For April 2018, I purchased JR East Pass Nigata-Nagano because I had a photography work in Nagano, and basically having the pass is way cheaper + gives me more days to travel. I have never really explored the area as these 2 are famous for their ski resorts and landscapes, but Niigata is also famous for another thing. Their water!
Their water is so good and it gives an advantage for them to plant their rice, famous for their Koshihikari Rice, which every Japanese people swear that it's the best rice in Japan. If Kobe / Matsuzaka Beef is the top rank in terms of meat, Koshihikari Rice from Niigata is the King of Rice
And when rice + water combined, what's it?
That's right, a good sake!
Niigata is only 2 hours away from Tokyo / Ueno Station by Shinkansen, and it's easily accessible. You can use either JR East Niigata-Nagano Pass or JR Pass to reach the city and here are things that I do within Niigata City itself!
IMAYOTSUKASA SAKE TOUR
As I mentioned before, Niigata is famous for their sake. The Sake Tour comes with no charge and in fact, you can also do free sake tasting! If you want to try all the sakes, you only need to pay 500 yen which is pretty reasonable. Imayotsukasa is located around 15-20 mins walk from Niigata main station, simply use GPS to find the place. The tour itself lasts 40 mins and all the explanation is done in Japanese. If you can't understand any Japanese, it's still interesting to visit the whole factory to see the process of sake making
MINEMURA SHOTEN MISO TASTING
Embark on another food tasting to one the best Japanese seasoning ingredient, which is Miso! Minemura Shoten is a store that's specialized in Miso. It's only 5 mins walking distance from Imayotsukasa and the tasting tour is free! Try their 3 types of miso (Red, White, Black) as well as their ChaZuke and pickles
There are also other products sold in the store such as peanuts in miso flavor, sake, koshihikari rice, seaweeds, and so on. Though it is not mandatory, perhaps you can buy a little souvenir to show support for this little store after finishing the tasting tour
NIIGATA SAITOU VILLA
Niigata Saitou Villa was the villa of Saitou family, a prosperous merchant family back there and their villa is famous for having a beautiful garden along with traditional Japanese house that is still well-preserved up to this day. The locals also rave about this place because it is one of the main tourist attractions in Niigata, and you'll understand why once you visit the place. It is a two levels house and you can walk around the garden to find a little waterfall and some bungalows to relax at. They also provide service for matcha or coffee along with little wagashi or cakes for just 500 yen, which is so reasonable! Nothing beats drinking matcha while looking at beautiful gardens. And best of all, there's hardly crowded tourists like in Kyoto
You can also try joining their Geisha Performance for only 2600 yen. Unfortunately, I didn't come during the right timing as it's over by the time I reached there. And the performance was not my main priority either hence I didn't bother to check the schedule, but if you want to experience the Geisha Culture for an affordable price, check out their website and time schedule for the performance
SUSHI AND SOBA GOURMET
Gourmet is a must when exploring Niigata! Most popular meals are their sushi and soba which I put into my itinerary. There are tons of places to savor one all over the city, but I had my sushi at Pier Bandai which is a market (mostly they sell fresh fishes though). The sushi restaurant is located near the market and the price is relatively cheap. I wanted to go for Kiwami Sushi but the lunchtime was over by the time I decided to have my lunch, so next time it is!
BUY KOSHIHIKARI RICE
There's no other thing that you should buy from Niigata other than Koshihikari Rice. As for me, I purchased it from Niigata JR Station Store as it's such a hassle to bring heavy rice with me when I was exploring the City. There are a lot of types of Koshihikari and they come in variant sizes. I purchased a normal 2kg one and a 500gr Sado Koshihikari just to try the difference!
So that's all things that I did in Niigata City, and that's where I recommend you guys to visit as well! There are other parts in Niigata such as their Aquarium as well but it would take me one whole day just for the aquarium hence I didn't go there. Besides Niigata city, there are other places in Niigata Prefecture that I would like to explore in the future, but for now, a taste of it is already enough
Talk to you guys again on my next post!