, gourmet flavor to it.
It is, however, worth noting that this is the only town in Japan that I’ve found a pay toilet, and I couldn’t find an alternative without going to a café.
For a spot of entertainment, you can head to the Kyu-Karuizawa Trick Art Museum (¥1500), which is full of optical illusions. Get photos of yourself being eaten by a shark, or of your friend shrunk to half size.
There is also the ever-so-trendy Castle Street complex, with its circular courtyard and chic stores, which leads you to the small but sweet St Paul’s Catholic Church.
A few kilometres after Kyu-Karuizawa is Shaw Memorial Chapel, the oldest church in Karuizawa, so if you have time or a bicycle, it might be worth heading over there to have a look.
When you have totally exhausted your feet and your budget, and you couldn’t possibly eat another thing, it may be time to head home. However, if you have a little more time, it might be worth stopping at the Karuizawa Outlet Mall near the train station, just since you’re here…