Karuizawa is an hour’s train ride from Tokyo, The hill resort is a popular summer retreat for Tokyo folks looking to escape the heat and stress of city life and at WIT Japan & North Asia, there was a lot of talk about the need to disperse tourism beyond the main centres of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as inbound visitors soar to reach its 40m target by 2020.
Karuizawa is the perfect spot for foreigners looking for experiences beyond Tokyo.
It is accessible by train – Japan Railways’ tickets are now in English, one more proof point of how Japan is changing to accommodate foreign travellers – and it is a delight to explore and discover the place on foot or on bicycles.
The air is distinctly fresher and cooler, the greenery lush and soul-enriching – even the birds sound chirpier here.
‘Karuizawa’s Swan Lake – changes colours with the seasons.
As I explored Karuizawa over the weekend – enjoying the local soba, dairy produce, jams and “domestic sausages” and visiting local shrines and lakes, I was struck by the blend between Japanese and foreign culture in this historic town which seems to have found “chowa” (harmony) in the ongoing dance between local and global.
In days gone by, this was the playground for Canadian missionaries working in Tokyo and there are old photos of locals dressed up in frocks and carrying parasols just like the foreign women. Churches stand alongside shrines tucked away in the forests.
Western influences are infused into the local cuisine and produce – French pattiseries, German chocolates, Italian pasta.
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