Karuizawa in 2 Days: A Nagano Weekend of Autumn Delights, and Outlet Shopping!

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Karuizawa is famous in Japan as the location of the KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA, a Nagano outlet mall with a little bit of everything. But the area has lots to offer, with a perfect two-day trip in the area including some Karuizawa outlet shopping, and a little bit of sightseeing as well. Northwest of Tokyo, Karuizawa has charming open streets, cool weather, and gorgeous scenery perfect for an autumn outing!

A Romantic, Long-Lived Summertime Retreat

Karuizawa has long been a resort town and seasonal getaway for Japan's more eminent members of society, and a stroll through some of the wooded back streets of the town will still take you past dozens of summer homes, built on spacious, shady lots. Japan's Emperor Emeritus Akihito even met his wife, Empress Emerita Michiko, on a sunny Karuizawa tennis court in the 1950s, and John Lennon frequently visited Karuizawa in the '70s. Sat at a fairly high elevation in Nagano Prefecture, the area actually has a lower average annual temperature than Hokkaido's Sapporo, and the cool, foggy weather and storied history have given Karuizawa a unique romance, and an international appeal. Looking to experience a little bit of everything Karuizawa has to offer, we put together this little 2-day tour!

Even the buildings in Karuizawa look a little different from what you'd normally find in Japan, with a bit of European flair.

It's a place with distinct seasons. Red leaves reign over the town each fall, while summer brings verdant green to Karuizawa, and winter means snow!

While Karuizawa is a town of summer houses, each of the seasons brings new charms, and the refreshingly cool months of autumn and winter have their own distinct beauty. That's why we were excited to see the leaves changing color all over Karuizawa during our tour! And of course, as the home of the KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA, we had to set aside plenty of time for shopping as well.

Check out our video for a quick preview of the trip! ⇩

Day 1: Cycling Through the City, Then Shopping Till We Dropped!

On the way to Kumoba Pond, we happened upon this road lined with ginkgo trees, all a golden yellow thanks to the fall weather!

Kumoba Pond (雲場池/Kumobaike)

As soon as we got to Karuizawa, we dropped off our luggage and grabbed some rental bikes, so we could make the most out of the compact city and the sunny, breezy day. Our first destination was the nearby Kumoba Pond, called Kumobaike in Japanese but sometimes nicknamed "Swan Lake" in English, a not-to-be-missed koyo (紅葉, fall foliage) spot in Karuizawa. Local legend has it that the pond was formed after rainwater flooded the footprint of a giant passing through from nearby Mount Asama. In reality, Kumoba Pond is actually a man-made body of water! But that doesn't diminish its beauty in the least. Follow the path around the pond for a leisurely 20-minute walk that lets you admire the reflective water, which mirrors the green foliage in the warmer months, and bursts into fiery orange and red when the surrounding trees change colors each fall.

Kumoba Pond (雲場池)
Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano
(Beware of the google maps directions – the proper entrance to the pond area is from the south, not the west!)

Autumn is definitely the most colorful time of year to see the lake, and we think most beautiful as well.

Unsurprisingly, it's also pretty crowded with visitors of all kinds! Locals bring their dogs to enjoy the fresh air together, international travelers come from all over the world, and some couples even visit Kumoba Pond for engagement pictures!

Old Karuizawa Ginza Street (旧軽井沢銀座通り)

Long before Karuizawa became the holiday resort town it is now, it was a stop on the Edo era Nakasendo Road, an old route that the samurai and everyday folk used to travel throughout the country and between Japan's major cities, hundreds of years ago. The remnants of that time, when Karuizawa was an inn-town and something of an old fashioned rest stop, can still be found along the Old Karuizawa Ginza Street. What was once a small portion of a major travel road is now a pleasantly quaint stretch of small restaurants, cafes, and shops selling local culinary or craft specialties. Try some high-end curry and fancy flan-like Japanese pudding before choosing a jar of the area's famous jam to take home with you.

Old Karuizawa Ginza Street (旧軽井沢銀座通り)
10-2 Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano
Official Website


This outlet mall is famous around Japan, but for the people of Tokyo, KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA is a no brainer, since it's just a convenient bullet train trip out of the city. Get on the Hokuriku Shinkansen at either Tokyo or Ueno Station, enjoy the fun of a short bullet train excursion, and you'll find yourself at Karuizawa Station in just an hour! Walk out of the station's south exit, and the shopping plaza is literally right in front of your eyes. We decided to take our time and see lots of Karuizawa this time around, but day trips from Tokyo just to go shopping and spend a little time enjoying Karuizawa's resort-town atmosphere are quite common and very easy.

Foreign travelers can even take advantage of train passes to make the trip extra-reasonable. If you've already got a JR Pass, the shinkansen fee is included! For travelers who aren't planning on getting one of the country-wide train passes, there's also the convenient JR Tokyo Wide Pass. This Tokyo pass gets you three days of unlimited travel on any JR train in the Tokyo area, including shinkansen, limited express trains, and even the pricey trains to and from Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports. (It pays for itself with just one trip to Karuizawa, making everything else a great deal.)

JR Tokyo Wide Pass
Price: Adults 10,180 yen / Children (up to 11) 5,090 yen
(Available for foreign visitors only; foreign passports must be presented at purchase.)
Official Website (en)

Seen from the air, the KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA is the M-shaped building nestled amongst the trees, just past the train tracks.

Karuizawa, Nagano | Official Website (en)

The KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA is a pretty spacious compound, split easily into east and west areas, with a large parking lot right in the center. (If you're renting a car, driving there instead of taking the train is also quite easy!) If you take a look at the map, though, you'll see it's actually divided into 10 different sections! They've got detailed paper maps in English at the plaza itself, but we wanted to do a little advance planning, so we took advantage of the English floor map on the official website. This is a quick and simple summary of what they've got.

From Karuizawa Station's south exit, turn left for these areas:
EAST (E): Sports & Outdoor
NEW EAST (NE): Stylish & Select Shops
GARDEN MALL (GM): Luxury & Select Shops

From Karuizawa Station's south exit, turn right for these areas:
WEST (W): Kids & Miscellaneous
NEW WEST (NW): Traditional & Urban Fashion
TREE MALL (TM): Luxury & Select Shops
CENTER MALL (CM): Everyday & Beauty
FOOD COURT (FC): 600-Seat Dining & Rest Area
AJINOMACHI (AJ): Food Street

We spent hours combing the mall and doing all kinds of shopping, and had a great time getting to explore so many different shops selling goods of all kinds. With so many choices, every visitor to KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA probably has different favorites, but if you're not sure where to start, read on for a few of our recommendations!

Time to get shopping!


Location: NEW WEST | Official Website

Kuze Fuku's mission is to bring together delicious things from all over Japan, and a look at the menu shows their commitment, with items featuring famous ingredients nationwide. For a taste of local flavor, they've got plenty of foods made with local Nagano produce, but it's also a fun opportunity to sample ingredients from a place in Japan you've never been yet! With such a focus on the ingredients, of course many of their menu items change with the seasons.

When it's nice and sunny, you can spread out onto the restaurant's terrace seats.

The warm flavors of our seasonal hamburger steak and grilled fish plates were perfect for the cool fall weather!

The meals also come with access to a buffet of salad and side dishes, so nobody will leave hungry. If you're like us and you still can't get enough of the flavors in each meal, you're in luck. Right inside the restaurant is a Kuze Fuku store that sells gourmet items, many of which are original products used right in the restaurant's dishes, and others made by small-scale manufacturers around Japan. Bring home some of their local Nagano miso, Shizuoka dashi broth, or little snacks from around the country. (They also recommend their gourmet soy sauce, which has a nice savory aroma.)

Shopping Recommendation 1: CA4LA

Location: NEW EAST | Official Website

The right hat can add just the right touch of style to an outfit, and sometimes even make or break the day's look. Walking into hat store CA4LA, there's no doubting that they get it. For more than 20 years the brand has been producing their own made-in-Japan hats, with the goal of bringing the best possible hat to customers in Japan and around the world.

Their shop is full of hats of all shapes and sizes for people of all kinds, and they offer everything from kawaii-cute hats decorated with flowers and lace, to simple brimless caps, which have recently been a big trend in Japan. CA4LA also has a few lines featuring artists of all kinds – when we visited we saw hats with art from Andy Warhol and Keith Harring, and an intriguing zippered hat made in collaboration with Japanese idol group BiSH. Even with the huge variety of products offered, they all have consistent style and quality, which is probably why a few CA4LA hats have been spotted on the heads of models and internet celebrities in recent years.

We spent a while trying on what felt like hundreds of different hats and seeing what they looked like with all the shop's cute hat accessories, like hatpins and chains to keep them from flying off. We found maybe a few too many favorites. Walking out of the store, our pockets felt a little empty, but our hearts were full of excitement for the days of style we had ahead of us.

Shopping Recommendation  2: THE NORTH FACE/HELLY HANSEN


Whether you're a big fan of the great outdoors or not, chances are you've heard of THE NORTH FACE at some point in your time on this earth. Climbing a mountain or just heading to the grocery store, their jackets have long been a staple of cold-weather wear, and we couldn't help but start a shopping list for our next trip to the summit of Mount Fuji. While we were there, though, also noticed the HELLY HANSEN products being sold right in the same shop. The Norwegian brand might be a little lesser-known internationally, but it's a good choice for anyone who spends time in inclement weather.

The backpacks made by THE NORTH FACE are a huge hit in Japan, where you see the smaller styles on the backs of students and commuters daily. Their more spacious backpacks, however, are good for both the kind of backpacker that goes camping in the woods, and the kind that travels through rural towns and cities alike!

Did you know that THE NORTH FACE makes a pretty wide selection of sports and exercise-wear these days, as well? Morning joggers might want to take a look!

Shopping Recommendation 3: KARUIZAWA Farmers’ Gift

Location: NEW WEST | Official Website

The name of this shop gives you a pretty good idea of what you'll find inside. The products at Farmers' Gift are a selection of gourmet items made with fresh ingredients from Karuizawa, and Nagano Prefecture in general. Karuizawa jam is a popular souvenir, so of course they've got dozens of jars filled with fruity sweet jams made with different ingredients, and even a wide variety of more savory spreads and toppings. Nagano is famous for delicious apples, so the apple jam is an obvious choice to bring back with you as souvenirs, while the Karuizawa Zeppin Apple Pies (sold whole in boxes) are a pretty luxurious way to sample the local produce.

You're likely to see the term Shinshu (信州) thrown around a lot while looking through products around Nagano, and that's because it's the old-fashioned name of the region. If you see Shinshu meat or Shinshu vegetables, it means they're local ingredients from the Nagano area. Now if only that could help us choose what to buy at Farmers' Gift. Too many good things to choose from!

For a savory treat to try while you're staying in Japan, they have a few different fresh and pickled preparations of Nagano's famous nozawana greens (野沢菜). On the other hand, friends back home might enjoy one of the jarred sauces, or for a smaller gift to hand out to a crowd, their bags of soup mix packets are a big hit. They're all good, but a mug of the Shinshu shitake mushroom soup is delicious and perfect for warming chilly hands.

Shopping Recommendation 4: LEGO® STORE

Location: NEW EAST | Official Website

LEGO® might be a fond childhood memory for many, but the fun building blocks are thriving, with an audience that still ranges from ages 4 to 99. A visit to the LEGO® STORE doesn't only afford you the chance to buy some simple, colorful bricks any more – in Karuizawa we were greeted by a LEGO® sculpture with changing facial expressions; there were products featuring media symbols and characters from genres of all kinds; and the wall of the store featured a custom, localized LEGO® mural!

The custom Karuizawa LEGO® mural featured a family relaxing and taking pictures in front of the lovely mountainous landscape.

And perhaps the most impressive tech in the store? For a certain number of products , when we showed them to the designated screen, an AR animation started showing us the possibilities of the box's contents.

Shopping Recommendation 5: LE CREUSET

Location: NEW WEST | Official Website

This French cookware maker is famous worldwide for extremely high-quality enamel cast-iron pots, and colorful ceramic tableware. Getting to see displays of all the colorful products lined up together was lots of fun, and all too tempting.

With all the products being sold at an outlet mall, everything's a pretty great deal, and they offer a few products made in limited-edition Japanese colors. You might just end up having to make room in your suitcase for some sturdy iron cookware. Might we suggest one of the shallow Japanese pots made for local hotpot dishes?

The excellent heat retention of the pots means that even simple dishes like Japanese white rice turn out especially delicious!

Dinner: The FOOD COURT

We wanted some more varied options for dinner, so the shopping plaza's FOOD COURT was just the place. Spacious seating made it a comfortable place to sit down for a meal, and even if you're in a big group with some pretty differing palates, there's something for everyone. Udon and ramen sat side by side with Chinese food, hamburgers, and grilled steaks.

We'd spent a long afternoon exploring every part of KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA.

(It was nice to sit down in the bright, clean food court at the end of the day!)

Full, happy, and very tired from our long day, we headed back to rest at the hotel (and snack on a few things we'd grabbed at KARUIZAWA Farmers' Gift before we went to sleep)! When we mentioned that the Karuizawa weather was foggy, earlier, it wasn't a lie. Waking up the next morning, the thick fog went on far in every direction, and it didn't dissipate until the sun had been out for a few hours.

While KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA was right next to the station, we decided to follow the fog and visit some of the farther attractions of Karuizawa the second day, so we rented a car just to make that a breeze.

Day 2: A Mini-Road Trip Through the Autumnal Mountains

The fall foliage was a glorious gradient of green, yellow, orange, and deep red when we drove through the mountains of Karuizawa.

Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝)

Many waterfalls are famous for intense crashing waters and the booming sounds emanating from the rocks below. Shiraito Falls is not one of those waterfalls! Just 3 meters (10 ft) high, the water falling down the extremely broad 70 meter-wide (230 ft) rock face comes from rainfall along the mountainside of Mount Asama. It's a surprisingly consistent water source, but it actually takes the water about 6 years to get from the top of the mountain all the way to Shiraito Falls!

Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝)
Kose, Nagakura, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano

Once it arrives at the waterfall, the volcanically-warmed water flows in delicate silky rivulets like lace curtains, giving the falls their name, Shiraito (白糸, literally "white thread").

We sat down on a nearby log bench, only to find we had some cute carved companions!

Shigenoya (しげの屋)

We've already mentioned that Nagano produces some famous apples and nozawana greens, but when it comes to cuisine, Nagano soba is a must! So we headed to eat some for lunch. This tea house and soba spot actually sits directly over the border between Nagano and Gunma prefectures, but their soba has all the Nagano goodness you might want. They make a few different soba dishes, including soba served with grated yam (which makes for a satisfyingly slippery bite), and soba with chestnut dipping sauce (a sugary sweet and salty concoction that compliments the simple buckwheat noodles with aplomb)!

Shigenoya (しげの屋)
2 Togemachi, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano
Hours: Weekdays 10:00 – 16:00 / Weekends & Holidays 10:00 – 16:30

The star of the show might be their soba with wild mountain greens and "chikara mochi." The greens add a satisfying bitter crunch, but the mochi is a particularly unique specialty! The soft chikara mochi rice cakes seem to melt right into the broth, while still maintaining a nice chewy bite. If you'd rather not eat them in your soba, you can also order them on their own with a few different toppings.

Since Shigenoya is right on the border, we decided to split up – we were eating lunch in Nagano Prefecture and Gunma Prefecture, but still eating lunch together! You can see the border marked in red on the terrace.

​Karuizawa Taliesin (軽井沢タリアセン)

Karuizawa has seen a little bit of extra interest from the younger Japanese crowd lately thanks to the j-drama Quartet, about four musicians who gather in the resort town to live together during the winter. The many Karuizawa spots featured in the show have become even bigger attractions for travelers, who enjoy the fun of the fandom at the same time as the beauty of Karuizawa, and Taliesin is just one of the places that have made their way into the show. Named after Frank Lloyd Wright's studio Taliesin (which was in turn named after a character in Welsh legend), Karuizawa Taliesin is a vast park area built around Shiozawa Lake with lovely bits of Western-style architecture and a number of museums and recreational facilities.

Karuizawa Taliesin (軽井沢タリアセン)
Shiozawa 217 Nagakura, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano
Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (Outside of the summer months, please check opening hours ahead of time.)
Official Website / English Pamphlet

If you're a fan of Quartet too, you'll recognize this iconic photo spot!

Even aside from famous Quartet scenes and the many facilities, the park is full of scenic views.

Leaving Karuizawa with Great Memories, and Plans for Next Time!

While so many people make Karuizawa just a day trip, after seeing the picturesque landscapes of the town, and the all-too-lovely KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA, we can't help but think that even our overnight trip was far too short! As a resort town, Karuizawa seems like just the place to kick back and relax, so we're already thinking about when we can get back there soon. With all four of Japan's seasons so exquisitely represented, we know that whenever we visit next, our trip will show us a snapshot of gorgeous Karuizawa!

We might just have to get back to KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA asap for their Chinese New Year event and spring sale! Not only are there bound to be some great deals, but we really can't resist the adorable novelty zodiac dolls they're giving away.

(Event Details・Jan. 17 ~ Feb. 2, 2020)

(In the winter, even KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA starts to glitter, with lovely holiday lights!)

(And we're already planning for next time!)

For a different kind of trip to Karuizawa, take a look at what KARUIZAWA PRINCE SHOPPING PLAZA is like when it's covered in snow! Or you could always combine it with a trip to Gunma's Kusatsu Onsen, said to be one of Japan's best hot springs. However you plan your visit to Nagano, we'd love to hear all about it, so let us know about your experience on twitter, instagram, and facebook!




ACCESS:Karuizawa Station


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#japankuru #sumidaaquarium #skytree #tokyoskytree #solamachi #sumida #tokyo #tokyotrip #tokyotravel #aquarium #japanesesweets #themecafe #すみだ水族館 #Japan #日本 #일본 #Japon #ญี่ปุ่น #Japão #япония #japantravel #日本旅行 #日本旅遊 #japan_of_insta #japantrip #traveljapan #japan🇯🇵 #igerstokyo #explorejapan

Have you sat down for a snack at Sumida Aquarium yet? This aquarium next to Tokyo Skytree is known for its penguins and garden eels, but we can't get enough of their cute snacks! There are lots of good seats around the aquarium, too, so it almost feels like one big cafe. 🐧 • Find out more at Japankuru.com! (Link in bio.) • #japankuru #sumidaaquarium #skytree #tokyoskytree #solamachi #sumida #tokyo #tokyotrip #tokyotravel #aquarium #japanesesweets #themecafe #すみだ水族館 #Japan #日本 #일본 #Japon #ญี่ปุ่น #Japão #япония #japantravel #日本旅行 #日本旅遊 #japan_of_insta #japantrip #traveljapan #japan🇯🇵 #igerstokyo #explorejapan

For anime fans, the Evangelion areas at Small Worlds Miniature Museum are a must see! The tiny miniature people in the Evangelion Hangar look like ants beneath the moving Unit-01, Unit-00, and Unit-02! And over in Tokyo-III, characters like Shinji, Rei, and Katsuragi live life on a miniature scale.
#odaiba #tokyo #tokyotrip #japantrip #japantravel #ariake #smallworlds #miniaturemuseum #smallworldstokyo #tokyotravel #evangelion #eva #anime #miniature #miniatures #animefigure #japankuru #스몰월드 #에반게리온 #오다이바 #오다이바관광 #오다이바스몰월드 #미니어쳐

For anime fans, the Evangelion areas at Small Worlds Miniature Museum are a must see! The tiny miniature people in the Evangelion Hangar look like ants beneath the moving Unit-01, Unit-00, and Unit-02! And over in Tokyo-III, characters like Shinji, Rei, and Katsuragi live life on a miniature scale. #odaiba #tokyo #tokyotrip #japantrip #japantravel #ariake #smallworlds #miniaturemuseum #smallworldstokyo #tokyotravel #evangelion #eva #anime #miniature #miniatures #animefigure #japankuru #스몰월드 #에반게리온 #오다이바 #오다이바관광 #오다이바스몰월드 #미니어쳐





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      Hokkaido (北海道) is the northernmost of the four main islands that make up Japan. The area is famous for Sapporo Beer, plus brewing and distilling in general, along with fantastic snow festivals and breathtaking national parks. Foodies should look for Hokkaido's famous potatoes, cantaloupe, dairy products, soup curry, and miso ramen!

    • Niki, in south-west Hokkaido, is about 30 minutes from Otaru. The small town is rich with natural resources, fresh water, and clean air, making it a thriving center for fruit farms. Cherries, tomatoes, and grapes are all cultivated in the area, and thanks to a growing local wine industry, it's quickly becoming a food and wine hotspot. Together with the neighboring town of Yoichi, it's a noted area for wine tourism.

    • Niseko is about two hours from New Chitose Airport, in the western part of Hokkaido. It's one of Japan's most noted winter resort areas, and a frequent destination for international visitors. That's all because of the super high-quality powder snow, which wins the hearts of beginners and experts alike, bringing them back for repeat visits. That's not all, though, it's also a great place to enjoy Hokkaido's culinary scene and some beautiful onsen (hot springs).

    • Otaru is in western Hokkaido, about 30 minutes from Sapporo Station. The city thrived around its busy harbor in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to active trade and fishing, and the buildings remaining from that period are still popular attractions, centered around Otaru Canal. With its history as a center of fishing, it's no surprise that the area's fresh sushi is a must-try. Otaru has over 100 sushi shops, quite a few of which are lined up on Sushiya Dori (Sushi Street).


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      Sapporo, in the south-western part of Hokkaido, is the prefecture's political and economic capital. The local New Chitose Airport see arrivals from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, alongside international flights. Every February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Odori Park―one of the biggest events in Hokkaido. It's also a hotspot for great food, known as a culinary treasure chest, and Sapporo is a destination for ramen, grilled mutton, soup curry, and of course Hokkaido's beloved seafood.

    • Consisting of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is up in the northeastern part of Japan's main island. It's the source of plenty of the nation's agriculture (which means great food), and packed with beautiful scenery. Explore the region's stunning mountains, lakes, and hot springs!

    • Akita Prefecture is on the Sea of Japan, in the northern reaches of Japan's northern Tohoku region. Akita has more officially registered important intangible culture assets than anywhere else in Japan, and to this day visitors can experience traditional culture throughout the prefecture, from the Oga Peninsula's Namahage (registered with UNESCO as a part of Japan's intangible cultural heritage), to the Tohoku top 3 Kanto Festival. Mysterious little spots like the Oyu Stone Circle Site and Ryu no Atama (Dragon's Head) are also worth a visit!


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      Fukushima Prefecture sits at the southern tip of Japan's northern Tohoku region, and is divided into three parts with their own different charms: the Coastal Area (Hama-dori), the Central Area (Naka-dori), and the Aizu Area. There's Aizu-Wakamatsu with its Edo-era history and medieval castles, Oze National Park, Kitakata ramen, and Bandai Ski Resort (with its famous powder snow). Fukushima is a beautiful place to enjoy the vivid colors and sightseeing of Japan's beloved four seasons.


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      Yamagata Prefecture is up against the Sea of Japan, in the southern part of the Tohoku region, and it's especially popular in winter, when travelers soak in the onsen (hot springs) and ski down snowy slopes. International skiiers are especially fond of Zao Onsen Ski Resort and Gassan Ski Resort, and in recent years visitors have been drawn to the area to see the mystical sight of local frost-covered trees. Some destinations are popular regardless of the season, like Risshakuji Temple, AKA Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen's nostalgic old-fashioned streets, and Zao's Okama Lake, all great for taking pictures. Yamagata is also the place to try Yonezawa beef, one of the top 3 varieties of wagyu beef.

    • Japan's most densely populated area, the Kanto Region (関東地方) includes 7 prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa, which means it also contains the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In modern-day Japan, Kanto is the cultural, political, and economic heartland of the country, and each prefecture offers something a little different from its neighbors.

    • Gunma Prefecture is easily accessible from Tokyo, and in addition to the area's popular natural attractions like Oze Marshland and Fukiware Falls, Gunma also has a number of popular hot springs (Kusatsu, Ikaho, Minakami, Shima)―it's even called an Onsen Kingdom. The prefecture is popular with history buffs and train lovers, thanks to spots like world heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill, the historic Megane-bashi Bridge, and the Watarase Keikoku Sightseeing Railway.


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      Tochigi Prefecture's capital is Utsunomiya, known for famous gyoza, and just an hour from Tokyo. The prefecture is full of nature-related sightseeing opportunities year-round, from the blooming of spring flowers to color fall foliage. Tochigi also has plenty of extremely well-known sightseeing destinations, like World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, and Ashikaga Flower Park―famous for expansive wisteria trellises. In recent years the mountain resort town of Nasu has also become a popular excursion, thanks in part to the local imperial villa. Tochigi is a beautiful place to enjoy the world around you.

    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.


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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.


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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.


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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.


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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.


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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!


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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.


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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.


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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.