This trip was organized by the Karuizawa Prince Hotel. Click here to book a room at this hotel
Karuizawa was first popularised as a mountain resort area by foreign residents of Japan in the late 1800s. These days it is a popular destination for both foreign and Japanese travellers alike. With tons of activities on offer from skiing, tennis, shopping and hiking, this is the perfect place for a family trip. For those looking to escape the city for a short break, its proximity to Tokyo - just 70 minutes on the shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station - makes it an easy escape to the beautiful mountain landscapes of the Japanese countryside.
Earlier this month, JAPANiCAN.com were lucky enough to be invited out to Karuizawa and be shown around by the kind and friendly staff at Karuizawa Prince Hotel. Here's a report on our trip over there.
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
After a quick hop on the shinkansen, the first port of call for us was the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza. A recent addition to the town, this brand new outlet mall contains a wealth of eating and shopping - currently with around 200 shops, and plans to extend that number in the future. Stores range from outdoor goods to luxury brands - exhibiting both Japanese and foreign names. This is truly a shopper's heaven - with some great restaurants to boot.
A unique feature of the shopping complex is its wide open grassy space in the center. In the warmer months, this becomes host to picnickers who sit out on the grass by the water and enjoy a relaxing bite to eat al fresco after some serious shopping.
After taking a walk around the shopping center, we checked into our hotel. We were staying at the Karuizawa Prince Hotel West, but the staff had a bit of time to show us around some of the hotels and facilities available, so we gladly took them up on the offer.
Prince Grand Resort Karuizawa
The Prince Grand Resort Karuizawa is a vast area equipped with an array of facilities including hotels, a golf course, the shopping plaza, tennis courts and ski runs. Here's a glimpse at some of what's on offer.
The Karuizawa Prince Hotel East
The East building was built around the concept of harmony, and the decor hints toward a forest theme. Twin rooms are large with an option of 32 meters squared or a larger 42 meters squared.
After taking a look around the rooms, the manager took us to the Sakura lounge bar, where we relaxed and chatted over coffees. He pointed out the fire in the middle, with its chimney designed to resemble a golf club. Can you guess which one from looking at the photo?
With Christmas coming soon, the hotel had also put some Christmas-themed cakes and pastries on sale. I was particularly impressed with the Santa one!
As well as the Sakura lounge, there is also a main dining room, a Japanese restaurant called Shinano and another restaurant called Porto. The East building is also home to the Spa and Onsen facilities as well as a Dog Run and a Kids Forest House.
Next we made our way to the West Building, which is where we would be staying the night.
The Karuizawa Prince Hotel West
The West Building was built around the concept of exhibiting the four seasons of the scenery that surround the hotel. Twin rooms are 24 meters squared, while junior suites are a roomy 48 meters squared.
There is a souvenir shop right by the reception that sells a number of unique produce from the Karuizawa area. The building also has large dining areas and a conference hall, as well as a Japanese restaurant Karamatsu, a Chinese restaurant Tori, a win bar & lounge Marron and a buffet restaurant New York.
Popular with groups of golfers and skiiers, the resort also boasts a number of rental cottage huts - the perfect place to stay when you'd like a little more privacy for the group. Cottages range in size, from the smallest at 47 meters squared to the largest at 95 meters squared.
After so much exploring the grounds of the hotel, our stomachs were rumbling and well in need of some quality Japanese-style food. We made our way to the dining room...
Dinner is served
We took dinner in the Japanese restaurant, Karamatsu in the West Building where we were staying. The food served was traditional kaiseki-ryori cuisine, and was cooked to absolute perfection.
Dishes were served one-by-one, and the presentation and attention to detail of each dish reflected the painstaking effort that went into preparing the meal. We were served some delicious vegetables in the famous Imari porcelain, all the way from Arita in Saga Prefecture, Kyushu.
While we were enjoying the delightful meal, we washed it down with cool crisp beers and hot sake.
Perhaps due to the early Christian influence from foreigners who first came to the area in the late 1800s, Karuizawa is famous for its winter illuminations and light displays. After dinner we took a stroll around a couple of these.
One of the illuminations was held in the center of the shopping plaza, and the reflection in the water was beautiful to see in the cold winter night. Another illuminated spot we visited was in the forest, and we could see a number of couples walking hand-in-hand through the romantically lit trees.
After a wonderful dinner and romantic walk admiring the illuminations, just before bed was the perfect time to jump in the onsen. The hotels onsen is located in the East Building, however the staff were on hand to drive us over to the hot springs so we didn't get cold. The baths were seperated into male and female, and I enjoyed a long hot soak in both the indoor and open-air bath. I also went to the sauna to sweat out some of that beer and sake I'd been drinking earlier...
After a nice hot bath, it was time to get some rest for tomorrow...
We woke up early and took breakfast in the New York buffet restaurant. Faced with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, I did my best to eat until I burst.
With a belly full of breakfast and coffee, it was time to...
...Hit the slopes!
One of the great things the resort has going for it is its proximity to the ski course. The hotel is situated right at the foot of the slopes, making it easy to get on the lift and get up the mountain quickly without any faffing about.
There was a group of school students taking lessons on the slopes from instructors, and everyone looked to be improving very quickly!
As well as the ski run being great fun for beginners to learn on, there was also a kids' section for families to play in the snow with younger kids. They all seemed to be having a great time on their toboggans. A one day lift pass will cost 4,300 yen for an adult, and 3,300 yen for a junior high school student or a senior.
Ski wear and equipment is available to rent from the shop, with prices depending on duration. To give a general idea 1 Adult can rent a set of boots and skis for 1 day for 4,800 yen, and ski wear for 1 day for 3,500 yen (1 Child, 1 Day; Set: 3,800 yen; ski wear: 2,500 yen).