It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Niigata (新潟県).
Niigata Prefecture is on the coast of the Sea of Japan (日本海) and is part of the Chubu Region (中部地方). The capital is Niigata City (新潟市). Before writing this post I didn’t think there was a whole lot to do in Niigata, but I’ve now learnt that it offers a lot more than just skiing and natural beauty.
One of the most famous things that happens in Niigata Prefecture (which I almost forgot – thanks Japan Australia for the reminder!) is the Fuji Rock Festival; a music festival which takes place yearly in Naeba Ski Resort (苗場スキー場). The three-day festival was first held in 1997 at the base of Mount Fuji, but since 1999 the summer festival has been held at Naeba in Yuzawa (湯沢). From late November to May it is possible to ski in Yuzawa at various resorts, but come July it’s a different story in Naeba!
I’d love to go to Fuji Rock one day – I’ve heard it’s much better than music festivals in the UK, and much cleaner too. This year the festival is held from 24th – 26th July, and headline acts include the Foo Fighters, Muse and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. As well as lots of well-known international acts, there will also be a lot of Japanese artists performing, such as Sheena Ringo, the Tokyo Shock Boys and Chabo Band (I have to confess I don’t know the Japanese acts at all!). Find out more on the official website.
Another festival which Niigata is famous for is the Earth Celebration on Sado Island (佐渡島) (thanks Zooming Japan for mentioning this in last week’s comments). Sado Island is one of Japan’s largest islands, and lies just off the coast from Niigata City. The Earth Celebration is held yearly in august, and it is hosted by the internationally acclaimed Kodo taiko drummers, who are based on the island.
(Image source: Kodo)
I would absolutely love to visit Sado Island for the festival, and will have to find a way to get there one day! I get the impression that the island really comes to life during the festival, with lots of small shops and stalls popping up around Ogi Harbour, and tourists taking rides in ‘taraibune’ boats (tub boats usually used for fishing).
Another interesting place in Niigata Prefecture is Echigo-Tsumari (越後妻有). Whilst this may not be a place many people have heard of, if ever there was a time to visit Echigo-Tsumari it would be this year. From 26th July to 13th September the 2015 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale will take place, filling the area with fascinating and interesting modern art installations by both Japanese and international artists. During the event period the artwork on display will be updated and expanded, and there will be as many as 200 pieces on display. There are smaller festivals in between the triennial events, but this is definitely the year to visit Echigo-Tsumari if you want to see something really interesting! The art project was started in 2000 as a way to bring people back to a region which has suffered from depopulation. Echigo-Tsumari is a beautiful area offering a rural landscape of terraced rice fields and small villages, but it’s certainly not a tourist spot or a place many people would choose to live. Find out more here.
The Omiyage Section
One of the most famous souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) from Niigata Prefecture is Le Lectier Pears. These are actually pears originating in France, but they grow in Niigata too and are popular there. So popular in fact, that there is a Le Lectier Pear flavoured Kit Kat! Sake, rice crackers and snacks are all common souvenirs of Niigata too. Niigata’s mascot is a rather strange one – his name is Lerch-san and apparently he is from Pressburg and came to Japan for research. He then ended up putting his efforts into winter leisure promotion and stayed in Japan. Lerch-san appears on lots of omiyage in Niigata, including cookies and snacks, as pictured below (bottom left).
Next week I will be writing about Toyama (富山県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!