Shopping in Karuizawa – The Resort Area Loved by the Japanese Imperial Family

This year in September, we spent three days/two nights in Karuizawa, a beautiful part of Japan nestled in the mountains north/west of Tokyo, not far from Nagano. If you’re planning to visit Tokyo but you’d like to escape this bustling metropolis for a few days then Karuizawa is well-worth a visit. If you’ve never been to Japan you’d be better off visiting Kyoto, Japan’s cultural epicentre, but I’ve been to Japan seven times so I was looking forward to exploring somewhere different, a place that didn’t have hordes of tourists. In fact, I only saw two other Westerners the whole time we were in Karuizawa! An added bonus is it’s now easier than ever before for tourists to visit Karuizawa thanks to the Tokyo Wide Pass which allows you to travel to and from Karuizawa on the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train for just ÂĄ10,000.

Karuizawa has always been an upmarket resort area favoured by wealthy Japanese people and foreigners but the Imperial Family also love to take time out and relax in this area. In fact, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko actually met each other on a tennis court in Karuizawa in 1957 so this area will always have a special place in their hearts.

Emperor tennis

Many famous people have villas in Karuizawa. The Japanese actress Sayuri Yoshinaga and the actor Ken Watanabe have houses in Karuizawa and there’s a rumour Bill Gates had an enormous house built here in 2013 on a 22,000-square metre plot, about half the size of Tokyo Dome, at a cost of eight billion yen. Many years ago, John Lennon and Yoko Ono enjoyed staying regularly at the Mampei Hotel in Karuizawa and famous Japanese writers such as Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata have reportedly stayed at this hotel as well.

There are many scenic areas in Karuizawa such as Kumoba Pond and Shiraito Falls but it’s lovely just to drive through or Asamawalk along the tree-lined streets in and around Karuizawa. This picturesque town sits at the foot of Mount Asama, one of the most active volcanos in Japan. There have been regular eruptions for hundreds of years. On the left is a photo of Mount Asama erupting many years ago with some Japanese locals looking on.

 

Karuizawa is a great place in summer to play golf, take long bike rides and shop. In winter, the hot springs are very popular and people come from overseas and from all over Japan to ski at one of the 14 ski resorts near Karuizawa. If you plan to go skiing here take advantage of the “Karuizawa Basecamp Passport”, a multi-mountain pass for 12 resorts in the area.

I visited two shopping areas in Karuizawa: The Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza and the Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza shopping strip.

The Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a very fashionable outlet shopping mall with lots of famous high-end brands. It’s located just outside the South Exit of Karuizawa Station. We were staying at the Hotel Cypress Karuizawa which is only a 15-minute walk from this shopping mall so it was a very convenient place for us to shop and my husband and I picked up a few bargains here. Roy bought some loafers from the Timberland store for just over ¥5,000 and I bought a Coach business card holder for about the same price, reduced from ¥17,000! I didn’t take many photos here because there really wasn’t anything unique to photograph.

My favourite place to shop was Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza-dori. I really liked the fact it was such an eclectic shopping experience. As we wandered up and down this quaint street, it was nice to see most of the shops in this area have been unaffected by the modern fads and tacky consumerism you see in areas like Harajuku in Tokyo.

Below are the photos I took of some of the shops along Ginza-dori and a few of the items you could buy inside. Some of the shops are very upmarket and expensive but there were also several boutiques in Kyu-Karuizawa that are more tourist orientated and reasonably priced.

There are several shops, such as Osakaya and ICCHODO in Karuizawa, selling exquisitely crafted and very beautiful handmade wood carvings.

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Tsuchiya Shashinten has a huge selection of stunning recent and historical professional photographs of the Karuizawa area, Mount Asama and the Imperial Family that you can buy for just a few hundred yen.

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Gallery Miyagi displays and sells beautiful kimonos, kimono accessories and genuine diamond Art Deco jewellery from London.

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Chieko Kanda (pictured next to me below) loves to welcome new customers to her shop Gallery Yōji in a side street off Ginza-dori. I was really impressed by the watercolours painted by Chieko and her husband Yōji Kanda and I bought a couple of pictures for just ¥1,000.

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Doggy House Karuizawa has a variety of very cute clothing for dogs as well as accessories and toys to keep your four-legged friend warm and entertained for hours on end.

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You’ll be in Ghibli heaven at Donguri Kyowakoku – the Ghibli store in Karuizawa. This shop has really high-quality Ghibli-themed items ranging from towels and facecloths to flowerpots, pens and stuffed toys.
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Bridal House TUTU Karuizawa, located between Ginza-dori and the Karuizawa New Art Museum, is the perfect place to buy contemporary and traditional kimonos for that special day.
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Foundry patisserie/cake shop is the best place to buy an omiyage (souvenir) for your foodie friends with a sweet tooth for gourmet delicacies. The store itself is a sight to behold. It looks very grand from the outside and the inside of the cafe is always beautifully decorated to match the seasons. You just know you’re going to be paying high prices as soon as you walk in but I can assure you, you’re going to be walking out with something very special. Foundry has such a good reputation you can also buy their cakes and other specialty foodstuffs at Mitsukoshi Ginza, Sogo Yokohama and Takashimaya Shinjuku as well as other prestigious department stores in Japan. Foundry is especially well-known for their seasonal fruits, deliciously baked confectionaries, and their Mont Blanc chestnut tarts.

Foundry


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Enjoy the taste of sweet caramels at Karuizawa Caramel Cream & Sweets. You can try before you buy at their enticing taste corner!

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At the Honey Shop Karuizawa, you get an actual Giant Sparrow Bee (also known as an Asian Giant Hornet) in a squeeze bottle of honey! This shop also sells Proherb creams and lip balms made with honey, of course!

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Honey

Atelier Kabiriya is a great little shop to find kawaii, fun, and cheap souvenirs, socks, magnets, novelty snacks, keyrings and pens, Doraemon toys, cheap but pretty umbrellas, Hello Kitty merchandise, soft toys and so much more!
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We stopped to have lunch at Boulangerie Asanoya. The outside of the bakery looked really inviting and we were spoilt for choice when we went inside. This bakery is obviously a firm favourite with the locals. There were tables inside but they were all taken so we had to eat our lunch standing up against the counter because this place is so popular, even mid-week at 11 a.m. This bakery has been using European-style baking methods since 1933 and everything inside looks and tastes absolutely delicious. I had a bacon and potato focaccia and an apple pie made from Nagano Mori apples. My husband had a cheese stick and a club sandwich made with rustic bread. The food was so good it was difficult not to order more yummy pastries on our way out.

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If you’re visiting Karuizawa and you’d like to find out more about the attractions in the area and skiing in Karuizawa drop in for a drink at Kevin’s Bar and say hello to the owner Kevin Meyerson, an expat who has been living in Karuizawa for many years.




I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Karuizawa and looking at all the photos. Please feel free to leave a comment if you’ve been to Karuizawa or if you’re thinking of visiting Karuizawa in the future. I look forward to reading your comments and hearing about your experiences.

Where to Stay in Tokyo, Karuizawa and Narita

This year we stayed at three hotels in Japan in September: Hotel Villa Fontaine Kudanshita in Tokyo, Hotel Cypress Karuizawa and the Radisson Hotel Narita which is located about 30 minutes from Narita Airport. All three hotels surpassed our expectations so if you’re planning a trip to Tokyo or Karuizawa and you’re not sure where to stay I can highly recommend these hotels.

HOTEL VILLA FONTAINE KUDANSHITA, TOKYO

This hotel has a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor because it has everything you need for a comfortable stay in Tokyo and you couldn’t ask for a better location. The rooms are compact but modern and extremely clean and quiet and the hotel has all the amenities you need for an enjoyable stay.

Hotel Villa Fontaine 1

After checking in to the hotel, we were very pleased to see the room was very nice and exceptionally clean and there were pyjamas in sealed plastic bags on the bed. They were more like night shirts but I thought they were very comfortable and compatible with the temperature of the room. If you use these pyjamas the cleaners will give you a fresh pair every day. There was no wardrobe but there was a rack for you to hang up your clothes and this was absolutely fine for us. The Mikimoto toiletries in the good-sized bathroom were lovely and I was very happy with the Mikimoto shampoo I used to wash my hair every second day. They provide a kettle as well as space to make a cup of tea and there was a fridge in the hallway with plenty of room to store drinks and snacks, or even a carton of milk or juice. There was a large window in the room which provided a lot of natural light as well as a phone to make external or internal calls and an alarm. You can rent a PC to use in your room for a full day or you can use the PC in the reception free of charge. There’s a laundry service that we used and everything came back very clean and nicely folded but this service was quite expensive so I’d recommend the washing machines and dryers that guests can use on site. I did notice there was no iron in the room when we arrived and I also thought the pillows were too hard but I called reception and they sent up an iron and an ironing board straight away that we could keep for the remainder of our stay. They also gave us memory foam pillows that were so nice to sleep on I’ve decided I’d like a memory foam pillow for Christmas!

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The hotel provides a complimentary breakfast every morning and although you could help yourself to eggs, sausages or meatballs, soup, salad and bread, we only had a few small croissants and/or pastries every morning because we wanted to try different restaurants for lunch and dinner when we were in Tokyo, but these bread items were always very fresh and delicious.

The hotel only has 13 floors so it’s perfect if you’re afraid of being in a tall building during an earthquake (although there were no earthquakes during our entire stay in Japan). Another big bonus for this hotel is its location. It’s a 5-minute walk from JimbĹŤchĹŤ station, an area I like because it has lots of second hand bookstores. There are also lots of restaurants and three convenience stores surrounding the hotel and three train lines that stop at JimbĹŤchĹŤ Station – the Subway Hanzomon Line, the Subway Mita Line and the Subway Shinjuku Line, making this hotel convenient for just about anywhere you want to go to in central Tokyo. By the way, don’t forget to avoid the expensive JR Lines as much as possible and buy a 3-day subway pass for just ÂĄ1,500 yen when you’re in Tokyo to save you lots of money on train travel.

HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA

This was a fantastic hotel and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here. The staff were extremely kind and courteous and there were always several staff members standing at the doors next to the reception waiting to greet us whenever we came back to the hotel which was really lovely.

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We received a complimentary upgrade to a luxurious and spacious room that was bigger than most Tokyo apartments. The room was so big there was an entrance for you to take off your shoes and then a separate entrance to the bedroom, kitchenette, lounge areas and balcony once you were inside. We stayed in a “relaxation” room so the bathroom had a deep soaking tub, there was a foot and leg massage machine, a kitchenette with a breakfast bar, and two spacious sitting areas as well as a balcony.

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This hotel is probably the best hotel in Karuizawa because of its location. Karuizawa train station and the designer outlet stores are just a 10-minute walk away. There’s a convenience store on the way to the hotel when you’re coming from the train station and there’s also a huge Delicia supermarket around the corner from the hotel. It also only takes five minutes by taxi to get from this hotel to the Ginza Street shopping area in Kyu-Karuizawa.

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RADISSON HOTEL NARITA

This is a great hotel if you’re jetting off from Narita Airport and you can expect first-class customer service. We were very lucky to be upgraded at this hotel as well and we’d definitely stay here again. The Business Class room they gave us was very comfortable and quiet and the bed was absolutely perfect for a good night’s sleep. We also really liked the lovely extras that came with the room. It was so nice to have an espresso machine, luxury bathrobes, a control panel for the room next to the bed, a lounger to stretch out on with a foot stool, a spacious desk, and an extra-large bathroom with plenty of room for your toiletries.

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The staff all spoke excellent English, the concierge was quick to take care of our luggage and roll it on a trolley up to our room, the receptionists and concierge staff were always smiling and very happy to help and we really appreciated the free welcome drink. You could choose from a glass of wine, beer or soft drink.

The breakfast was absolutely amazing. I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels and I would say the breakfast at the Radisson Hotel Narita was the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had. There was a huge selection that catered for Western, Japanese and Chinese guests. I had the waffles and pancakes with maple syrup and they were very light and fluffy and much nicer than the expensive Hoshino pancakes in Tokyo. I also had a slice of sourdough bread and it was so delicious you could tell it was brought in from a gourmet bakery. My husband had eggs and half a plate of bacon and he loved the bacon so much he went back for another serving to make a bacon sandwich. Overall, their breakfast was really special so if you’re planning to stay at the Radisson Hotel Narita make sure the breakfast is included in your package.

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Radisson Hotel Narita 5If you’re hungry in the evening but you don’t want to eat dinner in the restaurant there are several convenience stores just a few minutes’ walk away and there’s a fridge in the room for you to keep your snacks cold. There’s also a swimming pool at the hotel if you fancy a dip but we didn’t have time for a swim. When it’s time to go to Narita Airport there’s a free shuttle bus which leaves on a regular basis from the hotel and we were pleased to see it was on time and very comfortable.

My Trip to Tokyo and Karuizawa!

Tokyo is always changing and evolving so I love discovering what’s new in my favourite city every time I pay a visit. This progressive and magnificent metropolis never disappoints me. I was so happy to be in Tokyo and I really wanted to capture my time there so I asked Nathalie at Nathalie April Photography Japan if she’d take some photographs of me in Shibuya. You can see what a talented photographer she is when you look at this picture of me below. I don’t think I’ve ever looked so relaxed in a photo!

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I had an absolutely fantastic time in Tokyo but I also had the chance to visit the beautiful resort town of Karuizawa for the first time.

You can now travel to Karuizawa and back to Tokyo on the shinkansen bullet train for just ¥10,000 on a 3-day JR TOKYO Wide Pass. This is a town well-worth including in your itinerary if you’re planning to visit Japan. The climate in Karuizawa is cooler than Tokyo and the pace is much more relaxed so it’s the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a few days before you travel to another part of Japan or back to your home country.

I bought this charming photo below of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan playing a spot of tennis in Karuizawa from Tsuchiya Shashinten, a specialty photography shop on Ginza Street in Kyu-Karuizawa where you can purchase all sorts of professional photos of the Imperial Family and the surrounding area for just a few hundred yen.

There are all sorts of quirky and interesting shops in Kyu-Karuizawa selling gorgeous souvenirs and trinkets but you can also shop to your heart’s content at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, a designer outlet, just behind Karuizawa Station where you can pick up some real bargains. In fact, I bought a lovely cream-coloured leather Coach business card holder here for just ÂĄ5,800, reduced from ÂĄ17,000!

Karuizawa is really picturesque and captivating at any time of the year, making it the perfect holiday choice in the warmer months and a great destination if you love to ski in winter and bathe in hot springs or if you just want to enjoy the autumn leaves. Karuizawa is considered to be an upmarket town. In fact, the Imperial Family spend part of their summer in Karuizawa nearly every year and many affluent Japanese people have holiday homes here.

There are also lots of restaurants serving high quality Western and Japanese food in Karuizawa. We dined at Benson Hamburger and Pasta just off Ginza Street in Kyu-Karuizawa. I had the salmon pasta and Roy had the hamburger with chips. The service was excellent, the food was wonderful and the atmosphere was relaxed and just so inviting.

benson_pastabenson_restaurant_3Another interesting fact you may not know is John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to spend every every summer here so if you’re a Beatles fan you’ll love visiting their favourite French Bakery in Kyu-Karuizawa or you could even enjoy a delicious lunch at the Mampei Hotel where they used to stay.

I’ll be sharing lots of photos and memories of my latest trip to Tokyo and Karuizawa over the next few months so please come back and visit my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog and feel free to leave a comment.

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner in Shibuya for Less Than ÂĄ1,500!

Tokyo is an expensive place to visit and some restaurants can cost you an arm and a leg but there are also lots of cheap eateries located all over the metropolis and Shibuya is no exception. Nearly everyone who visits Tokyo will head to Shibuya – a town smack-bang in the middle of Tokyo where young, hip and cool people meet to dine out or hit the shops.

The mouth-watering and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes I’ve suggested below were chosen because so many people who adore Japan or live in Japan are raving about them on social media and you’ll love the fact you won’t have to pay more than ÂĄ1,500 (about ÂŁ10, $US13, $AUS17) for these meals. The places where you can eat these dishes are also very close to Shibuya Station. You can use a navigator app or ask a stranger for directions. You’ll be surprised how many people speak some English and how willing they are to help you get to where you want to go.

BREAKFAST: SOUFFLÉ PANCAKES at HOSHINO COFFEE inside 109 MEN’S MALL

Overlooking the scramble crossing in Shibuya, Hoshino Coffee serves pancakes that get a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor and if you look at the images below it’s easy to see why. The pancakes are very thick yet incredibly light and fluffy and the general consensus is they’re just “really awesome”. They’re served plain with maple syrup, with apple and caramel, banana and chocolate sauce, or even green tea ice-cream. You’ll also be pleased to know a serving of the double plain pancakes with maple syrup is just ÂĄ700, leaving you enough money to order a cup of their popular “hand-drip” coffee!

A Japanese breakfast typically consists of steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish and side dishes and this should be on the breakfast menu if you’re staying at a good four or five-star hotel or a ryokan. If you don’t have this option you should definitely head to Shibuya and try the pancakes. They’re not as healthy but so much more agreeable to the Western palate.

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LUNCH: ICHIRAN RAMEN 

Some say Ichiran Ramen is the best ramen in the world so you have to try their famous noodles when you’re in Japan.

This is the description of Japanese ramen on Wikipedia: “Chinese-style noodles served in a meat or occasionally fish-based broth, often flavoured with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, menma, and green onions.”

Ichiran Ramen only serve pork/tonkotsu ramen but you can choose how spicy, rich and flavoursome you’d like the broth, how many pork slices you want, and how much garlic, spicy sauce and scallion you want added. If you’re eating by yourself you won’t feel self-conscious because Ichiran Ramen has a policy that reduces nearly all of the interactions between the staff and the customer. You buy your meal ticket from a vending machine and everyone sits in a private booth so you can concentrate on your meal without interruptions and distractions and thoroughly enjoy every mouthful.

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Ichiran ramen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DINNER OPTION (1): YOSHINOYA BEEF AND RICE BOWL (GYŪDON)

Rachel W. on TripAdvisor says “Yoshinoya in Japan blew our minds”! She also left a comment saying the ramen tastes much better and the menu is more varied than Yoshinoya in the US, so you can’t walk past this firm favourite. These Yoshinoya beef and rice gyĹ«don dishes are very popular with working-class Japanese. Therefore, some of your Japanese friends may not recommend it because it’s such a common food chain but I can assure you every Japanese person at one time or another has craved a beef bowl at Yoshinoya when they’re tired, hungry, strapped for cash and looking for the ideal comfort food. Even their regular gyĹ«don dish is completely satisfying and it’s only ÂĄ380!

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DINNER OPTION (2): GENKI SUSHI (CONVEYOR BELT SUSHI)

This fun and enjoyable conveyor belt sushi restaurant is really popular with the tourists. You order on a touch screen and the monorail track shoots out your sushi dish within a couple of minutes. Although, the quality of the food is good and you’ll pay less than you would in your home country for conveyor belt sushi (plates start from just ÂĄ100), this shouldn’t be the only restaurant you try when you’re in Japan because you’re not getting a purely Japanese experience. But if you live in Japan and you’re trying to save money or if you have kids and can’t take them to fancy restaurants, or if you’re just craving sushi and the 5-star sushi bars are right out of your price range then this is a cheap option.

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DESSERT OR SWEET TREAT: CREMIA SOFTCREAM at SILKREAM

Japanese people don’t say “soft serve”, they use the word “softcream”, and the softcream at Silkream is said to be the crème de la crème! The makers wanted to impress people all over the world when they created this delicious softcream and based on all the reactions on social media they’ve certainly achieved that. Everyone who has tried their premium softcream in Shibuya has been raving about the taste and they’ve been urging everyone to try a cone if they’re in Tokyo.

Most soft serve ice-cream has 8% milk fat content but this softcream has 12.5%. It’s made with Hokkaido milk and 25% is heavily whipped cream giving it a silky and creamy texture as well as a milky taste. Their cones are also incredibly good because they’re made from the same recipe as the buttery langues de chat cookies.

A single cone costs ¥515 but there are also dessert options such as their Chocolate Fondant, Mango and Passionfruit Parfait and Mascarpone Cheese and Espresso Crêpe. These decadent alternatives cost a little bit more but they’re also well-worth trying if you have a really sweet tooth.

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All photos are courtesy of Yelp.