POSTED BY DANNY CHOO On Sat 2012/05/19 16:39 JST in Places to visit in Japan

Managed to take a day off to get out of Tokyo and went to a town called Karuizawa in the Nagao prefecture. Karuizawa has a population of 17,833 and is recognized particularly as a summer retreat spot.

Could have gone by train but we like to go out n about in the car which also enables us to get around freely without waiting for public transport at the destination.

Here we are passing through the ETC which is the Electronic Toll Collection system which lets us pass through without stopping the car and manually handing over cash. We get billed at the end of the month for using the highways.

For the past 10 months or so, the government has been making it dead cheap to use the highways on certain days. Trips that would normally cost 10000 yen now cost a mere 1000 yen. When there is a public holiday on a Friday or Monday, many citizens would make use of the 1000 yen deal and get out n about for the long weekend which would cause longer tailbacks on the highway...

While the 1000 yen deal gets more people out n about which stimulates economic growth especially at tourist spots, the coach and shinkansen bullet trains have taken a hard hit as more people want to travel by car instead - understandable as folks only pay 1000 yen for a car filled with people.

Running ones own company does have some perks - being able to get away when one chooses - even though its not that often ^^;
Left on a Friday morning which was a normal weekday for most folks meaning that we avoided any tailbacks on the highway. Tailbacks in Japan are horrible!

Surrounded by mountains after a few hours drive.

Arrived at the Prince Hotel Karuizawa which is a ski resort and outlet mall all rolled into one. Arrived just in time for lunch.
If you are going by train, you would need to get off at Karuizawa Station.

After lunch its a stroll around the area. T'was biting cold!

Karuizawa is more recognized as more of a Summer retreat spot - thanks to a Canadian missionary called Alexander Croft Shaw who said that Karuizawa felt like back home in Toronto.
In 1888, Shaw set up a cottage house which then paved the way for Karuizawa to become an area filled with cottages for the Summer retreat.

Our daily bicycles are foldable which we usually bung in the boot when we head out somewhere far by car.

Beware of bears or people who look like bears.

This lake is basked in golden brown leaves in the Autumn and becomes a popular photo spot. At this time of year however, there is only being a few ducks.

I love Japan - most likely to be one of the few places on earth where I can forget my iPhone on the bike and come back to find that its still there ^^;

Karuizawa is filled with roads like this which are lined with tall trees that go on forever.

I think this was Naka Karuizawa which is filled with the touristy souvenir shops and restaurants.

A few snacks can be picked up for those who like to nibble on something while taking a stroll.

And this is what I was nibbling on. Kinda looks like poo but also tasted a bit like poo too.

Since becoming a Dollfie parent, I find myself always thinking about my daughters and whether something would fit them when I see miniature clothing.
I saw some pet clothes and immediately thought if they would fit on a Dollfie ^^;;;

Donguri Kyowakoku - the Ghibli store.

I love Ghibli stuff and owe a lot to the various Ghibli animations which I studied a lot of Japanese from.

Remember when I first watched Laputa - could only understand bits of it. Laputa is such an awesome movie that you can watch again and again without getting bored.

Totoro was great too.

A large percentage of interior bedroom lights in Japan come with a cord that one pulls to turn it on n off. These Totoro goodies are designed to be hung off the end of those cords

Rabbit thingies with no mouths.

Majo no Takkyubin (Kiki's Delivery Service) is another fave of mine. I love Kiki! I guess shes my fave loli.

Looking back at these photos - I regret not picking up one of these - would have looked good on the desk.

Passing through a shrine. The statues with the red hats and bibs are Ojizousama. Ojizousama is a god who is said to look after the young. I bought a small one from a souvenir shop in Hiroshima when I was a visitor to Japan many moons ago. I put it on my window sill when I got back to London and used to put a small cup of water in front of Ojizousama which I changed every day.
I clearly remember rushing for school one day but I forgot to change the water in his cup - dropped everything at the door and ran up to my room to change the water for him. Could it be that he helped me get to Japan?

People write their wishes on some enma which are hung up at the shrine.

Karuizawa seems to be popular for the jams produced locally - the shops are filled with them!
Most of the jams are displayed next to some crackers for you to check out the taste.

One of our life goals is to get another house somewhere outside of Tokyo. Many of our friends in Tokyo have been buying land and houses in the Karuizawa area.

Land area is usually measured in a unit called tsubo which is about 3.31 square meters. You can use Japanese Google to do a search like 2坪 which will then convert that into square meters for you.

Here we see that a patch of 85 tsubo (280 square meters) is going for 4800000 yen, while the most land one can get from this bunch is 940 tsubo (3107 square meters!) for 54000000 yen - less than what our house cost ^^; Our current house in central Tokyo is about 20 tsubo which is 66 square meters - good thing we have three floors.

Here we have some land that come with houses. 18000000 yen for a second hand place with 285 tsubo (942 square meters).

Land in Karuizawa is very cheap - and you get lots of it when compared to land prices and space in Tokyo.

Cycling back to the hotel after a day out n about Karuizawa.

Time for some buffet dindins at the hotel.

Omrice please. Omrice is a rice dish which is covered with an omelette.

Omelette about to be devoured.

Mio-chan joins us for dindins.

Main dish is a sea animal.

Mio-chan kawaii!

Dinner done and its time for our after dindins walk.

The hotel grounds are well lit and there is a nice pond outside with other folks taking an evening stroll.

We stayed at the Karuizawa West Prince Hotel. I would only recommend this place if you are here to do some skiing - you can walk to the slopes which are nearby.
If you are not indulging in any snow activities however, the Prince Hotel would probably bore you - quite a bog standard hotel with no hot springs. They do have hot springs nearby but charge something in the region of 2000 yen just to use them - and you need to take a shuttle bus to get there.

No Internet connectivity in the hotel either so had to get one of those pre-paid cards to use wifi which was only available in the lounge. There was no phone receptions in the room either so iPhones are about as useful as a nail in the forehead.

To compensate for not having onsen at the hotel, some Babu is provided - plonk it in the bath tub which will transform into a fizzy bubbling bath without having to fart as hard as you can.

Time to pack up the bikes and head out by car.

After driving for a bit, we encounter a load of lovely snow.

Its standard practice to place chains around the tyres when it snows but we didn't have any meaning that some toll gates didn't let us through. We did go through some very icy patches though with a load of skidding around ^^;

We are now in the Gunma prefecture at Onioshidashi which is a popular tourist spot. There are large areas of lava which was erupted from Mount Asama back in 1783.

I love the name of the park - if you translate the kanji of the park into English you get "A Devil which has pushed (it) out" which I presume refers to the lava.

The place was actually closed at this time of year - not a soul in sight. Was surreal being up there without a single sound - no wind, no birds, nothing. "Solitude" is the word that comes to mind to describe the experience.

This observation deck reminded me somehow of the Playstation 1 Metal Gear Solid.

I remember buying the game on a trip to Japan and then buying a huge TV when I got back to London to play the game.
Ended up selling the TV only a few weeks after I got it as I got the job in Japan...

As the main park was closed, there wasn't a lot to see up here.

Something for your kanji learning. How much of this can you read?

Map of the local area.

The place was like a ghost town. There were tractors, snow rakes, vending machines and wot not but just no people.

If you do decide to come to onioshidashi during the winter, be careful as some of the snow is very deep - about leg deep as we found out the hard way ^^;

Something very odd happened to my iPhone while I was up at Onioshidashi - the time reset to 1970/1/1 and the compass started to spin around at an alarming rate. Has this happened to any of you?

Mio is also leg deep in snow but shes wearing thermal shimapan which keeps her warm.

Back in central Karuizawa to relax with some grub.

Kara-age is a fave dish of mine. Deep fried chicken.

Picking up some cakes for afternoon tea.


Mio-chan - one of my most fave nendos ever.

Attack of the kewpie clones. All of them are showing their dolphins - do I need to censor?

A look at some of the outlet shops. Picked up a new beanie.

Use the chopsticks to place some pickles in your hand before trying. After munching and licking the pickles from the palm of your hand, use the cloth provided to wipe your mouth. Then wipe your hand on another customers coat.

More jam delights for you to take back home.

Wifey picks up some socks. Saw this in the sock shop and thought that my Dollfies would look good in something like this *calls chun*

Evidence that "Loli" did not originate from Japan.

Time to head back home. 183km back to base.

Sunny evening driving through the roads which weave back n forth through the mountains.

If "Eyes" is the first thing that pops in your mind when you see this photo then you have been watching waaaay to much oppai anime.

Listening to Ridge Racer while driving on the highways of Japan is a most refreshing experience ^^;

Little did I know what was going to be in store for me for the first few weeks of Jan after getting back to Tokyo...