Japan City Guides: Niigata
Things to see and do in Niigata city include the traditional Hon-cho market (10am-5pm); Hakusan Koen Park and adjacent Marinepia Nihon-kai aquarium; Shibata Castle and Gardens; tulip festivals in spring; Bandai Bridge - illuminated at night; Niigata Festival in August - huge fireworks display and colorful procession; Niigata 'Big Swan' Stadium, south of Niigata Station in Toyano Lagoon Park - host to J-League soccer team Niigata Albirex.
Niigata Young Woman Enjoying Fresh Sake at the Sakenojin Sake Fair held annually in March.
View of the urban sprawl of Niigata city
Hakusan Park & Shrine is a beautiful place for cherry-blossom viewing in spring and is the venue for the culmination of Niigata's portable shrine festival (part of Niigata Festival) from August 7-9. The last day of the Niigata Festival has a huge fireworks display over the Shinano River (Japan's longest river at 369 km) and visitors can join in the Folk Dancing Parade (daiminyonagashi) over the Bandai Bridge with around 20,000 fellow participants. Hakusan Park is one of Japan's first city parks having opened in 1874.
The former Niigata Customs House, dates from 1869 when the port opened up to western trade and is part of the Niigata City History Museum (Tel: 025 225 6111) - Minatopia, which also includes the the Former Daishi Bank Sumiyoshi-cho Branch built in 1927 and the former Niigata City Hall built in 1909.
Other historical buildings in Niigata include the Niigata Prefectural Government Memorial House built in 1884, the European-style Niitsu House built by local oil baron Tsunekichi Niitsu in 1881, Enkikan Hall, a merchant house relocated to Hakusan Park and the Former Ozawa Family Residence (Tel: 025 222 0300).
Bandai Bridge is a symbol of the city of Niigata and the six-arch bridge was opened in 1929. Bandai Bridge is illuminated at night.
Bandai City Rainbow Tower is a multi-colored tower near Bandai Bridge and has an observation deck at 100m and a revolving restaurant with great views over the city. Rainbow Tower forms part of the Bandai City (Tel: 025 246 6424) entertainment complex and bus station with a hotel, Isetan department store, movie theater, restaurants and shops. The Sea of Japan Tower also has a revolving restaurant and offers fine views. The office and retail skyscrpaer Next 21 is another of the city's tall buildings with an observation deck as is 125m-tall, 31 floor Befco (Tel: 025 240 1511) out near the Sado Kisen Ferry Terminal.
Niigata has some pleasant beaches in summer and the Marinpia Nihonkai Aquarium has a popular dolphin show and over 450 species of sea creatures.
Museums of note in Niigata include the Northern Cultural Museum Niigata Branch housed in a traditional Japanese residence, the Niigata City Art Museum (Tel: 025 223 1622), the Aizu Yaichi Museum showcasing the work of the local poet, calligrapher and historian, Aizu Yaichi (1881-1956), the Tsurui Museum of Art (Tel: 025 247 3311) displaying the porcelain and ceramics collection of Eikichi Tsurui, a wealthy local businessman and the Niigata Bandai Jima Art Museum on the 5th floor of Toki Messe Convention Center.
Ryutopia (Niigata City Performing Arts Center; Tel: 025 224 5622) is a modern concert and arts facility on the Furumachi side of the Shinano River.
Niigata's most iconic shrine is Minato Inari Shrine which has received the prayers of sailors and their families since the Edo Period.
Fans of horse racing can enjoy Niigata Race Course while enjoying a picnic and enjoying local sake. Niigata Race Course is a short bus or car journey from the center of town.
In winter, Niigata is a good point of access to ski and snowboard resorts in nearby Yuzawa Kogen, Tainai and Shibataninoji Ninox Snow Park all reached by local train from Niigata Station.
Horse racing at Niigata Race Course
Bizarre fancy dress is de-rigueur at the Snowball Festival in Koide Niigata Prefecture.
There are also a number of onsen resorts within easy reach of Niigata city including: Senami, Tsukioka, Deyu, Murasagi, Shirone, Odate, Iwamuro and Yahiko.
Senami Spa, north of Niigata, has views of the sea and is set in a pine forest. 10 minutes by bus from Muraki Station.
Toki Messe Niigata Conference Center
Niigata City Ryokan Co-operative
Niigata is the main port of access for Sado Island (Sadogashima) - an historic place of exile in medieval times, dotted with fishing villages and noted for its unspoiled nature, rich heritage of performing arts, and lively festivals featuring ondeko, or 'devil drumming'. It is home to the world-famous Kodo Drummers, a taiko drumming troupe (not, however, directly related to the local ondeko) recruited from throughout Japan based in Kodo Village on the southern Ogi peninsula. They form the core of the annual mid-summer Earth Celebration that invites indigenous acts from all over the world to Sado in August.
Access to Sado Island
There are flights to Sado from Niigata airport and ferries and jet-foils from Niigata to Ryotsu (the main town on Sadogashima).
Jetfoil and car ferry are the two options for getting to Sado-ga-shima by boat from Niigata Port
Entertainment district: Furumachi area.
Choose your fish live from a pool in Essa in the basement of the WITH Building on Higashibori.
Foreign exchange banks on Akashi Dori and Masaya-Koji streets, near Niigata Station.
View of Niigata city from the the Niigata Prefecture Building
Tourist Information in Niigata
"i" Information Center (8.30am-7pm; tel 025 241 7914) outside the Bandai exit of Niigata Station has English language information on Niigata city attractions, Niigata Prefecture and Sado Island.
Niigata Prefecture has some interesting and fun festivals. Niigata city's main festival, the Niigata Matsuri, takes place in the heat of August and includes parades, floats and folk dances on Bandai Bridge in the evening. The festival concludes with a huge fireworks display along the Shinano River as illuminated boats carry the portable shrine of the god of the sea.
The Murakami Dolls Festival in March is celebrated with much openness and panache and includes displays of Hina Dolls, children in period costume and a steam train.
The Sakenojin Sake Fair held at Toki Messe also in March allows visitors for a small fee to sample a variety of Niigata Prefecture's renown sake. The Sakenojin Sake Fair also includes traditional theatrical performances and music.
Also on the sake theme is JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station, where a section of the station, named Ponshu-kan, has been set aside for enjoying sake-themed art, tasting sake from all parts of Niigata, eating foods made with sake, and purchasing sake.
In winter the International Snowball Fight Festival takes place in Koide and features participants dressed in wacky costumes enjoying a snowball free-for-all.
Sake bath products on sale at Ponshu-kan, Echigo-Yuzawa Station.
Niigata Airport info: tel 025-275-2633. Flights from Osaka (Itami) (8 daily), Tokyo, Nagoya, Sapporo, Hiroshima and Okinawa as well as Seoul (daily), Shanghai, Xian, Harbin, Guam, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk and Vladivostok.
Japan Railways (JR) Joetsu Shinkansen super-express from Tokyo (2 hours) to Niigata Station. Change at Takisaki for the Nagano Shinkansen line. Some trains from Niigata to Osaka and Kyoto. Niigata Station Tel: 025 248 5211
Joetsu shinkansen to Niigata Station
Long-distance bus services from Ikebukuro (Tokyo) to Niigata (6 daily). Niigata also has bus links to Sendai, Kyoto and Osaka.
Ferry to Otaru (for Sapporo, 18 hours) run by Shin-Nohonkai Ferry (tel 025-273-2171) Daily, except Mondays.
The Niigata City Loop Bus consists of two routes: the Inuyasha Bus via Toki Messe and the Dokaben via Hakusan Park. Basically the Dokaben bus crosses bandai Bridge and goes clockwise around Niigta's main sites, whereas the Inuyasha crosses the Shinano River over Ryuto Bridge and goes anti-clockwise around the city. A single fare is 200 yen and a one day pass 500 yen and includes reductions on entry to many of Niigata's museums and places of interest. Both buses start as the Niigata Bus Terminal just outside Niigata Station.
Bicycles can also be hired at various places around Niigata and there is also a Velotaxi service. The Shinogawa Water Shuttle offers cruises along the Shinano River from Toki Messe.
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