While my maternal unit was visiting in October, we were lucky again to win a draw from Japanican, which was for a free night at a selected list of Dormy Inn Hotels. Unfortunately we didn’t get our first pick, but we did get a night in their Niigata hotel. So it was off to Niigata for a long weekend!
Also at the time, JR East had a special 3 day rail pass for tourists, so my mother’s train fare for the trip was only 10,000 yen! Sometimes I wish I were only a tourist!
After doing some research I wasn’t sure there would be enough in Niigata city to occupy us for a full two days, but I did stumble across the website for Yahiko – a Leafy Village Full of Smiling People (according to their website…). And it certainly was a lovely little village. We first walked through Yahiko park, which is well known for it’s autumn colours. Unfortunately we were a little early, and the leaves had only just stared to turn, but it was pretty none-the-less.
Next, it was lunch of Sauce Katsudon (Pork cutlet dipped in sauce and served on a bowl of rice), which is an area speciality, and was also the best Katsudon I had ever eaten. And then a quick walk through Yahiko Shrine, where we saw a traditional wedding party, followed by riding a ropeway up to the top of Mt Yahiko. From the summit you could see a wide view of the Echigo plain, the largest rice producing area in Japan, and on the other side was the Sea of Japan. You could just make out Sado Island on that day, which is the 5th largest island in Japan.
So after spending half a day at Yahiko, we then caught the train to Niigata city and went to our hotel for the night. Niigata city has been a port town for around 300 years, but it’s history dates back to the Jomon period (14,000 BC to 300 BC). Despite having a long history, it’s a small city, but quite charming and the people were really friendly.
The next day we found the tourist information centre at Niigata Station, and were given some great recommendations for how we could spend our day in Niigata city. The city runs a loop bus which stops near most of the tourist attractions. Our first stop was Hakusan park, which was the first municipal park in Japan. It also has a shrine and an old merchant’s house called Enkikan. The park itself was quite lovely, and well established, being over 100 years old. When we went to Enkikan a local Tea Ceremony Club was having an annual meeting, so we weren’t able to look at the house, but they did invite us to participate in a tea ceremony with them. It was a first for mum, and she found it quite interesting. It was also amazingly nice of the club to invite us like that to join.
Tea Ceremony cups
Next we caught the loop bus to a private residence and garden that had been converted to a Museum. It was a lovely house that had been added to over the years, and was quite a mix of Japanese and Western styles, but with quite a number of charming little Japanese things in every room, like calligraphy, screens, and motifs. And the garden itself, although small, was beautiful, and an excellent use of space. The lady at the museum also had a bit of a chat with me and recommended some other places around the area, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to visit anything else in Niigata, because we needed to catch the train to Aizu Wakamatsu.
Japanese house and garden
We arrived late into Aizu Wakamatsu, so we got some dinner and went to bed to be off early the next day. Aizu Wakamatsu has a loop bus as well, so we caught that to the castle. Unfortunately we didn’t know that the castle was being re-roofed and totally covered in scaffolding, but the museum inside was still open. It talks all about the history of the region, which is probably most famous for being one of the last stands of the Shogun’s supporters in the Boshin Civil War, and a group of youths called the Byakkotai who commited suicide when they had thought the castle had fallen.
Aizu Wakamatsu Castle
After exploring the castle and it’s grounds, we walked a little way to a Sake Brewery. Inside the Brewery was a museum which explained how sake is made. There was also free samples, but it wasn’t even lunch time yet, so we only had a cup~ We then caught the bus to a traditional shopping area, which is said to be in the ‘Taisho Romantic Style’. There were lots of traditional buildings and warehouses which contained shops selling all kinds of goods, from pottery and lacquerware, to candles and red cows (all things of which Aizu is famous for). All in all, it was very atmospheric, and my favourite part of town.
The Sake Brewery
And finally, after 3 days of travelling, we caught the Shinkansen back to Tokyo, and back to normal.
Photos can be found on flickr, as always~