On my first day using the JR East pass I decided to go to Yahiko, a peaceful town with only about 10,000 people. Yahiko's Yahiko Shrine, which is also known as “Oyahiko-sama,” is a popular destination for visitors to Niigata.
The original building was burnt down in 1912 and the new shrine building is just celebrating its centenary. A large red bridge was built when the area was re-developed but you are not allowed to walk on it. There are lots of Zelkova trees on the grounds, many that are over 400 years old.
I walked towards the shrine and was impressed with the size. It was very peaceful and it was not too crowded like many of the other shrines I have visited. The people were friendly and as you proceed through the area you can see various buildings and lovely wildlife. The original shrine is said to have been built in 711. It was and still is Niigata Prefecture's most important shrine. On display in the treasure house is the Shida no otachi, a sword with a blade that is over 2.2 meters long that dates from 1415. It is the longest sword in this country and the Japanese Government has designated it as an Important Cultural Property.
The shrine itself is located a 15 minute walk from the station so it’s not that hard to get to. The area is 13 hectares and various buildings are located within the grounds.
To the west of the shrine, Mt Yahiko rises to over 600 meters in height. The round trip hike takes about 4 hours. Alternatively you can catch the ropeway. The round trip ropeway ticket is 1400 yen.
I would definitely recommend visiting this area if you want to have a day trip from Tokyo. The rich culture and beautiful wildlife is worth the journey. If you have a JR-East Pass, the bullet train takes two hours to travel from Tokyo to Tsubame-Sanjo on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, and then you change to the Yahiko Line local train for a 30-minute train to Yahiko Station.