On a recent trip to Japan at the end of February I decided I wanted to visit the famous hot springs town Kusatsu Onsen on the weekend. After I finished work on Friday evening I took the train to Karuizawa (軽井沢) to spend the night since it was too late to continue on to Kusatsu Onsen that evening. As long as I was in Karuizawa I decided to do a little exploring the next morning before catching my bus to Kusatsu Onsen.
Karuizawa is known for being a tranquil place in the mountains to escape the summer heat in Japan and it seemed to be fairly quiet in the winter while I was there. As I set out walking in the morning it was really lovely strolling along the tree lined streets with remnants of a recent snow fall.
My first stop was Kumoba Pond (雲場池), which is known for its beautiful views in the autumn reflecting the colored leaves on the still water. The name Kumoba means "Cloud Place" and refers to the frequent mists that linger over the pond but while I was there the sky was bright and clear.
As lovely as the pond was, I found the little stream that ran beside the pond to be even more enchanting with its moss lined banks dusted with snow.
From Kumoba Pond I headed through more tree lined streets toward Kyu-Karuizawa (旧軽井沢), the old part of town. The main street through the area, Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza (旧軽井沢銀座), was fairly deserted with most shops indicating an eleven am opening time but I could imagine quite a bustling scene in the summer.
I turned off Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza to visit St. Paul's Catholic Church (聖パウロカトリック教会). Built in 1935 the rustic wood church was designed by Czech-American architect, Antonin Raymond, who had also designed a summer house for himself in Karuizawa a few years prior.
I returned back to Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza and stopped for breakfast at French Bakery (フランスベーカリー). John Lennon used to frequent the bakery when he and Yoko Ono stayed in Karuizawa and the bakery proudly displays a poster of him with their baguettes. As is typical in a bakery in Japan you pick up a tray and tongs as you enter and use the tongs to select the baked goods you would like to buy. I ate an edamame and cheese bun which I don't think is very French but was very delicious. I also couldn't resist buying an apple pastry and a bacon and cheese bun to take with me for later.
Continuing up Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza out into the countryside there was a monument to the famous poet Matsuo Basho (松尾 芭蕉) erected in 1843. It displays a haiku that Basho wrote while in the Karuizawa area that reads "馬をさへながむる雪のあした哉". Through looking at a few sources I found that while literally it means something like "even a horse gazing out on a morning of snow" the haiku conveys that on a snowy morning even a horse appears elegant.
I continued along a little farther up the road to the Alexander Croft Shaw House and Memorial Chapel. Shaw was a Canadian Angliclan minister who founded St. Andrew's Church in Tokyo. He has been credited with popularizing Karuizawa as a summer resort when he visited in 1886 and subsequently built a summer home in 1888. Although the buildings were closed when I visited I enjoyed wandering around outside in the lovely setting among the forest.
From Alexander Croft Shaw House and Memorial Chapel I headed back to my hotel to pick up my luggage. My route back took me along a pretty little creek and I couldn't resist taking a few last pictures while I was in Karuizawa.
While Karuizawa was definitely sleepy on my winter morning visit it was a lovely place to walk around for a few hours and I'm glad I had a chance to make the short stop.
Karuizawa Train Station is conveniently located on the Nagano Shinkansen line and takes about 70-80 minutes from Tokyo depending on which Asama train you take. Kumoba Pond is about a 20 minute walk northwest of the the station and Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza is about a 25 minute walk north of the station.