Karuizawa, Japan, and Whistler, Canada, will mark 20 years as sister cities in 2019. To celebrate, we’ve compiled 20 superlatives to highlight the bonds between these charming mountain towns.
1. Best Olympic experience
Karuizawa, located an hour by train from Tokyo, hosted the debut Olympic curling competition for the Nagano 1998 Winter Games, while Whistler hosted Olympic sliding and skiing events for Vancouver 2010.
Visitors can ride the world’s fastest ice track at Whistler Sliding Centre, home of the 2010 bobsled, luge, and skeleton competitions, or learn to curl like an Olympian with a lesson at Karuizawa Ice Park.
2. Top wellness site
Whistler’s Scandinave Spa shocks guests into relaxation with alternating hot and cold spaces, including a wood-burning sauna and chilly Nordic waterfall.
Karuizawa has no shortage of traditional Japanese hot springs (onsen), but its most unusual site of healing energy is the sacred 800-year-old tree at Kumano Kotai Shrine. The tree marks a “power spot,” where natural energy is said to cleanse the mind and spirit.
3. Iconic moment featuring a celebrity named John
Skeleton racer John Montgomery famously marched through Whistler's Olympic Village chugging a pitcher of beer after his 2010 Olympic win. In Karuizawa, John Lennon was once refused service at Akanaya Coffee for looking like, well, John Lennon: the shopkeeper didn’t dig his hippie style.
4. Best hotel bar
Ask the bartender at Karuizawa’s Mampei Hotel about Lennon and you might hear some firsthand tales. John, Yoko Ono and their son Sean lived in room 128 at the Mampei for the summers of 1976 to 1979, and Lennon taught bar staff to make his favourite Royal Milk Tea (still featured on the menu today).
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Mallard Lounge may not have a legendary musical connection, but it is a great place to catch live tunes nightly while sipping some of Whistler’s best martinis.
5. Best-known royal visit
In 1998, Prince Charles brought Princes William and Harry to Whistler for their first vacation after the death of Princess Diana. Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko most recently visited Karuizawa in August 2018, but their most important visit happened 61 years ago: when they met playing tennis at Karuizawa-kai court.
6. Longest ski run
Whistler’s Stew to Sidewinder and Green Road runs clock in at 11 kilometres each. That’s about 11 times longer than the 1,000-metre Panorama Trail at Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort.
7. Weirdest activity you totally want to do
Karuizawa: Black pig sausage-making (at Shinshu Ham). Whistler: Axe-throwing (at Forged).
8. Best mountain view
Karuizawa’s Usui Pass Observation Platform offers unbeatable views of the Nikko Range, while Whistler’s aptly named Top of The World Summit looks over the iconic Black Tusk.
9. Moment in the G7 spotlight
Karuizawa welcomed G7 transport ministers in 2016, while Whistler hosted finance and development ministers in 2018.
10. Largest golf course
The par 72 Kita Course at Karuizawa 72 Golf spans 7,076 yards. Whistler’s par 71 Nicklaus North Golf Course is just slightly smaller at 6,961 yards.
11. Closest volcano
Karuizawa sits at the base of Mount Asama, an active volcano that last erupted in June 2015. Whistler is about 16 kilometres from Black Tusk, an extinct stratovolcano.
12. Best pedestrian shopping zone
Whistler Village has a great mix of shops, restaurants and bars at the base of the ski runs. Karuizawa Ginza is a charming shopping street, where the French Bakery was John Lennon’s go-to spot for baguettes.
13. Highest and lowest average temperatures
Whistler swings from a low of -8 Celsius in January to a high of 27 in summer. Karuizawa has a similar range, from -9.5 in January to 25 in August.
14. Prettiest waterfall
Of the many waterfalls that surround both cities, go for Brandywine Falls just south of Whistler or Shiraito Waterfall north of Karuizawa. An interesting coincidence: Brandywine is 70 metres high, and Shiraito is 70 metres wide.
15. Most likely spot for bear, er, spotting
Whistler’s black bears and grizzly bears are routinely spotted in local forests and even backyards. Karuizawa’s forests are home to Asiatic black bears.
16. Highest accessible elevation
Whistler’s highest lift-accessible elevation is 2,284 metres. Karuizawa visitors can get to 1,358 metres in Onioshidashi Park.
17. Maximum snow cannon capacity
Sometimes nature needs a little help. Whistler can crank up 269 snow cannons, while Karuizawa has 195.
18. “World’s largest” claim to fame
Karuizawa is home to the world’s largest variety of flying squirrel, which you can track on a guided evening tour. In Whistler, you’ll find the world’s largest pine cone near Alta Lake, but may be more inclined to check out the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the world’s highest cable car.
19. Most architecturally interesting museum
Whistler’s Audain Art Museum looks like a giant, angular treehouse in the forest. Karuizawa’s Hiroshi Senju Museum features organically curving glass walls, contrasting with its spiky museum cafe building inspired by origami.
20. Best local beer
Yona Yona, an American Pale Ale from Yoho Brewing Company, is the go-to Karuizawa beer. Whistler is spoiled for choice, but the Surveyor IPA from Coast Mountain Brewing is tough to beat.