For miles around the gentle slopes to the west of Karuizawa there are besso (‘country villas’ or ‘second homes’) scattered on sizable, secluded plots of land. Rustic, often Western style homes for vacation use in the summer or on the weekend are all over the place. Similar vacation areas with besso can be found in Sendai, Isu Peninsula near Tokyo, Lake Nojiri in Nagano prefecture, Okinawa and, increasingly, other areas. Many of the villas could be transported to Aspen, Colorado, or the Lake District in England and hardly look out of place; rusticity is best.
Country villas or estates have always existed for the top of the samurai class in times gone by or for the industrial elite in modern Japan, but many of the present vacation areas with villas were developed by foreign missionaries: Karuizawa, Lake Nojiri and Sendai especially. A long summer vacation, away from the hustle and bustle of the hot cities, was a wonderful thing and in the 1920s when many of these areas were first developed, they were a long way away. Karuizawa was still not connected to Tokyo by train in 1901 because of the steep Usui Toge which even today requires extra engines to be put on a train for extra traction. The buildings which the foreigners put up from memories of their home countries have become the standards for building a “besso” today.