Back in December 2014 I went to visit a friend in Sendai and we ended up doing some really cool short trips around Touhoku.
Our first stop was a one night stay at Niigata city to visit the Japan Sea. We took a 4-hour train trip from Sendai through Yamagata prefecture. The best of this long trip was the whole country side of Japan was completely covered in white fluffy snow.
Niigata city on the coast line facing the Japan sea was once one of the leading port cities in Japan with its main trade line connecting with Hokkaido.
We arrived by night time and only had time to leave our things at the hostel and find dinner.
Meanwhile we also went to the observatory deck at Niigata Nippo Media for a 360º view over the city.
We were supposed to leave on the next day, the 31st of December, on the last train back to Sendai for the new year’s celebration, so we had a very small window of opportunity to visit the Sea of Japan.
We walked through Niigata city and reached the sea. We stayed around, dipped our boots in the water, walked in the sandy beaches and took some cool pictures. The area was of course completely deserted because it was December and it was freezing cold.
When we were done we walked back in the center and went looking for some food for the train trip. We found a market where I bought probably one of the freshest sushi boxes I ever ate, 30 dollars of extravagant sashimi dinner.
The biggest surprise was that next to the market we found a bakery that claimed to be a Portuguese bakery, it even had some text on the wall that only I could read.
The bread turned out to be much harder than the common soft Japanese bread and my suspicion was that they were not made from rice flour but from wheat flour, making it more consistent and tough.
With a train ride back to Sendai we ended our very short trip and I got to take some cool pictures of the snowy winter.
Traveling through the mountainous interior of Japan was not easy at that time because we had to take regional trains because they were much cheaper but also slower. I remember we switched trains twice and for one of them the train even went through a one-way single rail line. Making it a long journey and with a scarce number of trains available per day.
However, at least now the region is serviced by high speed Shinkansen Toki service. You can take catch one from Tokyo and also from Sendai (switching at Omiya). The trip will take you around 2 hours and cost you between 50 to 100 dollars.
However I don’t feel Niigata city is a touristic city, at least not in Winter. Maybe if you visit in the Summer you will be able to find it more lively. Otherwise you can also use it as a starting point for other trips.
Sado island is one of the biggest tourist drawing places in the Chubu region and one way you can get there is by ferry from Niigata. Leaving every 3 hours, the trip takes around two and a half hours and costs 24 dollars per person or 170 dollars per car.
In the city center you can visit the Saitou Villa, a traditional residence of a wealthy merchant family, the aquarium near the sea shore and surrounded by a city park that also includes a shrine.
Near to where we were, there is also a city aquarium and shrine near the coast, both surrounded by a park.
Other than this maybe Niigata will be for you just a city you pass by. However don’t forget to take with you regional sake, rice or rice crackers because this are is one of the best rice producing areas of Japan.
What would I do differently
We joked that we should stay to see the sun setting on December 31st and then celebrate the rising sun on the Eastern coast in Sendai. However at that time, the last train from Niigata was before the sun setting and we were not able to do this. This would have been really cool.
Other than this, if we had had more time, I would like to have explored more of the coast, given that the park was so close to where we were. Still for less than 24 hours I think we did really well.
On the morning of 2015 January we set out to see the sun rising at Matsushima bay. An experience I will never forget.
Hope everyone is doing well, see you next week.