The Journeys of Discovery around Undiscovered Japan are curated tours that aim to provide an introduction to some of the highlights of a region. These are longer trips that often combine visits to different parts of the Undiscovered Japan portfolio. They offer fantastic trips in themselves but also serve as inspiration for future explorations, and in a short time you will have a much better idea about a region and its unique charms.
The super-efficient bullet train can whisk you out of Tokyo at amazing speeds and before you know it you find yourself in a world completely different from the concrete sprawl of the capital. Niigata prefecture is one of those places that offers a wide contrast to the city, yet is not far away from Tokyo.
The Journey of Discovery here is named Authentic Sado: Cuisine and Culture, and visits the Tokimeki Sado and Niigata Tourism Zone, and the Yukiguni Tourism Zone which are both located in Niigata prefecture.
The Tokimeki Sado and Niigata Tourism Zone has a fascinating history as in times gone by it was an important area of Japan both in terms of wealth and culture. These days it is comparatively not very well-known to the outside world but it still retains many of the attractions that originally drew people from around the country.
Arriving in Niigata City it is straight out to the port where you catch a ferry across to Sado Island which is the largest of Honshu’s islands. Niigata’s original prosperity owed much to its position as a port on the coastal trade route, so it is fitting that your journey begins by sea. Your first meal too takes advantage of this resource as you get to sample the local sushi made from the freshest ingredients that the Sea of Japan has to offer. The next few days are spent exploring the island, visiting its famous shrines, and trying your hand at some traditional crafts. Sado has a rich history of performing arts and one of the stops on your tour will be the oldest Noh theatre stage on the island. If you get the chance you will also get to experience the Deity Dance which is part of the festivals on the island where masked performers dance to usher in prosperity in each of the island villages.
The overwhelming feeling on leaving Sado Island is a wish to go back and discover the parts you didn’t get the chance to visit. After the ferry back to Niigata City you have a night to explore, check out the local sake, or witness the geisha of Furumachi, which was once one of the leading entertainment districts in the whole of Japan.
Heading to the south of Niigata prefecture you come across an impressive mountain range that has acted as a barrier between this region and the Kanto plains on the far side. This barrier has helped preserve a unique culture in the Yukiguni Tourism Zone, and is also one of the reasons for the heavy snow that blankets the region each winter. This snow that has also given rise to the name ‘Snow Country’ for this area has affected every aspect of life.
Your time here is spent with a unique cooking experience where you will learn about the food culture of the region where people have had to survive with snow blanketing the ground for over half the year. You’ll also discover why the long winters stuck indoors prompted a famous textile industry, and how the heavy snow was traditionally used to store ingredients, a process that is being used today on large scale at one of the most famous sake breweries of the region.
In another part of Yukiguni there is one of the largest art exhibitions in Japan that finds artworks from famous artists blended into local scenery and communities to create some stunning pieces to admire.
After almost a week in Niigata you’ll head back to Tokyo with knowledge and experience of a part of Japan that is not yet well-known but that has centuries of culture and stories that are well worth discovering.
Check here for more information on this tour.