Starting on April 4, 2016, this blog became a part of the company site, Resort Innovation Inc. Please excuse me for my late announcement. I appreciate you continue coming back to this blog.
Today, I shot a video in Kumoba Pond, the most popular sightseeing place in Karuizawa. Kumoba Pond is famous for foliage scenery in Autumn, but it shows attractively changing faces season by season.
Please watch the video below. If your browsing environment allows, try 4K resolution.
Japanese people usually take long vacation from the last week of April to first week of May. It is called Golden Week. Toward that week, Karuizawa town scenery is changing very rapidly to green, and then, green.
While I am editing videos in my business, I am getting accustomed to present my messages in a video form. I will occasionally upload other videos in Karuizawa in this blog.
Karuizawa is a famous destination for tourists, and has a lot of commercial and public attractions in the area. Shopping outlet is of course a top destination, but in addition to that, we have many museums, parks, onsen (hot spring), golf courses, sports facilities, etc. in the area.
For town residents, these facilities are very close not only in terms of their distance from their living environment but also in terms of their ease of use, thanks to preferential discount program specifically offered to the town residents.
Let me introduce some well known programs as follows. Some of these offers are applied to seasonal residents (owners of seasonal villas and cottages), too.
Tonbo no Yu (Hot Spring)
It is an onsen (hot spring) facility in Hoshino Resort. Its standard price for one time use for adult is ¥1,300 for weekday's use but it becomes ¥500 after town resident preferential discount is applied.
Kazakoshi Park (Sports facility)
It is a town operated sports facility. Curling arena is especially famous as one of the competition places of Nagano Olympic Games in 1998. Basically, town residents can enjoy 50%-off discount for whole the year for all its facilities.
Exercise Gym: ¥600 (One time use) to ¥300
Swimming Pool: ¥400 (One time use) to ¥200
Curling: ¥800 (One time use) to ¥400
Futsal: ¥400 (One hour use) to ¥200
Tennis Court: ¥4,500 (4 hours use) to ¥2,250
Ball Game Field (baseball or football): ¥26,000 (One day use) to ¥13,000
Gymnasium (Indoor ball games, Budo, etc.): ¥200 (One time use) to ¥100
Art Museum's Day
Karuizawa Museum of Art Council defines the 1st day of every month as the Art Museum's Day when admission fee is free at all the council member museums only for town residents. Following 9 museums are the members.
Sezon Museum of Modern Art
Collects and exhibits 20th century moderns art such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, Hisao Domoto, Keiji Usami, Shusaku Arakawa and
Literary Museum of Karuizawa
Exhibits manuscripts, personal collections etc. from Karuizawa origin writers such as Tatuo Hori, Saisei Muroo, Michizo Tachihara, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and Yasunari Kawabata.
Tasaki Museum of Modern Art
Exhibits works by Hirosuke Tasaki.
Exhibits works by Raymond Peynet.
Karuizawa Picturebook Museum
Exhibits original pictures and painting of world famous picture books.
Wakita Museum of Art
Exhibits works by Kazu Wakita.
Le Vent Museum of Contemporary Art
Exhibits works by Isaku Nishimura and his fellows.
Karuizawa Erz Toy Museum
Exhibits Erzgebirge Toys from Ertz, Germany.
Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa
Exhibits works by Hiroshi Senju.
It is Chinese new year week this week, and a lot of, again, a lot of tourists from China are coming to Japan. Karuizawa is actually one of the main destinations for outlet shoppers. Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (PSP) is located just in front of Karuizawa station and is welcoming guest shoppers from Asia by holding a special sale. Until last year, I do not remember if PSP had such a big Chinese language dedicated poster like this, but this year, we can see not only this but also many other individual shops created their own Chinese language posters and ads to attract attention from Chinese tourists. For Japanese shoppers, it is good too because we can buy a lucky bag (福袋） twice a year in January and February and enjoy big sale events again. It must be good for sellers too.
Increase in overseas shoppers influences other parts of Karuizawa tourist scenery and economy. Until a few years ago, Karuizawa winter tourist scenery was actually quite silent. However, recent increase in inbound tourists to the town has changed the scenery little by little. Some rental bicycle shops, which used to close during winter, are now operating their shops even during winter. We sometimes see Chinese and Asian tourists riding bicycle on icy town roads for sightseeing. Japanese tourists do not do that as it is cold and risky, but overseas tourists do not care and look to enjoy sightseeing for icy and snowy town. Karuizawa town's winter icy scenery must have some values to attract them, something which most Japanese tourists and even Karuizawa local businesses have so far overlooked.
Actually, most of shops still tend to close during winter especially in Kyu Karuizawa area, but this winter tourist scenery changes may have a potential to change such tendency. I hope more local businesses in town rethink their strategy by taking advantage of this chance to convert Karuizawa to real all-season resort.
Karuizawa had a big snow fall last week. Since it has been almost snow-less winter until Monday last week, we saw the big snow with rather welcoming mind. Snow is an essential element of winter scenery for local residents, and we feel uneasy if we do not see this white and icy stuff by December.
To cope with the snow, local residents have their own tools and knowhow for snow shoveling. Until last year, I had been managing to do snow shoveling by a man-powered tool only , namely, by a shovel. This year, our family decided to purchase a 212cc engine powered snow removal machine, HEIGE HG-K6560, which actually has completely changed and significantly eased our family's snow removal task.
HEIGE is a Chinese manufacturer and sells its product in Japan only through its online shop. Local home centers sell domestic engine powered products by HONDA, YAMAHA and so on but their price range are about from 200 to 500 thousand Japanese Yen per unit. Japanese machines are a bit expensive for ordinary people. HEIGE sells their engine powered machines, and its starting price is about 50 thousand Japanese Yen for its 97cc engine powered product. Our engine powered 212cc 6.5 horse power machine was priced at about 100 thousand Japanese Yen. It is still not cheap, but I felt that the price of the snow removal machine has been coming down to a price range on which ordinary people feel affordable.
Watch a movie below (silent movie) to see the performance of HEIGE HG-K6560.
Snow in Karuizawa last week piled up for about 30 to 40 cm. It would be 2 days work if we tried to remove the snow around my house only by a man power. I was amazed to see the performance and powerfulness of the machine. I, to be honest, look forward to seeing the next big snow fall to test the machine further.
Forecast says it will be snow this weekend. I hope it not to be too much, to allow us again enjoy snow shoveling.
Mount Asama (altitude 2,558 meters) is one of the important landmarks of Karuizawa. It is one of the most active volcano in Japan, and its dynamic mountain body and volcanic plume are giving an accent to the regional scenery.
Mount Asama is one of the most active volcanos in Japan. In fact, it erupted in very small scale in June this year. Just 4 days before the eruption, Japan Meteorological Agency raised the volcanic alert level of Asama from 1 to 2. It means that you are currently not able to go inside the 2 kilometers zone from the crater, though you were able to go inside 500 meters zone from the crater when it was level 1. It should matter for mountain climbers but it does not so much for ordinary town residents. As of December this year, Asama is fuming everyday as it usually has been doing so for many years, but we do not feel any imminent sign of intensified volcanic activities like increased frequency of earthquakes.
JMA monitors the volcanic activities of Asama with sensors and cameras, and warns people appropriately. Asama erupted in 2004 and 2009 in recent history. In August 31, 2004, JMA raised the volcanic alert level from 2 to 3 then Asama erupted in mid scale on Sep 1, the next day. In February 1, 2009, JMA raised the alert level from 2 to 3 then Asama erupted in mid scale on February 2, the next day. Asama's volcanic observation system is considered very sophisticated, and I think it will continue to be trustworthy for coming years.
Asama eruption of course influences town people's life. Fortunately, there has been no fatal disaster by the eruption since 1947. However, decreased demand for sightseeing, travel, and real estate hits the town economy and market. In 2004 the average land price in Karuizawa dropped by 4.3% and continued to drop by about 0.8% for 2005 and 2006 respectively. In 2009, it dropped by 8.2% and continued to drop by 5.8% in 2010 and picked up to grow by 5.4% in 2011. It is difficult to tell its impact numerically due to much larger significant economic events like the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy shock in 2008. According to a real estate person in town, the market certainly suffers from the impacts by the eruption but such negative impact does not last for so long period and the market picks up again in a few years. It means, people go out temporarily but come back soon.
For people who consider to relocate and own a house here, Asama eruption risk should be a major concern. Actually, I was one of them before moving to the town. However, currently, I understand that the risk of living here is equivalent to the risk of living elsewhere in Japan. Japan is a volcano and earthquake island country, and we must always be aware of natural geological disaster risks in terms of both physical safety and personal asset value depreciation. I experienced the East Japan earthquake disaster in March 2011 in Tokyo, and understood that living in a city does not always ensure personal safety during such severe natural disaster. I personally concluded that living near the active volcano does not necessarily increase my life risk.
Seeing the fuming volcano of Asama everyday, I feel the value of living near this great nature wonder. It is not something you can experience in city areas.
In my previous post, I wrote about the usage of Airbnb in Karuizawa. Besides them, there are other types of short term vacation rental services. I am picking up some of them.
"ARICA vacation rental" has been operating in Karuizawa for several years. They operate distributed 4 villas for daily hotel-like service, 46 villas for monthly leasing service, and 2 villas for trimonthly leasing service. Their daily service villas obtain a hotel service permit from a local government, and therefore are completely legal. That is a difference from villas being brokered on Airbnb.
Their fees are set to compete with local hotel service like Prince Hotel and Hoshino Resort. Hotel usually charges you per capita, but ARICA charges you per room. Though the room charges tend to be high during summer, I think you can consider their services as a good option for seasonal stay.
Owners Hill Karuizawa operates "hotel-style" daily accommodation service, using several Karuizawa style cottages and villas. They are originally a real estate brokerage and property management company, and seem to began this hotel-style accommodation service by leasing some unused cottages from the cottage owners. (source: All About article in May 2012) Their fee system is the same as hotel, daily fee per capita, but still competitive to Prince and Hoshino. They close during winter from January till March, but I think it is worth trying if you like to experience Karuizawa lifestyle in other seasons. Their cottages are aggregatedly located in Oiwake district of Nishi Karuizawa.
As most Japanese people know, Nagano is the prefecture of longevity. Nagano was ranked #1 among Japan's 47 prefectures in 2010 at the average lifespan of 80.88 for male and 87.18 for female. National average then was 79.59 for male and 86.35 for female. Those for Karuizawa residents in the same survey is 81.6 for male and 87.0 for female. Interestingly, Karuizawa male lives longer than the Nagano prefecture average.
Researchers have been studying why Nagano citizens have such long lifespan. They concluded so far that the secret is in vegetable intake volume of people in this area. According to the survey by the Japanese government in 2012, Nagano male eats 378.1 grams of vegetable per day while national average is 295.6 grams. Nagano female eat 364.8 grams per day while national average is 280.2 grams. Of course, these numbers are ranked #1 among the 47 prefectures.
Actually, what amazed me after my move to the town was the wide variety of vegetables sold in a local supermarket. Nagano is famous as a major national production site for lettuce and mushroom. Amazingly, Nagano has more than 80% of domestic shipping share among all domestic lettuces in summer and autumn. Local people in Toshin (Eastern Nagano, including Karuizawa) are known to have a unique culture to cook the lettuce in variety of ways. Putting lettuce leafs in miso soup for example is one of unique local cooking recipes in this region.
Karuizawa Kirishita Yasai (vegetables grown under fog) are especially regarded as premier vegetables among those Nagano vegetables. It is named so because Karuizawa is known as a foggy highland area. Such branded vegetables include lettuce, cabbage, spinach, corn, etc. They are so popular not only by local residents but also by visitors that they tend to be sold out within an hour after a store opened. Though they are premier in terms of quality but not in terms of price. They are currently only sold at the JA Saku Asama certified shops in the area.
I personally feel I have became healthier since I moved from Tokyo. Though my body weight has not changed much, blood pressure and glucose level are improving every year since I started living here, and finally those values went well below the national average of my age this year. Of course, the vegetable intake volume is not the only cause of it, but I my meal menus have changed certainly. I may be able to live longer than average males in this country. Living in Nagano should be an option for vegetable lovers and people who seek to improve their health.
Karuizawa became a headline in education and business news last year, when International School of Asia Kazuizawa (ISAK) opened in August, 2014. ISAK is the first boarding (fully residential) international high school in Japan. Founder, Ms. Lin Kobayashi, is a famous businessperson who used to work for Morgan Stanley and UNICEF. She decided to open this school to educate and train students from all over the world to lead them to become a leader and creative thinker in complex international society. ISAK is a certified International Baccalaureate school, and curriculum are basically taught in English.
Interestingly, the school says that about 70% of ISAK students come from outside Japan and represent 29 countries. This diversified large group of young people gives positive changing effect on local community through the school's extracurricular community activities.
Generally, an international school in Japan used to be for kids from foreign families which happened to inhabit in Japan for business reasons. So, most international schools in Japan are located in city areas like Tokyo. ISAK is unique, since students have to live in a dormitory, being apart from its family. Such educational environment may be common in the United States, but not in Japan so far. The ISAK initiative attracts attentions from business and education fields as a new challenge for progressive high school education.
Winter has come to the town this week with roughly 10cm of snowfall. Unfortunately, I failed to take good pictures of snow covered town scenery; instead, I post the picture of snow covered Mt. Asama. Since Mt. Asama is an active volcano, it usually melts most of its accumulated snow on its slope with its geothermal heat in a week even during winter. If you see wholly white view of Mt. Asama in Karuizawa, you are lucky enough.
People usually hate the coldness in Karuizawa. Seasonal villa residents start to go back to their home in Tokyo by November. Some restaurants, shops, and museums start closing by January and reopen by late April. All these events well represent people's persistent notion, which is, "Karuizawa is a summer resort." I personally used to have the same feeling before moving to the town. Now, I think such people are missing out a value of this town.
Karuizawa scenery in winter is equally picturesque to that in summer. Ice and snow relax your eyes. Cold but crisp and fresh air turns off your brain. Living in Karuizawa gives people such balancing effects to ease a tension from their busy days.
Karuizawa is not a heavy snowfall area, and you do not have to worry so much on life infrastructure failure issues. Rather, you will find many winter attractions nearby. Karuizawa is famous as a favorite place to play golf and tennis in summer, but not so well known for winter sports. In fact, large ski areas of Tsumagoi, Yunomaru, and Asama are within roughly an hour distance. Though not being well known, the town operates an Olympic-class skating facility (since Nagano Olympic Game was taken place here in 1998.) for whole the year. Curling is an authorized town sport and many residents enjoy playing it. Ice hockey and speed skating are local parent's favorites to have their kids to exercise. All these must be exceptional experience for families from cities.
Do not fear the coldness too much. We have something which you do not have in a city. I believe Karuizawa will be known as all season resort someday soon.
Karuizawa has several town regulations to protect its tranquility and scenery.
Picture above was taken at the Seven Eleven convenience store in the town. Can you see a difference from what you usually see in your vicinity? Yes, a color of the signboard. Original Seven Eleven color of ”Orange-Red-Green" stripe conflicts with the town regulation of "Chroma level must be equal to or less than 4 and brightness level must be equal to or less than 7 for colors being used in the signboards" in this district. So, even Seven Eleven had to follow that regulation to operate its stores here.
There is also operation hours regulation for commercial facilities in the town. Convenience stores, restaurants, and bars must close at 11:00pm at night. There are two big supermarkets in the town, and one closes at 8:00pm while the other closes at 10:00pm. Most gas stations close by 7:00pm while some of them close at 6:00pm. To be honest, I felt inconvenient when I first came to the town and saw them, but now understand that they are all for keeping night tranquility and protecting environment.
If you want to buy or build a permanent or seasonal house here, you have to care the town's house building regulations, too.
See this city planning map (caution: it is 1.5MB jpeg file) issued by the town administration. You do not have to read Japanese characters but should care colors and numbers in circle. You can see the green and white districts are marked with the number "50/30" in the circle while the yellow districts are marked with "200/60." The upper number is called "floor area ratio" while the lower one is called "building coverage (or building-to-land) ratio." For example, if you purchase 1000 sqm of land (it's a bit huge, but common in Karuizawa.) in the green or white "50/30" areas, you can build a house which occupies 300 sqm (30%) as a building site area and has 500 sqm (50%) of total floor space in the house.
"50/30" is a regulation by Nagano prefecture, and actually the Karuizawa town administration further regulates it to make them "20/20." So, in reality, one is only allowed to build a house with 200 sqm (20%) of total floor space and building site occupation in 1000 sqm of land in these "50/30" areas. As far as I know, this is one of the most strict house building regulation in Japan.
Town first enforced this regulation in 1972, and it has served to protect town scenery with villas and cottages in the spacious gardens and forest. It has also served to keep the town's "premier" status and real estate prices as well.
When Mr. Alexander Croft Shaw, a Canadian missionary, arrived in Karuizawa and built the first summer house in town in 1888, it might be enough to have a house with such a simple design and structure to spend only a summer season here. Today, Karuizawa has become one of the preferred places to live in the area, and how to find or build a good house which can cope with significant variation in temperature for seasons is becoming important.
I continue with my story on house building. Pictures from my house during construction are shown above. I discussed with my architect on how to maximize thermal insulation and earthquake-proof performance while minimizing construction cost. In the end, we adopted 25 cm thick of Rockwool insulation for a ceiling, 10 cm of Urethane insulation for walls, and triple glazed sash windows. According to the architect, it is rare to build a house with this level of insulation performance though it may be common in Hokkaido (northernmost island of Japan).
I have been living in my new house for almost a year since I moved in November, 2014. During summer, inside the room is very cool since the walls and windows shut out heat by sunshine. During winter, only one unit of a direct vent oil heater in the first floor heats all the rooms in both first and second floors. It is warm enough. Even when it is - (minus) 10 degrees in Celsius in the early morning outside, without turning the heater on, temperature inside the room is around (plus) 10 degrees in Celsius. It is not so bad. Since we do not use electricity to heat the house, energy cost went significantly down, compared to when I lived in my previous rental apartment. My electricity bill was roughly 40,000 JPY monthly during winter in the rental apartment with electric heating, but it is now less than 20,000 JPY monthly during the winter and even less during the summer. I think it is reasonable enough as an energy cost of standard independent house (i.e., non-condominium type residence).
My local friend, Kevin, is famous in town for promoting his house as "Passive House" where energy cost is actually, negative. See his story in Renewables International magazine. His house follows the German standard by Passivhaus Institut, and has 28 cm of insulation in walls and 60 cm in ceiling. By generating and selling electricity by solar panels on the roof, his house's energy cost is reportedly negative. It is incredible achievement in this severe seasonal environment.
Finding a stylish and design-conscious house should be easy in Karuizawa, when you search in real estate information services on the web. There are many architects who are advertising their capabilities to design luxury and modern taste villas. Appearance tends to be the most important factor for villa buyers, while the house performance tends to be overlooked. I hope more house buyers would care the house performance equally, especially if they care the quality of resort time in this relaxing town.
Original map is provided by d-maps.com.
Karuizawa is a small town in Nagano Prefecture, Japan.
Before I moved to the town, I thought it was too far for Tokyo residents to go back and forth to this mountain resort frequently. The fact is, it is only 70 minutes ride on Bullet Train, or 2 hour drive by expressway from downtown Tokyo. It is located at the east edge of Nagano prefecture, and adjacent to the Greater Tokyo (aka Kanto) area.
Tokyo people usually commute to their workplace in downtown Tokyo more or less for an hour from their home. It is not exceptional to spend 2 hours everyday for commute from their home in especially Kanagawa, Chiba, or Saitama regions. It is real pain to be on 200% crowded commuting train for an hour everyday.
Living in Karuizawa while working in Tokyo should be one of the housing options for progressive businesspersons, who love "work-life balance."
Source: JR East (Bullet Train operator)
Table above shows the growth in the number of commuting pass holder passengers in the Karuizawa station. The number includes both inbound (to Tokyo) and outbound (to Kanazawa via Nagano) passengers, but you can see recent growth in Karuizawa commuters is fairly significant.
Picture above is a very simplified map to show each of main residential areas in Karuizawa.
There are mainly 5 areas in the town.
I chose Shin Karuizawa area to build my permanent residence, to prioritize the distance to Karuizawa Station. However, I think all the areas are equally attractive.
I hope this post would be some help for people to study the area for their permanent or temporary residency.
(Chinese follows after English.)
Just launched my blog today, hoping it to be a resource for people who have some interests in living or having a vacation house in the town of Karuizawa, a famous highland resort in central Japan.
I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. I moved from Tokyo to Karuizawa in 2012, though I had a job then in Tokyo. It was about 110 minutes commute one-way every weekday (including 70 minutes on a bullet train), and I was seen by my colleagues with curiosity.
I initially felt tired from such long commuting time, but got accustomed to it shortly. I started my life in Karuizawa by contracting an apartment for rent. The fee was 140,000 Japanese Yen monthly, for roughly 80 sqm of floor including 2 bedrooms. It was roomy enough for me and my wife. It was located in a southern district of Karuizawa, in the area within 30 minutes by foot, or 5 minutes drive to the Karuizawa train station. You may be able to find cheaper apartments for rent in non-walking distance areas in the town though, but I felt it was reasonable enough for Tokyo commuters like me.
Outside windows of the apartment were just forests and mountains. I often meet small animals and beautiful mountain birds from a terrace. Yes, I moved to a highland town at 1000 meters above sea level. I could feel real restart of my life by crisp air, birdsong, and endless blue sky surrounding my new home.
Two years later in 2014, I had our own house built in the town and moved from the rental apartment. I purchased small, roughly 400 sqm lot of land near the rental apartment and asked an architect and builders to build a house with 3 bedrooms, and 140 sqm of floor according to our unique requirements. In Karuizawa, it is roughly 16 to 28 degrees in Celsius during summer and minus 15 to 2 degrees in Celsius during winter. Very comfortable in summer of course, but very severe in winter on the other hand. I discussed with the architect for thermal insulation performance of the house thoroughly, and as a result, our house was named "thermos bottle" house by me and the architect. It is really that. Energy saving but very warm house. I am 120% satisfied with the work by the architect and builders.
I will write another post on my house building story later.
I decided to start my blog, wishing more people to consider living in this beautiful and comfortable town by sharing my experience and knowledge on the area. Either workers and residents in the greater Tokyo area or seasonal visitors to Tokyo can consider to have their primary or second house here.
I hope you enjoy my blog. Welcome any comment.
(Chinese translation for trial purpose - 中文翻译试行)