If you are a history and architecture buff, visit the Former Mikasa Hotel (旧三笠ホテル) when you travel to Karuizawa. It is a purely Western-style wooden hotel designed and completed in 1905 by only the Japanese. The hotel, equipped with the finest facility and furniture at the time, was loved by those with high social status in the political and business world. It is one of the few spots left in Japan that convey the remnants of the life of the Westerners in Japan in the Meiji and Taisho eras.
As you walk around the hotel, which is more than 100 years old, you can examine the figures and the elegant interior design. While some might prefer more furniture in the hotel, a clear snapshot of the past isn’t hard to gather from each room, especially the ones with photos of the time hung. In addition, you can adore various European architectural styles here!
Important: Former Mikasa Hotel is currently closed for renovation and repair work until 2025’s summer. After the renovation, a cafe space will be on the second floor. A room introducing the history of the Former Mikasa Hotel through panels and videos will also be available.
The Founding of the Former Mikasa Hotel
The Former Mikasa Hotel was founded by Yamamoto Naoyoshi (山本直良), a businessman born in Fukui Prefecture. Graduating from a veterinary degree, he wanted to start a business in dairy farming. So he bought more than 825,000 square meters of land in Karuizawa in 1907.
However, the land’s soil was affected by Mt. Asama’s volcanic activity, so it wasn’t suitable for farming. Noticing the Westerners in Karuizawa and the popularity of Western-style buildings in the town, he decided to open a completely Western-style hotel instead.
Getting help from Satō Mampei (佐藤万平), who transformed his traditional inn into a partially Western Mampei Hotel in 1894, and carpenters who had rich experience in building villas for the Westerners, Mikasa Hotel was completed in 1905.
What to Pay Attention to When Visiting the Former Mikasa Hotel
Since Mikasa Hotel was completed by the Japanese, who had built villas for foreigners from different countries, the resulting architecture nicely incorporates elements from various Western countries. For example, the design of the door is British style, and the clapboard is German style!
Furthermore, traces of architectural techniques unique to Japan can be found in the Former Mikasa Hotel if you know what to look for. For example, the base of the hotel was raised to increase ventilation to match Karuizawa’s humid climate.
And while the furniture in the Former Mikasa Hotel appears to be in the Western style, they were all made by the local carpenters using Karuizawa‘s wood. When you examine it closely, you can see the unique carving, expressing Karuizawa’s four seasons. This carving style later becomes Karuizawa’s traditional craft, Karuizawa Carving (軽井沢彫り).
Moreover, you should be able to find pine and crane patterns on the curtain box. The three woven hat pattern can also be found in the hotel’s decoration carving because Mikasa means three woven hats! Furthermore, see if you can find the hidden letters M and H in Mikasa Hotel!
That said, apparently, Mikasa Hotel wasn’t built from scratch. It was renovated from a private house. This is why the staircases are in front of the entrance. Also, the reception and lobby used to be the dining room.
Note after the renovation, the entrance that used to be in front of the entrance will be moved to the dining room side.
Regarding facilities in the guestrooms (except for the suite room, room no. 18), all guestrooms shared public toilets and bathrooms. While shared, the facilities were the best at the time. The tiles, washing basins, and flush toilets were all made in England.
The Former Mikasa Hotel’s Glory History
When Mikasa Hotel started its business in 1906, it was opened to accommodate foreigners who visited Karuizawa in the warmer months. In some years, the hotel was open from May to August, but sometimes it was only open for the two hottest months.
Because Mikasa Hotel was built to receive Westerner guests, facilities such as tennis courts, pools, and bell towers could all be found at the time.
In addition, there is no room no. 13. You can confirm this by checking out the key cabinet at the reception. The number 13 is missing!
To ensure the guests would have a comfortable stay, Misaka Hotel’s hospitality started before the guests reached the hotel. According to the train’s schedule, horse-drawn carriages were dispatched to pick up the guests from Karuizawa Station, which is 4km away.
With such a luxurious setting, staying at Mikasa Hotel added to one’s social status, and the hotel was a venue for the influential and the rich to socialize. Mikasa Hotel was thus referred to as Karuizawa’s Rokumeikan (軽井沢の鹿鳴館).
Rokumeikan (鹿鳴館), which means Deer-Cry Hall, was a large two-story building in Tokyo, completed in 1883. Before the building was destroyed, it was a controversial symbol of Westernization in the Meiji period that introduced many high-ranking Japanese officials to Western manners for the first time. Parties were constantly held at Rokumeikan at the time.
The Former Mikasa Hotel’s Fate After World War I
While the Former Mikasa Hotel had the top-class facility at the time, affected by the international and political situations in the first half of the last century, the ownership had changed a few times since 1925. In particular, the Former Mikasa Hotel was a U.S. Army base from 1945 to 1952.
After the American Army withdrew, Mikasa Hotel was reopened as Mikasa House (三笠ハウス) and managed by Mempei Hotel’s worker Yamana Denbei (山名傳兵衛) until it was closed in 1970. The hotel was then gifted to Karuizawa Town in 1980 and has been maintained as an Important National Cultural Property since its designation.
Before Empress Emerita Michiko married into the imperial family, she stayed in the expanded room formed by rooms 21 and 22. Remember to check it out when you visit the Former Mikasa Hotel!
Former Mikasa Hotel’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information
- From Karuizawa Station, you can take a bus bound for Kusatsu and get off at Mikasa (三笠). The bus trip takes around 10 minutes.
- The admission fee is
- 400 yen for adults
- 200 yen for children
Discover Other Fascinating Attractions Karuizawa
The Former Mikasa Hotel isn’t the only must-visit spot in Japan’s best highland resort, Karuizawa. It also has a couple more amazing natural spots. In addition, the traditional township has several Western-style villas, amazingly designed churches, and unique cafes and restaurants awaiting your visit.
So refer to our Guide to Karuizawa article for more attractions to include in your itinerary!