Karuizawa from a Global Perspective
The natural and cultural landscape of the Karuizawa Plateau is said to be uniquely Japanese. This is not only because the topography is similar to that of Western countries, but also because the forest vegetation, which belongs to the Quercus serrata zone, shares similarities with the natural landscape of those countries in terms of flora and fauna.
French people who have stayed in Karuizawa associate it with their native Vosges Mountains, Germans with the Schwarzwald (translated as “Black Forest”) or Bavaria, and Americans with Michigan.
As mentioned above, Karuizawa was founded as a summer resort by Alexander Croft Shaw, a Canadian-born missionary who visited the area and discovered it as a summer resort (see “History of Karuizawa”). Karuizawa’s nature and climate were easily accepted by people from all over the world.
After the opening of the country to the outside world in 1854, white people in Japan suffered most from the extreme heat of midsummer. In their native countries in northwestern Europe and northern North America, the maximum temperature rarely exceeded 20°C (68°F) even in midsummer. This is why they sought hill stations where they could enjoy cooler temperatures even in summer.
In the early Meiji period, foreign residents built villas and hotels in Fujisawa City, Kugenuma, Hayama, and other locations on the Shonan coast, Hakone, Gotemba, Lake Chuzenji in Nikko, Izu, Nasuno, and Ikaho, as summer resorts near Tokyo.
Karuizawa began to develop as a summer resort late in the middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912), but by the Taisho period (1912-1926), it had developed into the number one summer resort in Japan.
The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 damaged villas on the Shonan coast, so some people moved their villas to Karuizawa.
Prior to that, the main areas of the Karuizawa plateau were satoyama during the Edo period (1603-1867), where fodder for cattle and horses was gathered, as well as firewood and coal materials. The isolated mountains were grassy hills until after World War II, and no trees seem to have grown naturally there.
Not many trees are depicted in Karuizawa-juku, Kutsumigake-juku, and Oiwake-juku in the ukiyoe “Kiso Kaido Rokujyu-tsugi” by Hiroshige Utagawa and Eisen Keisai.
The poem “A Poem about Falling Leaves Pine” written by Kitahara Hakushu was published in 1921, and the fallen leaves pine trees mentioned in the poem were planted by Amamiya Keijiro of the Koshu Zaibatsu in 1883, and consisted of 7 million trees, 38 years old and planted by him.
Natural larch (Tenkara), which was found at the foot of Mt. Asama, can only be found up to the middle of Mt. Asama in the subalpine zone.
The giant deciduous pine tree at Sengen Shrine in Oiwake is more than 200 years old, but it is a planted artificial tree.