13 Mar 2019 in In immersion
The best way to spend a day at the famed mountain retreat.
From Tokyo, it takes just over an hour to reach Karuizawa by shinkansen. You’ll feel the change in temperature as soon as you exit the train. Set at 1000m in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, Karuizawa is known for its cooler climes, a welcome respite from Tokyo’s hot summers.
The change of scenery is equally remarkable: heavily forested hillsides stretch out along the horizon, their colours reflecting the passing of the seasons.
A 15-minute taxi ride will take you up a winding tree-lined road to the reception area of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa. Step inside and the experience begins: you’ll be guided to a room where a calming other-worldliness reigns. In a corner, a musician sits cross-legged, expertly teasing out ethereal sounds from a collection of mysterious-looking drums, gongs and singing bowls.
Sit down on a comfy sofa and you’ll be served green tea or amazake. The atmosphere is relaxing, meditative, transcendental.
This is your entry into HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, a world where ancient tradition combines seamlessly with modern comfort, inviting you to disconnect from everyday life.
You’ll be driven a few minutes to the resort’s main site. A hot springs resort has stood here since 1914. Given the setting, it’s no wonder. From the main building, the immense windows offer a view onto a picture-postcard scene of nature. The front of the large garden is terraced like a paddy field, with a river running down the different levels among trees, moss and clumps of grass.
The restaurant, which is in the same vast open space as the reception area, is similarly terraced, each level designed to match the undulations of the outside.
A member of staff will guide you to your villa via the garden’s network of rivers, falls and bridges.
The interior is a finely-judged balance of Japanese tradition and Western comfort: the beds are generous mattresses on a raised platform, the bathroom has a traditional wooden tub as well as modern shower, the living area features a three-sided sofa around a low table.
On the Tanada terrace by the main building, complimentary tea and sparkling wine are offered with sweet snacks. The perfect way to immerse yourself in your new surroundings.
Time to discover the local wildlife!
HOSHINOYA Karuizawa offers tours of the region’s mountain flora and fauna in partnership with Picchio, a local wildlife organization. This particular tour is a chance to see Nagano Prefecture’s famed flying squirrels – a unique nocturnal animal that comes out just before sunset.
You can also opt for Picchio’s evening tour of Yagasaki Park, where you’ve a good chance of spotting sika deer, Japanese hare or wild boar.
Back at the main building, you’ll sit down to a gourmet kaiseki dinner. Expect plenty of seasonal mountain ingredients, such as mushrooms, root vegetables, river carp and fruits such as yuzu and the kiwi-like sarunashi.
There are two hot spring sites at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa. To prepare your body for sleep, head to the Meditation Bath: it’s open all night. Step into the naturally-sourced 39C water and walk through a doorway into a large pool topped by a monumental high ceiling.
Take a few minutes to feel your muscles loosening, your mind lightening. Then wade to the door on the other side of the pool that leads into the dark!
It’s time to take relaxation to another level. Barely lit, this pool is an invitation to disconnect from the world, to abandon yourself to meditation, to total relaxation. What better way to ensure a good night’s sleep?
Start the day as you finished the previous one: in the onsen. But this time, you’re heading to the Tombo-no-yu baths, sourced by 41-42C waters that are said to get your blood circulating and prepare your body for the day ahead. Best of all, there’s an outdoor rock pool where you can lie back among rising steam.
Back to the restaurant for a hearty Japanese breakfast. Fish, rice, green tea and miso soup are staples; the rest will depend on the season!
Time to explore the local area. Just over the road from the resort, you can take a stroll on one of the many forest trails. Walk just half a mile and you’ll be rewarded by views of the local volcano Mt. Asama.
Or how about a day trekking past the celebrated waterfalls of Shiraito and Ryugaeshi?
Alternatively, you can stay on at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa and pamper yourself with a personalized spa treatment. This is a corner of the world where you can leave behind life’s worries and reconnect with both yourself and your exquisite natural surroundings.