Lets Explore Japan: Niigata

Located on Japan’s main island, Honshu, Niigata is found in the geographical centre of the Japanese archipelago and offers four distinct seasons – with regional events running all year round. Located just an hour away from Tokyo by super-express bullet train (shinkansen) and with so much to do in Niigata, you’ll definitely be travelling around a lot – from enjoying a relaxing soak in the outdoor baths of Murakami City to touring sake breweries in Niigata City.

Why Niigata prefecture?

Whether you go for the wide-reaching mountains, beautiful coastline, seasonal seafood or the festivals, there’s a little something for everyone in Niigata. By purchasing a JR Rail Pass before you visit Japan you’ll not only save yourself the trouble of queueing for tickets but also save money on your Japanese travel adventure.

Expertly crafted sake

High-quality rice is a result of the smooth water that flows through Niigata’s mountains and the techniques of skilled craftsmen. These factors contribute to why Niigata is considered one of the best prefectures to produce sake. Niigata sake is noted as having a tanrei-style (淡麗辛口, dry taste) with little in the way of characteristics, making it richly diverse in its offerings.

Niigata has a variety of sake breweries to tour, including the Imayotsukasa Brewery (今代司), one of the only junmai sake breweries left in Japan, or Kikizake Bansho (利き酒番所) for a standing drinking tour of a plethora of sake. You’ll not only learn about the basics of sake-making but also the history and culture behind the process, topping it all off with tasting sessions and a renewed appreciation of the traditional craft.

Outrageously good sushi

With two of Japan’s major rivers, the Shinano and Agano rivers, flowing directly through Niigata Prefecture out to the Sea of Japan, Niigata has been graced with a bounty of seasonal seafood. Thanks to the port town of Niigata City, local seafood dishes rotate through an impressive selection consisting of Alaskan pink shrimp (nanban ebi), rosy seabass (nodoguro), yanagi flounder (yanagi-mushi), spear squid (yari-ika), and cinnamon flounder (funabeta).

A speciality of Niigata, the kiwami sushi course, provides ten pieces of high-grade sushi, including seasonal fish, tuna (uni), roe (ikura) all for around 3000 yen, including a bowl of soup. Not only do the toppings on the course change with the seasons, but due to the seaside nature of Niigata, a number of sushi restaurants all over the prefecture offer the menu at the same price.

The onsen kingdom

After Hokkaido and Nagano, Niigata boasts the most hot springs (onsen) of any prefecture in Japan. Spread across the whole of the prefecture, there are some 150 onsen, providing views of verdant mountains and the majestic Sea of Japan.

The crown jewel of the onsen kingdom is the rotenburo, the outdoor bath. Beautiful scenery and the therapeutic effects of the onsen water paired with the gentle breeze of the wind makes for an evening dip to remember. Enjoying the local cuisine after spending some time in an onsen only enhances the hot spring experience – making Niigata a prime location for anyone who wants to feel closer to nature.

No need to dream of a white winter

Thanks to an assortment of snow-capped mountains and numerous ski resorts, Niigata is a true winter wonderland. With resorts scattered around the Joetsu, Chuetsu, and Kaetsu regions and hot spring inns (onsen ryokan) in close vicinity, there is never a lack of opportunities to relax, unwind and have fun for locals and visitors alike.

Brilliantly white winters not only lend themselves to perfect skiing conditions but also welcome in winter activities such as illuminations and the Tokamachi Snow Festival, held every February. For those looking for a comforting walk through an enchanting ice-scape, look no further than the Yasuzuka Snow Festival Candle Road in Joetsu or the ‘108 Lanterns’ in Uonuma.

Sunny days and even brighter nights

Hot summer nights in Niigata are home to near-weekly fireworks festivals, lighting up the sky in impressive spreads of colour. Known as the ‘Big Three Fireworks of Echigo’, the coastal Kashiwazaki, riverside Nagaoka, and inland Katakai fireworks festivals are known throughout the whole of Japan, drawing thousands of people from all over the nation every year.

The Gion Kashiwazaki Matsuri Fireworks Festival, the Nagaoka Matsuri Fireworks Festival, and the Katakai Matsuri are the festivals that make Niigata’s summer itinerary so special; from beautiful star fireworks over the sea at the Gion Kashiwazaki Matsuri to the world’s largest diameter fireworks (four-shaku; 120cm) at the Katakai Matsuri, summer in Niigata is not just about natural beauty, but man-made spectacle too.

Have you visited Niigata? If not, what would you like to see and experience most in this diverse area of Japan? Our online recipe section is packed full of tasty sweet and savoury recipe ideas for all seasons and occasions!

Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.