Niigata Prefecture has a number of places to ski and snowboard and people come from all over to enjoy the slopes in winter. However, not so many are familiar with tourism in Niigata during the other three seasons. So, as a local to the area, I would like to introduce some of the more authentic, perhaps less well-known, places to visit in Niigata Prefecture.
1: Iwamuro Onsen (Niigata City, Nishikan-ku)
Iwamuro Onsen (public bath house), near the picturesque Mase shoreline, not only gives travelers a rare view of the pines and white rocks which seem to rise up from the sea, there is also a chance to taste the fresh seafood from the nearby harbor. This particular bath house boasts more than 300 years of history and even includes a cold carbonated mineral water bath. During the summer, Iwamuro Onsen hosts the “Firefly Festival”. Settled between the old mountains, many firefly appear in the night sky, creating a truly magical view. Those interested in getting a closer look at these creatures may hire a firefly guide who can teach us all about the different types of fireflies and even how to tell the boys from the girls!
2: Kasugayama Castle Ruins (Joetsu City)
Spot #2 is the Kasugayama Castle Ruins of the famed Uesugi Kenshin. Appointed as one of Japan’s historical landmarks, this spot is a favorite among locals who come to gaze upon the views surrounding this castle atop a mountain. From the height of the castle we can see as far as the Kubiki Plains and even Sado Island. If you have the chance, I definitely recommend stopping by the Kasugayama Shrine where we can see its stone statues and natural resources.
3: Oosado Nature Trails (Sado Island)
Finally, Spot #3 is of course Sado Island! Located about 60km from the mainland, this remote island is the second largest in Japan, only smaller than the main island of Okinawa. Some visitors may be hesitant to cross the ocean, but those with a sense of adventure may enjoy either a 2 hour 20 minute ferry ride or a 60 minute Jetfoil ride directly to the island. When traveling by ferry, passengers enjoy meals provided by the crew, feeding seagulls that fly alongside the boat and on some occasions even encounter a group of dolphins at sea. Passengers on the Jetfoil are assigned seats much like an airplane and although we cannot move freely about the ship, the Jetfoil gives passengers much less seasickness.
Once arriving on the island, travelers may visit the Toki (Japanese bird) protection center which can be toured in about 1 hour as the facilities are not so large. If time allows, I definitely recommend visiting Oosado Nature Trails in the middle of the cedar woods at an altitude of about 1000m. Among the many cedar trees here, there are 5 which have a very characteristic shape which was imagined while naming these particular trees. I especially recommend stopping by the Shiten’nou (Four Kings) Pine and the Hagoromo (Angel’s Robe) Pine. The hiking courses are not so tough so most visitors can walk comfortably around the woods in sneakers.
These three little-known but great spots will allow you to feel closer to the locals and aim to give you an appreciation for the beauty of Niigata during warmer seasons. We welcome all curious visitors and I hope that you will consider Niigata for your next trip. Safe Travels!
This post is also available in: Japanese