Karuizawa’s autumn begins a little earlier than Tokyo’s, and every year the highlight of the season is in October, when visitors can fully enjoy the beauty of Karuizawa’s nature. These are my 4 recommended autumn colors spots in the area. I’ve chosen places that have the signature Karuizawa-style and that can be enjoyed during a walk. Keep these selections in mind when you’re planning to go see the changing leaves in autumn.
A blend of history and fall colors: the Former Mikasa Hotel
The Former Mikasa Hotel is one of the most popular tourist spots in Karuizawa. A Western-style wooden hotel designed by Japanese architects, this building is designated as an important cultural property. In the old days it was called “Karuizawa’s Rokumeikan”, as it was also loved by celebrities and dignitaries. (Rokumeikan was a popular building for social events/diplomats in Tokyo) The building is no longer operated as a hotel, but it is still open to the public as a museum. Visitors can take in the design and furnishings that were considered leading edge when it was built. You’ll feel immersed in an atmosphere from another time. The Former Mikasa Hotel is also a popular spot for viewing autumn colors. The combination of vivid autumn colors against the hotel’s dark brown walls and red roof create a scene that’s postcard beautiful! You’ll be enchanted by the view. In October of 2013, there was a special evening illumination that used lighting to create a completely new autumn scene. Before you go, be sure to check if there are these kinds of special events going on. Best time to see the autumn colors: from mid-October to late October.
A famous spot you shouldn’t miss: Kumobaike Pond
Next is Kumobaike Pond, another famous place to visit when walking around Karuizawa, and one that is a must-see for fans of autumn colors! Kumobaike, also known as the “Swan Lake”, is immersed in beautiful nature throughout all four seasons. In autumn, the trees around the lake begin to redden and the reflection of these colors in the water is striking.
There is a walking path around the pond that lets you see it from all angles. The maple trees, the pampas grass, and the flowers of the dodan-tsutsuji shrubs all contribute to a splendid autumn scene. It takes about 15 minutes for a leisurely stroll around the pond. There is also a cafe/restaurant nearby for lunch or a short break. Best time to see autumn colors: from mid-October to early November
Enjoy autumn and some shopping along a clear stream: Harunire Terrace
There are many lovely autumn views in the Hoshino area of Naka-Karuizawa. One popular spot is Harunire (Japanese elm) Terrace, which is managed by the famous Hoshino Resorts. As its name suggests, it is a small but stylish shopping and dining area with numerous elm trees, which sits next to the clear waters of the Yukawa River. Shopping or drinking tea there while surrounded by autumn colors and the sounds of a murmuring stream is a one-of-a-kind experience. The Karuizawa-style fashion and refined taste of the shops here attracts many visitors. It’s an ideal place to buy souvenirs, sweets, or luxury presents, so definitely make time to stop by.
Also, check in advance to see what events they may have going on. In the autumn of 2013, there was a special event called “Autumn Colors Library”. Benches and shelves were installed on the wooden deck along the river for people to enjoy reading outdoors. Reading outside in the autumn while appreciating the fall colors; it was quite an elegant experience! Hoshino’s hot spring Tombo-No-Yu is located just a short walking distance away. You use it without having to stay at the hotel, so I recommend warming up there before returning after a day trip. Best time to see autumn colors: mid-October to early November
A little known but excellent spot
Karuizawa Taliesin is an area located around Shiozawa Lake in Minami-Karuizawa. There are many English rose gardens, cafes, galleries, and retro buildings scattered about, making it an excellent place to enjoy art and nature together at the same time. Minami-Karuizawa is less crowded than Kyu-Karuizawa (Old Karuizawa) or the area around the railway station, so you can enjoy your time there at your own pace. Take a walk around the lake and be immersed in the colors of fall. There are many great places to see: Musee Peynet, with art by popular French illustrator Raymond Peynet; Kouko Fukuzawa Nonohana Flower Museum, displaying pictures of Fukazawa Kouko who drew Karuizawa’s grass and flowers; Library Cafe Hitofusa no budo, an old building from the Taisho period (1912–26) with the interior of a summer villa, and more. You can walk around the lake or take a boat and view the autumn scenery from the water. Best time to see autumn colors: mid-October to early November
So there you have it, my recommended top 4 autumn color spots in Karuizawa. There are other good places to visit as well, like Shiraito Waterfall or Usui Pass Observation Platform, all of which feature beautiful fall foliage. Visit Karuizawa for a day and catch some of the earliest autumn colors in the metropolitan area. Please note that the best time to see the autumn colors changes every year, as do the events. Check the latest information on the websites of each facility or with the Karuizawa Tourism Association.