Japan

A Trip to Karuizawa – Escape to the Real Japanese Nature

Today’s people love cellphones, tablets and laptops so much. We spend much time to check up beautiful pics and interesting stories on SNS today. But we sometimes want to see the real nature far from our busy life. Yes, we need an escape travel!

I’m one of them. Even if I often say that Tokyo is NOT a concrete jangle with many beautiful parks and gardens, I wanted to have a trip to a place that is full of fresh green. Then, I picked up Karuizawa for my next destination. It was really WONDERFUL, so I’m sharing my trip with you!

5 Fast Facts about Karuizawa

All international travelers know Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, but may not Karuizawa. You might think, “Where’s that? Is it kind of a hidden gem that few people visit?”

But actually, Karuizawa is a beautiful destination that all Japanese people have heard of.

A long explanation is boring, so I’ll summarize up the 5 points.

  1. highland resort town
  2. real nature
  3. rare birds and animals
  4. just 1 hour from Tokyo
  5. loved by famous Japanese poets and artists

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Karuizawa cannot be a wrong place to visit in Japan!

Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary

When I read the guidebook, Hoshino Area especially attracted my attention among the several areas in Karuizawa.

This area is famous for the hot spring bath and villa-type accommodation, and especially, the Wild Bird Sanctuary seemed to be a fantastic place for me who wanted to escape!

Karuizawa Bird Sanctuary wooden board and the pathway.
“Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary – Ministry of the Environment, Nagano Prefecture”

It’s real Japanese woods, not an artificial park, and a wildlife protection area by the government, but it is not so hard to go there – just 20 minutes  from Karuizawa Station by bus.

I made up my mind to go there. I got the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) ticket and the only thing I had to consider was the cooler climate than Tokyo.

Interesting Animal Check List

Talking about travels, interesting animals always attract us. I was so excited when I learned who live there on the guidebook!

Japanese serow

I think the most interesting animal inhabit there is this; Japanese serow.

Nihonkamoshika-akita

You thought that you saw this animal in the Studio Ghibli anime, didn’t you? At least, I did.

What’s more, they live only in Japan! We have some chances to see them in the woods in Karuizawa.

Japanese serow is an endangered species, but the number is increasing these years because of the project to protect them.

(*photo sourced from Wikipedia.)

Japanese giant flying squirrel

There is another endangered species in the wood in Karuizawa; Japanese giant flying squirrel.

They are nocturnal, so we can’t see them when the sun is up in the sky. I’m a person far from nocturnal, so I couldn’t see them face to face, but I saw this sign there…

Japanese flying squirrel warning sign
“Warning: Flying Squirrel May Cross the Road (At Night)”

This kind of signs exist wherever rare species inhabit in the world – kangaroo warnings, wombat warnings, and the Japanese giant flying squirrel is a Japan-limited species, too. (Wikipedia)

If you are serious to see the flying squirrels, apply to the night tour at Piccio, the wildlife research center.

Piccio, the visitor center and NPO

Even the entrance of the woods was beautiful… I advise you to remember that it’s a cozy cafe, too. They serve a nice cup of coffee.

Bears and Others

Because of the rich nature, I learned that bears live there, too.

bear warning signs in Japanese and English
“Be Careful of Bears”

I saw some serious hikers with a bell tied to their backpack, but I didn’t. As you see, I’m completely safe and fine back in Tokyo.

Beside bears, we have chances to see other birds and animals that we can never see in the busy city.

Asama National Bird Sanctuary navigation board in Japanese
“National Wildlife Protection Area” by Ministry of the Environment

Ooruri, blue-and-white Flycatchers, live in the woods… Let’s search for the blue bird!

My Adventure to the Real Japanese Nature

So I jumped into the green world with Japanese wildlife in Karuizawa. Then, did I see the rare animals on my trip?

Sorry, I couldn’t see the real Ghibli animals. They are considered to be special because they rarely show up in front of us!

But I’m not saying that I wasn’t satisfied with my trip. The nature in Karuizawa was really beautiful and I was so impressed to see a lot of lives living there.

First, when I got off the bus, I was so excited to see some cherry blossoms. Amazing, it was the first week of May!

cherry blossoms and fresh green leaves and blue sky
Cherry blossoms and fresh green
cedar trees and a cherry tree with pink blossoms
A wild cherry tree!

The cool air made me feel that I arrived in a highland. Cherry blossoms bloom later in the cold climate than in Tokyo. We should remember this as a travel tip.

And the following are the wildlife I saw there. I wish you can find how much I enjoyed…

wild duck couple in a pond
A wild duck couple (I saw more of them.)
a dragonfly on green leaves
A dragonfly (You can see the transparent wings in the center of this photo.) This kind lives only near a stream.
dead leaves and some green frasses
A lizard (Find its head and tail!)
a frog in a pond
A frog. We can’t see this kind in Tokyo.
tadpoles in a pond
Tadpoles (New born babies in spring)

It was so relaxing that the voices of birds and frogs are all around me…

Moreover, hiking gears are NOT required to take a walk there. Although it is a wildlife protection area, the pathway is human-friendly with the woodchips on the ground.

trees and a photographer on the pathway
The pathway in Karuizawa Bird Sanctuary

I saw many bird watchers with apparently-professional-looking cameras.

At the entrance, I found the sculpture of the founder of Wild Bird Society of Japan (the 50000+ members are known to be experts at finding and counting wild birds) and learned that he loved the woods very much.

Things to Do in Hoshino Area in Karuizawa

The real Japanese nature was good enough, but it is not all of Karuizawa: It’s a culturally interesting place, too.

Hot Spring Bath Loved by Famous Artists

As I said above, Hoshino Area is famous for the hot spring bath; Hoshino Onsen.

Hoshino Onsen Tombo-no-yu building
Hoshino Onsen Tombo-no-yu (meaning, Hoshino Hot Spring Dragonfly Bath)

I don’t have any photos of the inside (of course!), but I felt so refreshed to take a bath after walking around in the wood. The building was recently renewed, so the locker-room and the bathtubs were very clean and user-friendly. The hot water sprang from the real nature and we can take a bath surrounded by that nature – it’s an experience that I never have in Tokyo.

What made Hoshino Onsen hot spring is the important poets and artists around 100 years ago. Hakushu Kitahara, who is one of the most important poets in modern Japan, did his modernization movement for literature and education in Hoshino district. Moreover, Akiko & Hiroshi Yosano, the poet couple on every history textbook in Japan, stayed here, took a bath, too, and made some poems to praise the beautiful nature.

Now I understand why the important artists got inspired from this place.

Restaurant & Cafe Area (Harunire Terrace)

Being the place of the modernization movements led by famous writers and artists around 100 years ago, restaurants and cafes were fantastic in Karuizawa.

The restaurant area in Karuizawa
The Restaurant & Cafes in Hoshino Area in Karuizawa

I got the ice cream – the shop is run by the farm inside Nagano Prefecture. A cup of ice cream is available anywhere around us, but I want to emphasize that this was SPECIAL!

a cup of icecream
Left: Milk & Raspberry, Right: Hana-mame (at HARVEST NAGAI FARM)

I believe that the freshest ingredients made it so delicious.

Travel Tip: Never forget ordering the sweat bean flavor (right in the photo) when you visit Karuizawa. The beans (hana-mame) cannot be seen anywhere other than highlands.

In Conclusion

So my trip to Karuizawa was fantastic. I was right to decide to go there. It was a perfect escape travel from today’s busy life.

trees and a stream on a sunny day

While I’m writing this article, I still feel as if I heard birds singing all around. Seriously, I feel healthier than before my trip.

When you visit Tokyo, how about taking a Shinkansen train for 1 hour and exploring the REAL Japanese nature in Karuizawa?

Travel Guide

How to Get to Karuizawa

Take a Shinkansen train (Hakutaka or Asama) at Tokyo Station. 1 hour to Karuizawa.

If you go to Hoshino Area, take the Seibu bus to Hoshino Onsen Tombo-no-yu. A 15 minutes ride. It’s also fine to take a Shinano Railway train to Naka-Karuizawa (the next station) or take a taxi.

(I personally went to Hoshino Area, but the area around Karuizawa Station is beautiful and interesting with full of the nature and Karuizawa culture.)

Helpful Links

Hoshino Area Official Website (English) – The lecture about how to take a bath will be helpful.

Piccio, the Wildlife Research Center, Official Site (English) – You can book a tour.

Accommodation

Karuizawa is a resort town, so it is not hard to find a good hotel at all.

There are many luxury hotels such as Prince Hotel, Hoshino Resort Hotel, etc. Also, you can find guest houses, which are not very common in Japan.

If you want to save money, you can book reasonable hotels, too. I think Karuizawa is the last place to get tired to find accommodation you like.

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