By Niaya Harper
As Niigata Prefecture's capital city, Niigata City is located along the Sea of Japan coast and often the first stop for visitors venturing to this prefecture, well-known for its sake and rice heritage. Thanks to its abundant nature and perfect climate, Niigata became an agricultural powerhouse and historically acquired a reputation for its plentiful, abundant food output – helping it amass one of the largest regional populations in Japan around 150 years ago.
During the Edo Period, Niigata positioned itself as one of Japan's leading port cities, helping facilitate trade between Hokkaido in the north down to the Seto Inland Sea and Kyoto/Osaka areas. These trade channels ensured a combination of regional ingredients, wares and skills passed through Niigata city, helping the city flourish in terms of food culture.
With this kind of heritage, Niigata City is often seen as the center of Niigata's wider burgeoning food culture but also lays claim to many other cultural attractions too. Here we introduce numerous attractions around the city for visitors looking for things to do (and eat) in Niigata City.
While Niigata has many delicious foods to boast, it is most notable for its rice and its sake. Ponshukan, located in Niigata Station, offers over 90 of the prefecture’s sake brands to taste test from a vending machine. For 500 yen you get a tasting cup and five tokens that will get you five cups of sake to taste. In addition to sake there are also many local food products such as soy sauces, rice crackers, and sweets, many of which you can also taste test. Make sure to stop by either on your way in or out of Niigata City.
Saito Family Summer Villa
Built in 1918 by a wealthy merchant by the name of Kijuro Saito IV as a summer villa for his family, the Old Saito Villa is now a cultural heritage property and revered as one of the most beautiful homes and gardens in Niigata. There are 11 rooms in the house each with their own character and design detail. The gardens were designed with a different aesthetic all around so viewers can enjoy a changing scene when walking from room to room in the house and throughout each season. The home and garden was designed with the concept of unity in mind so that there are no boundaries between inside and outside, creating a harmony.
Northern Culture Museum
What was once the home of the wealthy Ito Family, prosperous landowners and merchants, is now a museum that houses eight generations of the family’s collection of artworks and documents with a portion of the 6,000 items on display. The highlight really is the house and gardens, completed in 1889. The traditional Japanese-style wooden home is built on a 29,100 square meter site with 65 rooms and perfectly landscaped gardens, which are beautiful to view in all four seasons. Visitors can enjoy lunch at one of the two restaurants, and there is even an inn located on the grounds for those who want a deeper experience of the culture and history of life on the Ito Estate.
Located nearby the landmark Bandai Bridge, Pia Bandai or ‘Pia’ as pronounced in Japanese is a gourmet lover’s dream. You can find the freshest seafood, local produce, and a dedicated area for Niigata’s most prized product, rice. There are also several cafes and restaurants to have ramen and sushi to name a few, all while immersed in the authentic fisherman’s market environment. Make sure to head out in the morning to catch the lively market in action and don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs while there.
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