Since Chas had a few late days of work last week, I decided to make an overnight trip to Niigata to see a beautiful city and to give him one less thing to worry about about. The city is famous for two things – Sado Island, a rustic place just offshore with lots of wildlife and an amazing former mine one can enter, and for its rice dishes. Unfortunately, I managed to miss both on my short excursion. I did have a nice time visiting museums and walking around though.

The first thing I did upon arrival was take a local bus to see the Northern Culture Museum. This gem, a former mansion saved from being turned into apartments, contains all sorts of art, furniture, and business equipment. The collection of privacy screens was particularly impressive. The snow-capped mountains in the distance formed a nice backdrop for the bus stop. The geography can change rapidly here – the Shinkansen would enter a tunnel in mild, sunny weather and then exit it in a town blanketed with snow.

The next morning I made reservations to visit the Imayo Takusa sake brewery. The tour was very nice. Since neither the Taiwanese man taking the tour with me nor I spoke Japanese, the guide gave the tour in English. Google Translate allowed her to explain even the most obscure parts of the process. The sake tasting afterwards was eye-opening too – there is a lot more variety than we normally associate with the drink.

The city museum and the Customs House formed my next stop. Niigata was one of the few cities allowed to conduct foreign trade during the Tokugawa shogunate. Traders particularly enjoyed coming here since its isolation from Edo allowed some rules to be bent and some taxes to be avoided. Coincidentally, its importance as a trading post placed it on the final list of of cities to be targeted with atomic weapons at the end of World War II.

I thought the last thing I’d do would be to go to the beach to see the sea. I assumed from looking at the map that taking the bus to Aoyama Beach would place me right by the water. Then, I thought that it was behind one of the nearby hills. The little wooded path I found myself walking on didn’t help either. Since I had evening plans in Ota, I decided to make my way back to Niigata instead of continuing my search. I have no idea how close I was.


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