If you love chasing waterfalls, then a day trip to Karuizawa’s Shiraito Falls is a must. Although Shiraito Waterfall isn’t the tallest in Japan, its impressive 70 meter arc makes it one of the country’s more unique falls. And best of all, this Nagano gem is easy to reach by public transit.
Just so we’re clear: this guide is for Shiraito Falls in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, not to be confused with the falls by the same name near Mt. Fuji. Though if you find yourself near Fujinomiya, I recommend visiting those falls as well.
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How to Get to Shiraito Falls: Karuizawa Station
Getting to Karuizawa Station
Karuizawa Station lies on the on Hokuriku Shinkansen line, which is covered under the Japan Rail Pass. If you’re taking a Karuizawa day trip from Tokyo or Nagano, be sure to take the Asama train, as it’s the only one that always stops in Karuizawa. The journey from Tokyo takes about 75 minutes and costs 5,500 yen. From Nagano, the trip is around a half hour and costs 3,500 yen.
Taking the Bus From Karuizawa Station
The inside of the train station is well-labeled in English and Japanese. However, here’s a step-by-step guide to get from the Shinkansen platform to the bus bound for Shiraito Falls.
- Follow the exit signs for Bus – North Exit. It’s one floor down from the Shinkansen.
- Go right out the doors and look at the bus map.
- The #2 line (brown on the map) goes to Kitakaruizawa via Shiraito Falls
- There will be a marquee on the side of the bus that says in English where the bus is headed. The bus also announces in English where it’s bound.
- Take a numbered ticket from the machine. You pay once you get off, based on how many stops you’ve passed. You’ll notice a screen at the front of the bus, which displays a fare cost grid. The fare is cash only, and as of 2019, it’s 710 yen from the station to the falls.
- If you’re doing a more extensive Karuizawa day trip, you can buy a one day travel pass at the station.
- The ride from Karuizawa Station to the falls takes just under 30 minutes. It’s fairly winding and hilly, so take care if you’re prone to motion sickness.
- Once you reach the Shiraito Falls stop, exit the bus towards the food and shop stalls. Cross the street to reach the path.
Once you get off the bus, it’s a short 3-5 minute walk to the falls.
What to Expect at Karuizawa Shiraito Falls
Despite being fairly remote, the Shiraito Falls area has a number of amenities. Across from the bus stop, you’ll find food stalls and markets selling hot food, drinks, and local goods. There’s also a restroom and a small seating area.
The path leading up to the falls is well-maintained and easy to walk. A stream runs down from the main waterfall and along the side of the trail, making for a lovely walk to the main waterfall. However, the dirt track is slightly uphill, so recent rains can make it slippery. For this reason, I recommend wearing good walking shoes.
In terms of people, the falls definitely attract a large number of tourists. Even on a weekday afternoon in October, it felt downright crowded at times. Luckily, people were pretty respectful of taking turns in front of the falls and moving out of the way for photos.
One of the best things about Shiraito Falls is how they change with the rainfall. Recent rains mean a strong curtain of water running down from the lush vegetation above. And in drier months, the falls become thousands of delicate streams along the rock face. The time of year also plays a large factor in the falls’ appearance, which I’ll discuss below.
All in all, I recommend setting aside 20 minutes to see the falls. Though if you plan to take lots of photos, you’ll probably need 45 minutes.
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When is the best time to visit Shiraito Falls
Shiraito Falls are beautiful and accessible year round. Late spring and summer sees the falls decked with lush greenery, making it seem like you’ve stumbled upon a secret jungle oasis. In winter, the falls sometimes freeze over, creating a magical, icy curtain.
However, autumn is the most popular season to visit Shiraito Waterfall. And once you’ve seen the vibrant branches of red, orange, and yellow rising above the black stone of the falls, you’ll understand why. Plus, the fallen leaves add color and visual interest to the otherwise dark pool of water.
If you’re visiting Japan in October, you’ll have the best chance of seeing the autumn leaves.
Just be sure to avoid any of the Japanese public holidays, as many of these days see a dramatic increase in tourism.
How to Photograph Shiraito Waterfall
As noted above, the falls are a popular tourist destination. Thus, you’ll need to arrive quite early on a weekday if you want to avoid the crowds. Fortunately, people tend to take their turns in front of the falls, so you can get clean shots if you’re patient.
In terms of gear, an adjustable tripod and wide angle lens are both essential. The ground is quite uneven, and you’ll need a tripod for shooting at a slow enough shutter speed to blur the waterfall. Depending on the water flow, a shutter speed between 1/5 to 2 seconds should be perfect. Because of the falls’ long arc, you’ll need a wide angle lens to fit the whole area in frame.
For some unique shots, try getting down on the ground and using rocks and leaves as foreground interest. There are also a few spots on the left side where you can get up close to the falls.
Returning to Karuizawa Station from Shiraito Falls
When you’re ready to leave the falls, head back down the path and take a right at the road. You’ll see a large wooden display board (pictured above). Just past this board is a bench and a bus stop sign that should say “Karuizawa Station”.
The bus schedule is posted on the sign. The buses that come at the red times are express (i.e. they skip some stops on the route), and will get you back to the station in about 15 minutes. The fare is the same as the non-express option (¥710), which takes about a half hour.
Other Things to do in Karuizawa
If you have more time during your Karuizawa day trip, here are a few other things to do in Karuizawa:
- Hike to Sengataki Falls: If you’re up for a hike, take the bus from Karuizawa Station to Sengataki Onsen, where you’ll find a 3km path to this stunning valley waterfall.
- Relax in a Karuizawa onsen: Enjoy a relaxing hot spring bath at one of the town’s many onsen, though you may need a reservation if it’s high season.
- Go shopping in Kyu-Karuizawa: Karuizawa is also famous for its pedestrian shopping street, where you can buy everything from local honey to Studio Ghibli souvenirs.
- Visit some Terrace House locations: If you’re a fan of the popular Netflix series, consider exploring some of the show’s memorable filming locations (I vote for lunch at Sasa).
Have any questions about visiting Shiraito Falls? Let me know in the comments section!