Found along the northwestern coast of Japan, Niigata Prefecture is celebrated for its high quality rice and breathtaking nature, most notably its spectacular mountains whose white peaks draw in snow sports lovers from far and wide over the winter months.
VIDEO ―Captured by Niigata―
The port city of Niigata is one of the largest and most visitor-friendly cities along Japan’s northwestern coast, home to bustling fish markets, culture-filled museums, and a host of eateries and bars to savour the rice-based delicacies of the prefecture.
For those planning a snow-free trip to Niigata Prefecture, Nagaoka offers cherry blossom trees in their thousands, summer fireworks festivals, and a host of cultural activities all year round.
History buffs should make a beeline for Joetsu in the south of the prefecture where you can explore castle ruins atop the towering Mt. Kasuga and learn about the area’s role in WWII at the Peace Memorial Park and its adjoining museum.
A 2.5-hour ferry trip west of Niigata City lies the mystical island of Sado where visitors can enjoy the laid back island life on a recce around the rocky coastlines followed by a journey back to the Edo period down the Kinzan Gold Mine.
As winter arrives Yuzawa starts filling up with snow sport enthusiasts who rush to the slopes for some of the best snow Japan has to offer, including at the renowned Naeba Ski Resort, before heading to the plentiful natural hot springs in the area.
HOW TO GET THERE
Unless you’re sticking to local trains and buses, Niigata City will be your first destination as the most accessible city in the prefecture by public transport. The Joetsu Shinkansen offers the simplest route into Niigata Prefecture, taking passengers directly from Tokyo to Niigata Station in just two hours. Those travelling from further afield can fly to Niigata Airport which is located just 40 minutes from the city centre.
Planning on travelling to other parts of the prefecture? Niigata City is well-connected with JR trains, local trains, and buses providing numerous options for discovering everything that Niigata has to offer.
SIGHTS/THINGS TO DO
Straddling Niigata and Nagano prefectures at the very edge of the Japanese Alps, Mt. Naeba is home to four ski resorts including the likes of the prestigious Naeba Ski Resort and Kagura Ski Resort. While most certainly not the only ski slopes in the region, the ski resorts atop Mt. Naeba offer some of the most exciting slopes around.
Oze National Park
Comprising hills, marshlands, flora, and fauna, Oze National Park is a hiker’s paradise best visited in the warmer months when the white skunk cabbages bloom celestially across the landscape.
Yahiko Shrine is a 1,300-year-old Shinto shrine whose impressive structure of wood and gold is a sight to see against a backdrop of fantastic green, found at the base of Mt. Yahiko in the west of Niigata Prefecture.
Sado Kinzan Gold Mine
If there’s any reason to take a trip to Sado Island it’s for the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine where visitors can take a tour of the centuries old mines fitted out with wax models before visiting the informative museum.
Fuji Rock Festival
Japan’s biggest music festivalーin both size and reputationーFuji Rock takes place at Naeba Ski Resort over three days in July every year attracting big names from home and further afield.
It is said that the weather conditions in Niigata Prefecture are to thank for the unrivalled quality of rice produced in the prefecture. Don’t miss the opportunity to put “Japan’s best rice” to the taste test, whether it’s covered with fresh fish or brewed into delicious sake.
With good rice comes good sake and there is no shortage of tasting opportunities around Niigata Prefecture: specialist sake bars, up to 100 sake breweries, and even a sake museum, Ponshukan, where sampling is an essential part of the trip.
Perfect for a detox after too much sake and fried food, noppei jiru is an affordable and wholesome soup made up of delicious veggies and filling chunks of meat or fish.
Sasa dango is the ubiquitous sweet treat of Niigata Prefecture, made up of a vibrant purple sweet adzuki bean centre enveloped by a fragrant green mochi rice layer, and finally wrapped in a bamboo leaf.
Traditionally served in a wooden box known as a hegi, the secret behind the unique taste and texture of these soba noodles is the funori seaweed which produces slippery, al dente noodles perfectly complemented by a dipping sauce.