a cosmopolitan and convenient resort an hour from Tokyo
Karuizawa is a popular mountain resort just over an hour away from Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Shuttle buses from the station take you to the slopes in just three minutes, making the resort particularly convenient if you are coming from Japan’s capital.
If you book a room at the Prince Grand Resort — an expansive hotel complex that runs the length of the ski area base — you can drop your luggage off at a concierge counter just beyond the station exit. Your bags and cases will be delivered directly to your room so you can head straight to the slopes hands-free for your first run.
The area is accustomed to international visitors, as on weekdays, guests from abroad make up about 60% of the clientele. While staff might not be fully bilingual, those working in the area are friendly, welcoming and work in the spirit of omotenashi — Japan’s famed hospitality.
The Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Area is the perfect starting point for first-time snow travelers. Start off on the right foot and in the right gear by visiting one of the rental shops where you can rent everything you might need for skiing or boarding. The shops stock larger sizes too — boot sizes run to 33cm — and are located very close to the slopes for easy access.
If you are new to winter sports, you can sign up for a private or group lesson to learn the basics. Friendly and patient instructors will teach you what you need to know. English and Chinese-speaking staff are available, so be sure to request one when you book a lesson. Almost half of the trails on the mountain are gradual descents, making them an excellent option for beginners, but there are also steeper courses for more advanced snow enthusiasts. The resort is great for families with young children, as there are three snow parks offering tubing and other fun snow activities, and kids under twelve can ride lifts for free.
The Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a sprawling outlet mall located just outside of Karuizawa Station. There are around 200 stores including brand-name boutiques, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Along with clothes and accessory shopping, don't forget to pick up some locally made craft beer and sake, soba noodles, pickled vegetables, or other locally-grown produce to remind you of your stay in Karuizawa.
Kyu-Karuizawa Main St. stands in stark contrast to the shopping plaza. Most of the restaurants, cafes and stores are family businesses that offer homemade goods and handicrafts. The traditional area has over 240 retail stores and was reportedly favored by John Lennon, who spent several summers vacationing in the area with wife, Yoko, and son, Sean. Buy a sweet treat from one of the unique jam shops in the area or try some Shinshu soba, a local specialty.
There are a wide range of lodging options in the town depending on your needs and budget. The extensive slopeside resort offers numerous accommodation options, while more traditional spots like the historic Mampei Hotel — John Lennon’s choice of stay — offer snow travelers a more homely experience. If you are staying at the Karuizawa Prince Hotel, you can book a private cabin that accommodates groups of four to eight people. It is easy to get around Karuizawa as there are shuttle buses that loop between the resort area hotels, outlet mall, lifts and station.
Karuizawa experiences plenty of sunny weather, so when the sun is out, head to the 1,155-meter ski area summit for stunning views of Mt. Asama — an active volcano — and the other snow-covered peaks that surround the town. Alternatively, head to Kumoba Pond with your camera as the reflection off the water just after fresh snowfall offers the perfect backdrop for some stunning photographs. Shiraito Falls is another popular destination popular with photographers; make sure to bring your wide-angle lens to capture the full 70-meter-wide waterfall.