Niigata's Hakkaisan may be best known for the sake brewery sharing the same name, but the mountainous Minamiuonuma region of the prefecture is also home to the beautiful Hakkaisan Shrine.
The shrine has a history dating back approximately 1200 years and is a charming spot to check out in various seasons, but it's hard to go past the changing leaves of autumn as the most picturesque time of year. The vivid reds, oranges and yellows give a warmth and depth that contrasts well with the evergreen Japanese cedars that surround the area. The shrine is also home to a fire walking festival in October of each year, which is worth a visit if you can time it right.
From the JR Muikamachi Station, take the Mt. Hakkai Ski Resort Line bus for just over 20 minutes until you reach Naketehara. The shrine is approximately five minutes on foot from there. Alternatively if you're visiting by car, the shrine is 25 minutes drive from the Muikamachi Interchange.
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I'm an Australian who has lived abroad for almost a decade, including 7 years in Japan - specifically Tokyo and Niigata. I've visited 44 of 47 prefectures - with only Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto left to check out. I'm particularly fond of exploring off the beaten path destinations, gardens, and tea houses, and have a real interest in Japan's growing vegan scene.