The Case for Exploring Japan’s Hidden Gem of a City, Niigata

Sado Island

Beyond the well-worn paths of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, there are heaps of other places in Japan to explore — many with few tourists. One such spot is Niigata, a hidden gem of a city on the country’s western coast about two and a half hours north of Tokyo by train.

The port city on Japan’s main island Honshu is best known for its beautiful coastal and mountainous scenery, its firework displays in summer and skiing in winter, and its high-quality rice.

If you’re wondering whether to add it to your Japan itinerary, ahead we’re sharing all the reasons you should. From offering some of the country’s best skiing without the crowds to putting on a fireworks festival in summer and a snow festival in winter, we’re building a solid case for why you should build into your Japan visit a trip to Niigata.

Related: A Comprehensive Guide to Dining Out in Fukuoka, One of Japan’s Best Kept Secrets

Related: 4 of the Most Stunning, Side Trip-Worthy National Parks in Japan

You Can Get Stellar Skiing

We all know Japan has some of the coolest skiing spots in the world, but Niigata has some lesser-known spots you definitely need to try. Myoko Kogen is a powder chasers’ dream with a whopping 13-15 metres of snowfall per season! Myoko offers incredible off-piste areas, a fantastic range of restaurants and Japanese bars, as well as offering childcare and group skiing, making it the ideal family destination.

You Can See Stunning Rice Terraces

Visiting Japan’s rice terraces is a must-do activity during your trip and Niigata has some of the country’s most stunning. Hoshitoge Rice Terrace boasts beauty all throughout the year, from summer’s bright colours to a winter wonderland covered in snow. Also, sunrise & sunset are pretty stunning here too, you don’t want to miss experiencing that.

Image: Getty Images

You Can Witness Beautiful Fireworks

A firework festival might seem pretty basic, but not here in Niigata. At the Nagaoka Summer Festival, locals go all out to offer a display like no other, calling it ‘flowers sparkling in the night sky’ and, when you see it for yourself, you’ll understand why. Truly magical and something for the whole family.

Japanese fireworks
Image: Getty Images

You Can Partake in a Snow Festival

Another festival in Niigata worth visiting is the Tokamachi Snow Festival. Born from the ideas of locals to ‘befriend the snow and enjoy our time in it’, the festival includes incredible snow designs, Igloos and houses made from snow, and snow-related games and activities with delicious hot food stalls.

You Can Visit an Island With Authentic Culture

Sado Island is located off the coast of Niigata. Experience all the amazing activities, experiences, and sights available here like the culture of historic towns, stunning unspoiled nature, and mountains to hike, Gold Mines theme park, Relic Sado Gold Mine, and Tokoin Seisuiji Temple. Most of all, don’t miss out on the Tarai-bune boating where you can float and ride along turquoise and translucent waters around the island. Stay in the stunning Sado Resort Hotel Azuma offering beautiful views of the sea.

You Can See Cherry Blossoms at a Castle

Takada Castle Park was built during the Edo Period between 1603 to 1867. Boasting incredible history on top of its all-year-round stunning scenery, the castle is worth a day trip when you get to Niigata. With spring just around the corner for Japan, you’ll catch the famous Cherry Blossom season too! Explore the park and all its gardens, grounds, and surreal views.

You Can Admire Natural Art

Kiyotsu Gorge is an incredible piece of natural art, formed over the last 16 million years from chemical reactions, land formations, and rising seas to create a spectacular gorge that visitors enjoy exploring and taking in the breathtaking scenery. Now designated a National Place of Scenic Beauty you don’t want to miss this one, an activity for everyone to enjoy.

Kiyotsu Gorge
Image: Getty Images

You Can Visit an Onsen With a View

Expect a view like no other when you relax in Matsudai Shibatouge Onsen “Unkai”, one of Japan’s most famous onsens. You’ll see views of the light sea of clouds below you while you experience the tranquillity of being ‘above the clouds’. When they clear, you can see the rice paddies amongst the stunning Uonuma mountain range. Perfect for relaxing after a long, active day in Niigata.

You Can Learn in-Depth About Carp

Ojiya Nishikigoi no sato is the only place in the world where you can see a wide variety of live Nishikigoi Carp along with materials showing their history and development of them and their improvements. Born over 200 years ago, there is a rich history to learn about these Japanese fish! With over 200 carp and 15 different kinds, you’ll be invested in the breed, the park, and the grounds of their home to explore.

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