Niigata city is the capital of the prefecture of the same name. It is a pleasant place with plenty of open spaces, making the city feel more spacious and less cramped than other major cities in Japan. The Japanese characters for Niigata literally mean ‘new lagoon’ in reference to the various inland bodies of water.
The city branches into two districts, the new township near Niigata Station on the south side of the Shinanogawa river and the old town on the north side of the river where the government and municipal offices are located. The Bandaibashi bridge, designated as an Important National Cultural Asset, connects the two towns. In the new town is an international convention facility called Toki Messe. From its observatory, the highest spot in the city, you can see the Shinanogawa river, the Sea of Japan, and Sado Island in the distance.
In the old town, you can find the Niigata City History Museum, called Minatopia, which exhibits the history of Niigata. Niigata is proud of its rich variety of wonderful foods, such as the plentiful seafood caught in the Sea of Japan and freshwater fish from the large river, and vegetables and fruits grown in the fertile soil. Niigata rice, sake, and seafood are particularly well known in the rest of the country as being of superior quality.
If you like Japanese rice crackers make sure to stop by Niigata Senbei Okoku, where you can’t only find a large variety of these classic Japanese snacks, but also try your hand at roasting some yourself. You will also get the opportunity to see employees at work in the factory and learn how your favorite rice snack is made.
Another rice-related gourmet product is sake, and one of the best sake breweries to visit in the country is located in Niigata city. Imayo Tsukasa Sake Brewery is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the process of making sake, they do one English language tour every day. This brewery is especially proud of the fact they only brew the highest quality of sake without adding any extra alcohol in the process. You can also taste a wide variety of sake for a low price, so it is a good chance to learn about the flavor differences in different types of sake.
If you are also into wine, a little bit outside the city you can visit a winery, Cave D’occi Winery is a good place to visit for lunch. Japanese wine is not that well-known compared to Italian, French, or Californian wine, and one of the reasons is that due to geographical reasons Japan can’t produce large quantities of it. That is why a trip to Japan is a good opportunity to try Japanese wine, as there are some tasty vintages. Cave D’occi Winery has nice scenery, and as an extra bonus, there is also an opportunity to relax Japanese-style in an onsen.
The Old Saito Residence is also worth a visit, it is a beautiful old villa with a nice, compact Japanese garden. Having a cup of green tea while soaking in the tranquil environment is one of the best ways to enjoy your visit.