I ventured up to Niigata Prefecture for the Fuji Rock Festival, but I scheduled my return bus for a Sunday night departure/Monday morning arrival so I could have a little time to check out Niigata City.
Wanting to be a frugal as possible, most of the stuff I did was either free or easy on the wallet. If you’re looking for good recommendations for a short trip in Japan or are curious about what Niigata has to offer, click below!
I’m notoriously not an early riser, so my sightseeing started around 10:00 a.m. after I checked out of the Toyoko Inn near Niigata station. I’d also been so busy planning my day at Fuji Rock that I didn’t do much about planning for sightseeing besides look up a few popular spots according to Trip Advisor.
Nothing to fear, however, since most bigger cities now have tourist information booths located inside or right outside the station. The staff was friendly and kind, albeit relieved I could communicate in Japanese. Niigata has a good tourist attraction plan set up, with a hop on, hop off bus that stops at all the major attractions around nearby for a one-time ride ticket fee. If you’re in doubt about getting anywhere on your own, just ask the tourist center for a map and bus schedule, and hit whatever you think you’ll be into.
It’s impossible to do it all in one day, as most attractions are only open from 9:00-5:00. For me, that meant picking a ferry trip out to Furusato Mura over a bus trip out to the Old Saito Residence. I thanked the center for their tips and suggestions, and with my plans cemented for the day, I started off toward the Bandai Pia Fish Market. Considered a highlight of the city, it’s about a good 20-30 minute walk from the station, depending on how fast your pace is.
Since I was an out of towner I couldn’t really purchase any of the nice looking seafood for lack of storage or cooking facilities, but it was cool to see so many different kinds of fish and seafood lined up. This is arguably where most locals seem to go to purchase their seafood, and the prices were comparable to supermarket prices, despite the fish being much fresher. Unless you’re really into fish markets I don’t think it’s impressive enough to go out of your way for it alone, but considering it’s close proximity to the Toki Messe/Befco Bakauke Observatory, it’s something interesting to see on the way. If you’re looking for some cheap eats, they have fish grilling stalls outside which smell sooo good. I was on a time crunch to get to the observatory with enough viewing time to catch the noon ferry, so sadly I had to pass on trying any.
Befco Bakauke Observatory gives you a free, stunning view of Niigata from the 31st floor. While the room offers a 360 view of the city, there’s a small cafe that takes up almost one complete side of the room that you’ll need to purchase something from to view from. It doesn’t block the view of the beach or coastlines, which were in my opinion the best views, so you’re not missing anything if you don’t. Still, I decided to indulge in some specialty Yasuda pure milk ice cream at a table while taking in the view of the ferries and docks below, and it was very pleasant.
Since the observatory is most popular with tourists wishing to snap a photo of the city scenery at sunset, you can check the placard outside the elevators to see what time sunset is predicted. In addition to the cafe, they’ve got a nice souvenir area with an assortment of foods, drinks, and accessories, mostly centered around Befco rice crackers and their character mascots. However, just FYI, neither the shop nor the cafe accepts credit cards so bring enough cash if you plan on doing most of your souvenir shopping there.
One of the ferry boarding docks is just outside the observatory and convention center, so a little before noon I made my way down for a trip down the river to Niigata Furusato Mura, which was supposedly having a weekend festival. While there wasn’t a lot to see besides apartment complexes and hotels built along the river bank, the ride was a very easy one. A lot of passengers, including me, chose to read or take a nap at their tables.
The inside of the ferry were some pretty swanky booths and tables, and a somewhat expensive drink and snack menu. Unless you’re getting something alcoholic, bring your own drinks. The soft drinks are watered down drink bar versions, dispensed in kid-sized half cups, at a whopping 300 yen a pop.
The ferry stopped off at Furusato Mura about an hour later, and I was feeling pretty good and refreshed. When planning your day, note that the last ferry departing back is at 4:00 p.m., so you’ll want to plan accordingly. I had scheduled about 3 hours for the Furusato Mura, which I felt was just enough considering the festival going on.
I love festival food because you can find something that satisfies no matter how big your appetite or your budget. 🙂
They also had traditional festival games, which really aren’t much different than the win a prize carnival games back home, except for the fact that maybe they aren’t as rigged. I would have gone for this big inflatable Rilakkuma if it wouldn’t have meant hauling it around all day and back!
Have you ever wondered how new idol groups get popular in Japan when there’s so many to choose from? Basically they play for free or for very little at festivals like these.
If they’re lucky, they gain enough die hard fanboys to push them out of obscurity where they have the chance to gain fans that aren’t just into them because they personify what their ideal waifu would be like.
Okay, okay. Maybe that was a little mean. 😉
Moving on, they basically have any kind of souvenir you could want to bring back from Niigata in the Bazaar Hall. While souvenirs were somewhat pricey at a lot of the other tourist spots, they had a bunch of good stuff at various price points. Niigata is famous for sake and high grade rice, just for some ideas. Here’s a t-shirt vendor who as getting a lot of traffic:
This shirt on the bottom left seems to be some sort of mascot in Niigata, because I saw him everywhere. It’s like a combination of Nigel Thornberry and The King of All Cosmos. Am I the only one that sees the similarities?!
One of the highlights I was interested in was the cork doll workshop being presented by a lady who runs her own eco crafting studio.
Most of the participants were young children or parents of young children, so I lost count of how many times beads were spilled or how many dolls ended with parents scolding their kids not to touch this or do that. I’m sure the instructor was glad to see 4:00 p.m. roll around, because she looked very taxed to keep her polite mask on. As a fellow instructor, I felt her pain and praised her nerves of steel.
I don’t think I did too bad, eh?
In the same complex, the Culture Hall, they had a bunch of different samples of art and goods on display or for sale from local artists, studios, and businesses.
I had a nice chat with this older man about his studio, which turns charcoal into interior centerpieces that not only fuse modern and Japanese traditional aesthetics, but the charcoal is a natural deodorizer good for the stuffiness and humidity of the summers in Japan.
And then I had a little time to walk the gardens before boarding the ferry back. 🙂
Isetan was having a sale so I browsed and then headed up to the Kojimaya restaurant on the 7th floor for some hegisoba, which is a popular kind of soba held together partially by seaweed, and served on a special hegi platter in individual mouthfuls. If you visit Niigata and want to try some of the local fare, I’d say eat this or wappa meshi. I chose soba because it’s cold and refreshing, and therefore excellent for beating the summer heat. 🙂
Nearby you can see the famous Bandai City Rainbow Tower:
Many people recommended checking out the Bandai Bridge at sunset. There’s a running/walking path along the riverbank and benches spread out for your leisure. I found a comfortable place and sat down with coffee in hand. 🙂
Like I mentioned before, everything pretty much closes around 5:00, so there wasn’t much to do after the sunset. I did a bit more shop browsing/walking around, had a salad, and saw a movie at a theatre nearby before making my way to the bus stop for boarding near the central post office. Nice thing about seeing a movie beforehand was that it allowed me to change into comfortable travel wear for the bus ride.
At night the recently completed Niigata Nippo newspaper building, Media Ship, is lit up. Sometimes they do night viewing events, and I’m sure the sunset of the city scape over the Bandai Bridge would look just as beautiful from the observation floor as from Toki Messe.
So that’s it for Niigata in a day! If you rent a car or bike (the tourist office can direct you to either), it’ll be a lot easier to visit places on the other side of the Bandai Bridge, like the multiple parks or aquarium.
I’d personally like to revisit the area and take a boat over to Sado island someday.