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KS Cover no. 75 2006 August

August 2006 :: 075

Mountains of fun

Karuizawa, Nagano

Karuizawa in Nagano has for decades been a haven from the summer heat for city dwellers. It is also one of the nation's most family-friendly resorts.

Karuizawa, the place John Lennon and Yoko Ono helped make famous was, according to Lonely Planet, ‘discovered' by a man of the cloth – one Archdeacon Shaw. Doing what so many colonials of his day did, Shaw ignored the tranquil lives of the locals, took word of Karuizawa to the world and this one-time mountain village has not looked back since.

Fast forward to the modern day, and you have a town built almost entirely on the back of the tourist yen. The designer shops and chic restaurants may not best suit those with bottles to heat up and nappies to change but the scenery and entertainment for all ages found dotted around this corner of Japan's Central Alps, as well as nature in abundance have all long since blended to produce a town that welcomes, hosts and draws back visitors of all ages, time and time again.

The area adjacent to the town's station and shopping centres features manicured gardens where parents can let watch their toddlers roam free while their partners are elsewhere in the abundant brand-name shops abusing the credit card.

Less obvious and therefore more appealing is the Hotel Green Plaza Karuizawa (part of the Karuizawa Resort), which looks like an English country manor of centuries past and is located a forty- five minute drive from the main shinkansen terminus. It is best reached using the free shuttle bus as the hotel is nestled in a hardto- find quiet corner of a sprawling million square-metre estate.

Surrounded by rolling hills coated in deciduous trees, the hotel is fully kitted out to accommodate little visitors with onsen facilities providing child-size chairs and facilities, a buffet style restaurant serving meals early enough for little Taro, to be fed and get to bed and even provides baby and child menus.

Tables with rounded corners and safe, fully protected and easily monitored play areas set aside in one wing of the hotel take care of those moments Mum and Dad want to do nothing without keeping one hand over a sharp table corner or plug hole and contribute in no small way to the experience as does the shop selling the baby goods that you left next to the TV at home.

A ten-minute walk, or two-minute shuttle bus ride away, still in the estate, is the excellent day out destination of Omochaoukoku — Toy Kingdom with star of the show — Anpanman, a golf course, kiddy putting area and numerous forest walks. All are set off against the impressive backdrop of the snow-clad and highly active volcano of Mount Asama (2,568m) meaning that there shouldn't be a single member of the family left un-entertained.

Whatever you take away from Karuizawa in shopping bags or memories on a digital camera, one thing no one can fail to agree with is the effort the locals have put into making this place try just a little bit harder than other similar sized tourist destinations in Japan — especially for the kids.

Text & photos: Mark Bucktton

:: Online Articles


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Ishiyama & Miho Museum






Iya Village


Yoron Island

:: Kansai Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + Kansai art listings


Best events + Kansai event listings


Best gigs + Kansai live listings


Parties not to miss + Kansai club listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Cafe Terrace de Paris, Kitano


VADE MECVM., Utsubo Park


Best festivals & listings + hanabi


Japan revealed + Random Walk


Best films + cinema listings


Nihongo to go


I Scream, you Scream, everybody loves ice cream
Japanese ice creams


Life during wartime
Escape from Beirut


A horror movie in heaven
Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Ways & Means

By train: four and a half hours from Osaka, transfer at Nagoya and Nagano, or one hour from Ueno station, Tokyo

By bus: 11 hours from Osaka by night bus

Hotel Green Plaza: www.hgp.co.jp

Toy Kingdom/Omochaoukoku: www.omochaoukoku.com