At Nagako-ken’s eastern edge, on the slopes of Asama-yama, is the ritzy resort of KARUIZAWA (軽井沢) where Crown Prince Akihito (now the emperor) met his future wife, Michiko, on the tennis courts in the 1950s, and where John Lennon and Yoko Ono vacationed in the 1960s and 1970s. Decades of such superstar patronage have lent this small town a fashionable reputation, and the place can get very hectic in summer as Tokyoites descend to relax in the cooler mountain air and spend up a storm at the giant outlet mall and tacky tourist-shop strip either side of the main station. It’s pretty easy to escape this commercial frenzy and enjoy Karuizawa’s natural tranquillity on easy trekking and cycling routes into the forested hills dotted with charming wooden villas and heritage buildings.

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