IF YOU still haven't used up the allotted time covered on your JR Rail Pass, head off to a destination you can tour for a day. In my case, having a couple of day’s credit on my 7-day JR Rail Pass bought at 29,110 yen (ordinary fare), a quick trip to Karuizawa in the Japanese Alps was suggested.
The trip to Karuizawa from Tokyo on board the Shinkansen took an hour and the 11,000 yen round-trip fare was covered by the pass.
Karuizawa is asset is its elevation. It’s a go-to place during the summer because of its cool temperature, and if you’re into skiing, then you’ll enjoy the winter as well.
Autumn is said to be a beautiful time to visit as well. It’s when the foliage turns to red and gold. I was visiting at the perfect time.
Shopping at the Prince Shopping Plaza, an outlet mall conveniently located beside the train station, is one good reason to visit Karuizawa most especially if you’re a shopaholic. The gorgeous Nagano mountains as its backdrop is certainly a big bonus.
If you’re not into shopping, there are several attractions to check out, like museums, waterfalls, shrines, etc. I opted for the most convenient spot a short (free) shuttle bus ride away.
Shop, dine & commune with nature at the Harunire Terrace. It’s a wooden terrace built in a forest area a short walk from the bus stop.
The riverside patio holds rows of trendy and upmarket shops, cafes and restaurants. You can join the busting lunchtime crowd (especially on weekends) along the terrace’s main path, or grab a coffee and something to bite and find a quiet spot overlooking the river.
Say a little prayer at The Stone Church. Walk uphill from the bus stop until you reach the compound that shares three attractions. The most breathtaking would be The Stone Church.
The church is said to be “an excellent work of architecture.” Why? Because the design of the stone structure blends seamlessly with the surrounding forest, pretty much like an intriguing stone mound that entices anyone to take a closer look.
Now comes the tricky part. Can you go near? Is luck on your side?
The Stone Church is open to the public. However, it’s also a popular wedding venue and during these times the church is closed to the public.
Unfortunately, there was a wedding the time I visited. The closest I came to the edifice is a glimpse of the entrance from the winding stone path leading to the church.
I checked the web for its interior shot and I will say I missed my chance to see the amazing interior.
But I said a short prayer of thanks at the Karuizawa Kogen Church. This church is closer to the main entrance.
If the stone church was built like flowing circles, the Kogen Church is designed like a triangular tube. It was originally built as a lecture hall where the learned gathered to talk about art and literature.
It was converted into a church after World War II. Today it's also a venue for concerts and weddings.
I saved the best for last, and I think so should you.
Relax and recharge at the Tonbo-no-yu. It’s a gender segregated public bath spring facility operated by the Hoshino Resort.
In was in 1914 when the locals discovered the Hoshino Hot Springs and I discovered this onsen’s wonder more than a century after. Boy, was I glad I did.
You see, it’s been day after day of walking for this hungry tourist and my feet was hurting and my body was really tired. Thirty minutes in the mineral-rich water of the hot spring flowing with the spectacular view of the forest and mountains got me relaxed and rejuvenated. Not only that, the spring water is known to have good effect on the skin, too.
A dip in the indoor pool filled with floating apples was interesting as well but I seem to have enjoyed the outdoor pool more. Besides the al fresco pool also has its “floating matters”. These are crystallized sulfur known as “Flowers of Onsen”, which guarantee the onsen as natural and non-filtered.
I wish I had more time to enjoy the place but it was time to head back to the train station to catch the train back to Tokyo before it gets dark.
Do all this while enjoying Karauzawa’s Autumn foliage!
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