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Posts tagged ‘Karuizawa’

Journeys in Japan : Karuizawa and Matsumoto

I am recently super late on my travel posts. The volume of photos is one of the reason. The other, I want my posts to be informational and useful to those who travel and that requires a lot of research which almost always throws me into a stalling mode. But with all the posts on fashion that I did these couple of months, I am on the verge of being labeled as “fashion blogger” so I decided to pivot my focus and get down to the posts about the trips I took this year. ^-^

In June, we took a trip to Karuizawa with another Russian family and rented a cottage together. It is not so expensive to rent a family-type cottage in Karuizawa but if you do it with another family, it is even better. ^-^ The one we chose (Highland resort, Kita Karuizawa) had two bedrooms with three beds in each room – absolutely perfect even for families of 4. ^-^ Plus, there is a big sofa in the living room.

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There is a designated space for barbeque in the area but if you have your own equipment, you can also do it on the porch of your cottage. All you need to bring is the grill or brazier, skewers and coal, the rest is provided within the cottage – pots, plates, glasses, cutlery along with the fridge, rice cooker and toaster. Bedlinen, towels and hairdryer are there too.

My friends were originally from Uzbekistan and of course knew a thing or two about how to make a perfect barbeque spread. They did lamb, pork and beef for us and chicken skewers for the little ones.

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After dinner, we went for a little walk around the forest. The sunset was breathtaking. They say that if the skies are pink, the next day is going to be wonderful and it really was. This trip to Karuizawa was one of the best ones and my son had so much fun, I am sure it will leave a positive print on him even if he won’t remember it.

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We played a little bowling. I am still amazed at how a 1.5 year old could lift heavy balls and throw them in the right direction. We give so little credit to babies, yet they prove us time and again how smart and creative they are.

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Although the rule of not stepping on the lane with your street shoes on (or not at all!) was beyond his comprehension. ^0^

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On the morning of the next day, we went to おもちゃの王国 (The kingdom of toys) – a magical place where children of all ages can enjoy not only various toys and attractions but also play sports, trek forest, swim and try different crafts.

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If it is too hot or cold outside, you can always hide in one of the indoor areas and play with wooden toys from different counties, roleplay with hundreds of various dolls or build your own city at the Prorail train wonderland. There is also a restaurant area with kids menu – not much variety there but you do have a choice between a bento with hamburger, sausage and potatoes and a bowl of udon (wheat noodles). There are also ramen, curry, fried chicken and I think pasta.

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After the amusement park, we headed to Hoshinoya – a beautiful contemporary resort from the famous chain of luxury hot springs. We couldn’t afford to stay there but the hot spring itself was quite affordable. For 1300yen (750yen for children) you can use any of the indoor or outdoor baths for the unlimited amount of time. I went there around 2PM with my son and there were only a couple more people. The bath was surrounded by trees with birds singing in them. It had a couple of small waterfalls and lots of sitting stones for sunbathing. My son loved it so much, he didn’t want to get out. We were sitting in water hugging each other, singing and watching dragonflies above our heads. That was the absolutely perfect moment I carefully stored in my memory to cherish for the rest of my life.

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From Karuizawa, our little family headed East to visit Matsumoto – a beautiful preserved city in Nagano prefecture.

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We decided to stay close to the center at a small but very stylish Matsumoto Marunouchi hotel.

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Upon checking in , we took a walk on Nawate street – an old-fashioned shopping district running along the river that hosts a lot of small antique galleries, eateries and my favorite of all – used book stores. The city is famous for its soba – buckwheat noodles, wasabi and raw horse meat – everything is of course produced locally with wasabi farm being the largest one in the world. Unfortunately, traveling with a 1 year old we couldn’t try any of these things. With soba shops, they almost always only sell soba in there and he never tried it before. The risk of an allergy reaction was something we didn’t want to deal with while traveling. So instead, we went to a good old family-type restaurant with an open salad bar where my son suddenly discovered his passion for free veggies and ate like three plates of mini tomatoes, cucumbers and baby corns. ^-^

By the time we got to Matsumoto-jo – the main attraction of the city and one of the biggest castles in Japan, it was already closed but we got to enjoy its exterior grandeur as well as beautiful sunset in its garden.

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Since we were already in the gate city to Japanese alps, we couldn’t help but visit the Azumino national park – beautiful area in the footsteps of mountains with a gorgeous view and a lot of entertainment for children including trampolines, stilt-walking, exploring woodland trails and making local crafts.

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Our last stop was the very stylish Chihiro art museum that displays hundreds of work of the famous Japanese illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki. There is a baby area with wooden toys, children’s books library with tables and chairs to sit and read away. There is a stylish restaurant with an outdoor area where you can also take any of the books and read during your lunch. There are swings and small toys available as well. At the museum shop, you can buy the works of Chihiro Iwasaki as well as many other books including some foreign titles. There are also candies and cookies with the famous illustrations that make wonderful gifts.

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As always thank you for reading and stay tuned for the absolutely wonderful hot springs trip we took at the end of the summer in Izu.

Journeys in Japan – Karuizawa, Kusatsu onsen

Karuizawa is the place I have always wanted to visit ever since I learned about it from a cheesy Japanese TV drama that I used to watch to study the language. It is the famous retreat area for Tokyoites with lush greens and mild climate although when we got there, there was nothing mild about the scorching sun and humidity in the air. However, once you hide in the shadows of the forest, you can at last taste the delicious coolness Karuizawa is so famous for in summer.

The main street of the city was lined with various cafes, boutiques, bakeries and souvenir shops mostly selling tasty produce like jam and honey and the art works of local craftsmen. None of the stuff was cheap. The average lunch price at a restaurant or cafe was around 1500 yen.. More, if a restaurant was visited by someone famous like John Lennon. ^-^ Although if you don’t need to sit at a terrace or inside an air-conditioned room, there are plenty of choices of street food like German sausages, Russian piroshki, ice cream and amazing french bread.

There was a huge Ghibli animation souvenir shop on the main street. I spent half an hour browsing through different toys and character goods and ended up buying absolutely nothing… Always happens to me when I am given too much choice – I get lost!

On the way from Karuizawa to Kusatsu onsen, we visited beautiful Shiraito waterfalls (White thread waterfalls). The water was so cold I couldn’t bear to keep my feet in it for more than a minute. Such contrast in temperatures is really astonishing!

The smell of wet forest is really something special. I love it so much because it brings back so many memories from my childhood. It was just so peaceful to sit on a fallen tree, watch the dance of water falling down, enjoy the coolness of the air and smell the incredible aroma of wet soil and leaves…. I want to go back to that place so badly..

When we arrived to Kusatsu onsen it was already getting dark so we took a quick tour around the area visiting a small Kusatsu shrine at the top of the hill and trying delicious rice cakes with hot green tea at various “omiyage” shops along the way.

The main street of Kusatsu village had a huge reservoir of volcanic onsen water. The smell was excruciating – something in between a rotten egg and cat’s pee. But knowing that this horrible smell was just minerals that are so good for the body, it was kind of OK to bear it at least for a while.

People around were walking in their yukata which really gave a whimsical feel to the whole scene. I could easily imagine myself in the last century watching a small town scene unravel in front of my eyes. If you are fluent in Japanese, you can also enjoy a “rakugo” performance – traditional Japanese stand-up comedy that takes place in onsen.

At the main village square, there was a big pool of scorching hot onsen water for feet. Kusatsu is really famous for the hotness of its onsen water. It was so funny to watch Japanese tourists sitting by the pool, trying to ease their feet into the water and screaming “Atsui! Atsui!” – Hot! Hot! every second or so. My husband tried some Zen techniques he learned earlier which helped him keep his feet in the water for several minutes. ^-^ I could only do several seconds. ^-^

This was our ryokan – a very nice place with amazing personnel and rooms overlooking the hills.

We rented a private rustic rotemburo but the water was too hot. I guess I would really appreciate it in winter. In summer, it was unbearable. So instead I just sprinkled the onsen water on me and enjoyed a good massage. ^-^

The dinner was of course amazing. I just love onsen food – all vegetables and fish and everything is so fresh and delicious.

I visited the public rotemburo after hours so there was noone inside – yay! I liked it more than the private rotemburo because it had different baths with different temperatures and minerals. Also it was bigger and in the night the air was cooler so I could finally enjoy a little soaking in the water.

The next day, we decided to drive towards Nagano and see the famous Yugana volcanic lake high in the Shirano mountains. The road to that place was tough – not only it was a mountain serpentine road, it also was poisonous at times. Here and there, there were danger signs that advised drivers to drive fast and close all windows because the smell from natural onsen reservoirs in the mountains had too much chemicals in it to make you dizzy and lose control of the steering wheel. Plus, the smell itself was just pure evil. I have no idea how people on mountain bikes were passing through that area..

The volcanic lake was beautiful, same color as the mountain lakes in Patagonia. I saw a couple of deers on the peaks of the mountains near the lake. It was amazing being there and watching all that grandeur beauty in its untouched form.

After volcanic lake, we drove to a little town called Obuse to check the works of famous Ukiyo-e artist Hokusai.

In the Edo era, Obuse was a center of local commerce with trade routes to the Kanto area and West part of Japan. In response to the growth of economic activities some influential literary men and artists came all the way from Kyoto and Edo bringing high culture to the little town. Katsushika Hokusai – famous master of Ukiyo-e was one of them.

The area is also famous for its kuri – chestnuts. We tried everything – chestnut cakes, chestnut ice cream, chestnut wine.. We also bought lots of chestnut souvenirs for our families. ^-^ The town itself was pretty. It reminded me a little of Kanazawa – old commercial buildings preserved in pristine condition and still operating. I really admire Japanese for cherishing their traditions and finding the perfect balance between old and new.

 

Amazing Italian restaurant on the main street where we enjoyed lunch before heading back to Tokyo. ^-^ I love the places that are touristy but not crowded. I can’t really imagine a nice restaurant in Tokyo with 20 empty seats on terrace. That would be pure miracle. ^-^