The Lure of Niigata Prefecture and the Shonai Area ~Great places for eating, drinking, and sightseeing~
Great cuisine and great sake are the draws of Niigata Prefecture and the Shonai area of Yamagata Prefecture.
Why not explore the rich food culture and the history that cultivated that culture?
The secret behind their delectable taste
As the nation’s foremost rice grower, the area takes pride in its tradition of producing quality rice. Enjoy comparing the flavors of the different growers.
Pristine water essential to growing top quality rice, combined with the expertise of master brewers, have produced a rich array of sake. Many are of the crisp and dry tanrei-karakuchi type, but the large number of breweries have given rise to innumerable varieties.
Choose by label or by type
“Nishikigoi” by Imayo Tsukasa Sake Brewery
Soba Culture and Noodle Culture
The Niigata and Shonai areas are well known for their delicious soba and ramen noodles, which are deeply rooted in their history, climate and cultures.
Hegi-soba is a Niigata specialty. Al dente and smooth, the noodles are substantially filling.
Yamagata Prefecture is the biggest ramen consumer in Japan. Among others,“ Sakata no Ramen” is a popular kind of ramen from Sakata City in Yamagata, characterized by the fact that more than 80% of the noodles are made“ at home” in the respective ramen shops selling them.
A foodie traveler’s dream, click here for more gourmet information.
“KAIRI” is a new type of tourist train which offers local Niigata and Shonai dishes amid unfolding scenes of the Japan Sea. (Service begins in October between Niigata and Sakata)
The panoramic windows of the sightseeing train, “Echigo TOKImeki Resort SETSUGEKKA,” look out to the mountains and ocean at the same time. (Route: Joetsumyoko Sta. on the Myoko Haneuma Line (via Myoko-Kogen) – Itoigawa Sta. on the Nihonkai Hisui Line)
“Koshino Shu Kura” is a sake-themed train with a tasting corner devoted to local Niigata sake (charged).
Ponshukan Echigo Yuzawa Station Shop
This tasting shop offers almost 100 varieties of local sake. Fill your cup from the innovative vending machines! (5 cups for 500 yen)
Access: Inside Echigo-Yuzawa Sta.
Sake Bar Ayatsuru at Tsuruoka Food Culture Market FOODEVER
Explore Tsuruoka, a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, and discover the taste of the 18 varieties of sake from the Shonai region.
Access: Tsuruoka Sta. → 2 min on foot
Sado City: Tarai-bune Boat Ride
Tarai-bune, wooden washtub boats, were devised to collect seaweed, abalone, and turban shells from the rocky and narrow coves along the Ogi coast. These boats are safe enough for novices to steer.
*Prices vary depending on boat operators.
Jiko-ji Temple in Gosen City
The temple serves shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine), including sesame tofu with gingko nuts and a clear soup with lotus root dumplings. Visitors can try zazen (zen meditation) and shakyo (hand-copying of sutras) before the meal.
Access: Gosen Sta. on the Ban-etsu West Line → 10 min by bus → old Muramatsu Sta. → 15 min by taxi
In Tsuruoka City, Yamagata, walk along the cedar-lined path of Mt. Haguro in pilgrim’s robes
Stroll around in the traditional white garb of an ascetic and absorb the power of nature.
Clothing rental, 5,000 yen per person (tax included).
Access: Tsuruoka Sta. → 50 min by bus → Mt. Haguro-sancho (peak)
One of the three major gorges in Japan. Pieces of art are displayed inside the walking tunnel that runs alongside the gorge. At Panoramic Station, the last viewpoint, the walk culminates into a mesmerizing reflection of the gorge on water surface. The best season for viewing the autumn foliage is from the end of October to early November.
Access: Echigo-Yuzawa Sta. → 25 min by express bus bound for Morimiyanohara → Kiyotsu Gorge Entrance bus stop → 30 min on f0ot
Gift for Frozen Village / Echigo Tsumari Art Field
The multi colors of the “Snow fireworks” light up the night sky while dotting their glows on the snow white fields below.
Access: Tokamachi Sta.
This mysterious pond sits quietly at the base of Mt. Chokai. The play of light on a clear day turns its color to emerald green. A celebrated “power spot.”
Access: Yuza Sta. → 10 min by taxi
This aerial lift connects Naeba and Tashiro in about 25 minutes (Japan’s longest, at 5,481 meters). Be transported over breathtaking views of the autumn foliage and a silvery white winter wonderland.
Access: Echigo-Yuzawa Sta. → 50 min by bus (on the Naeba Prince Hotel Line)
Bijin Bayashi Forest
The name, “bijin,” or beauty, refers to the tall and graceful profiles of the approximately 100 year-old Japanese beech trees. Perfectly beautiful in any season. In winter, trek through the forest in snowshoes.
Access: Matsudai Sta. on the Hokuetsu Kyuko’s Hokuhoku Line → 15 min by bus bound for Matsunoyama Onsen → Sakaimatsu bus stop → 20 min on fo0t
Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark
Recognized as Japan’s first Global Geopark, the city has 24 geosites. At the Model Railroad and Diorama Gallery visitors can try running a model train themselves.
Northern Culture Museum
The 29,000 square meters of this expansive estate was once the residence of the Ito family, who were wealthy farmers. The museum boasts a Japanese “strolling garden” that can be viewed from the main hall. The garden is illuminated at night in autumn.
Access: Niigata Sta. → 20 min by taxi
Along with Gion in Kyoto and Shinbashi in Tokyo, Niigata’s Furumachi has long been known for geigi, or geisha. Their gentle manner of talking in the Niigata dialect is one of the cultural assets of Niigata as a port town.
Somaro Maiko Teahouse
The Somaro Maiko, originally named “Somaya,” has been a popular restaurant since the Edo period (1603–1868). In 1996, the building was registered as a national cultural asset, and now offers a delicious lunch to accompany the performance of the Maiko dancers.
Sado Gold and Silver Mine
Once Japan’s biggest gold and silver mine, part of it is now open to the public as a historic site. Mannequins recreate the miners at work and use of the suijorin (Archimedes’ screw) to pump water. A National Historic Site: The tour takes about 40–50 minutes
Access: Ryotsu Port → 60 min by taxi
Yuzawa Town History Museum “Yukiguni-kan”
This is a museum where visitors can experience the lifestyle and history of Yuzawa Town, the setting of Kawabata Yasunari’s famous novel “Yukiguni” (Snow Country). The first floor has a recreated room of the heroine Komako, and it looks like she’s looking back making eye contact with the visitors. There is a place to sit around the fireplace and take photos as mementos.
Access: Echigo-Yuzawa Sta. → 7 min on foot
Japan Sea tour for delicious dishes in the Niigata and Shonai Areas
Knowing food culture makes your trip even more fun
Stretching long from north to south, Niigata Prefecture has a geographically unique food culture that allows serving high-quality rice everywhere in the prefecture. The Shonai area in Yamagata Prefecture is a treasure house of native vegetables. It takes two hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata, and two more hours to Shonai in Yamagata. Go look for a story of great food culture, while enjoying stopping-off along the way.
Kanburi, wild yellowtail that are caught at Sado Island in autumn earlier than anywhere else, is famous. Dipping a cutlet of wild buri from Sado into a special ago-dashi-based soy sauce and putting it on rice to serve makes this simple yet delicious katsu (cutlet)-don dish.
Tsubamesanjo is famous as a town of monozukuri (making things) centering on metal processing. During the high-speed growth era of the economy, craftsmen who were always busy and didn’t have time even for eating, preferred se-abura ramen, in which sprinkling se-abura (pork back fat) over noodles prevents the soup and noodles from getting cold quickly. This soul food is popular among locals.
Teradomari F Burikatsu-don ish Market Street
Fresh seafood from the area and all over Japan, including crab, squid, octopus, and shellfish, are brought to this market street. This fish version of the famous “Ame-yoko” shopping street is bustling throughout the year!
Access: JR Nagaoka Sta. → 60 min by Echigo-kotsu bus
Born in Tokamachi, long known for its silk fabric production, hegi-soba uses funori seaweed as a connecting agent, creating a unique texture and a good feeling going down. Many restaurants serve hegi-soba with mustard, instead of wasabi,
a standard condiment for soba. An annual soba festival is also held.
The town of salmon, which is said to have more than 100 ways of preparing salmon. From autumn to winter, when salmon roe is in season, you can enjoy delicious harakodon with salted salmon and salmon roe on rice.
This dish is said to originate from portable rations during wars which were wrapped in sasa bamboo leaves with antibacterial effects. It is served with sushi rice stuffed in sasa leaves and topped with ingredients such as sansai wild vegetables.
Now, this local specialty is served at celebratory occasions.
Uonuma no Sato, a sake-themed park, offers a tour for sake stored in Hakkaisan yukimuro (snow storage). At Bokushidori Street with buildings with beautiful gangi-zukuri arcades, the streetscape of the old post station is recreated.
Access: Uonuma no Sato: Itsukamachi Sta. → 10 min by taxi
Access: Bokushi-dori Street: JR Shiozawa Sta. → 5 min on foot
This autumn will be busy with delicious-food events!
Oct. 1: Toasting with Sake
Oct. 5: Opening Event of Kairi
Oct. 12-13: Uma-haku (Umasa Gisshiri Expo)
https: // niigata-kankou.or.jp/2019dc/
Cherry blossoms along the Takada Castle: early April to mid-April (Joetsu City)
NIIGATA FURUSATO VILLAGE’s Tulip: mid-April to late April (Niigata City)
Nagaoka Grand Fireworks Festival: August 2 to 3 (Nagaoka City)
Iwamuro Hiyotsuma Hotaru (Firefly) Festival: mid-June to early July (Niigata City)
Five-story pagoda at Mt. Haguro (illuminated at night): until October 27 (Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture) Special viewing of the five-story pagoda: until November 30
Momiji-dani Valley in Yahiko Park and Yahiko-jinja Shrine: late October to mid-November (Yahiko village)
Shorei-sai Festival at Dewasanzan-jinja shrines: December 31 (Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture)
Hadaka Oshiai Matsuri Festival: March 7 (Minamiuonuma City)
Click here for more event information.