’twas a bleak night in January and we spontaneously decided to get away from Yokohama to the nearby winter wonderland Karuizawa in Nagano. Our friends have been recommending Karuizawa for the past years to us, as it’s famous four its autumn leaves, cute town and large outlet shopping mall. Well, it wasn’t quite autumn season anymore, but once we arrived (after only 1 hour on the shinkansen from Tokyo!) we suddenly realised how much we missed a snowy winterscape. Even though we experienced cold weather and a bit of frost in Germany over a year ago, we both hadn’t been in the mountains in winter for many years!
Admittedly, we both love shopping, so we couldn’t resist checking out the grand Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza right by Karuizawa station after we arrived. When I say it’s grand, I mean it felt like it was the size of a town! I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big shopping center before. Even though outlet shopping in Japan is usually disappointing as you won’t find any bargains of the year like in the UK where it’s easy to get a 60% discount; having the mountain backdrop while shopping was truly wonderful.
By Karuizawa station, we picked up our rental car that we booked on eki–net (a Japanese booking website) and drove to the British b&b that we had booked for two nights. We arrived and were greeted by an excited poodle and got served a hot cuppa tea that we enjoyed by the fireplace. Thankfully, the owner convinced us to have dinner there and after a delicious meal, we went to one of our best onsens yet called Hoshino onsen. Picture this: a starry sky, snowy hills, relaxing in hot spring waters while it’s -11 degrees outside… bliss!
The second day was sunny but frosty and we tracked out to a snowshoe walking path with Asama mountain views, where the hotel owner took us to. When we arrived, the perceived temperature was -18 degrees and even the guy who took us said that he’s never experienced such a cold place before. Snowshoe walking was very enjoyable especially with the mountain views and we tried to take a lot of photos while or phones kept dying after just minutes due to the freezing temperatures. After the walk, we drove up to Kumanokotai shrine to enjoy even more incredible views of the mountains that divide the two prefectures Gunma and Nagano. And of course, after dinner, we drove out to another onsen that belonged to a huge winter resort where we were the only ones soaking in the hot spring water! An incredible experience.
Should we ski or should we go now? We were surprised to find a ski resort right next to Karuizawa Station and contemplated for a while to have skiing lessons. However, with the little time we had left before our little trip ended, we decided against it. Instead, we walked on a snowy path by the Wild Bird Sanctuary which was quiet and peaceful and we even spotted some bear footsteps in the snow! Not to be worried though, as they track the bears carefully in that area and take care of them. And then we still had time to visit the Karuizawa Shiraito Falls, the drive being an adventure in itself as we found ourselves entering a highway with a big sign that said ‘only enter if you have snow tires’ while wondering if we did. And again we were all alone on a snowy path by the beautiful falls (we’re usually not big into waterfalls but here the surroundings made it so impressive). Just about enough time to visit the shopping mall before heading back to Yokohama on the train!
All in all, we loved our time in Karuizawa and are hoping to come back and experience another season, as it’s just so easy to get there from Tokyo. Karuizawa has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to outdoor activities on beautiful, hidden nature trails. Now that we’re well into March and temperatures are starting to rise, I already look forward to another winter in Japan!