Famous for Japanese rice wine, seafood and hot springs, Niigata Prefecture is also a popular skiing destination for locals in neighboring prefectures like Tokyo. Nestled against the Sea of Japan, the region surprises visitors with its strong ties to traditional culture, local heritage and scenic natural beauty.
table of contents
10 Picture-Perfect Sightseeing Spots and Experiences in Niigata
Meet Niigata's Furumachi Geisha at the Hanamachi Chaya
Photo by Juri Pozzi/Shutterstock
Niigata's Furumachi District was once the third-largest geisha district in Japan, behind Kyoto's Gion and Tokyo's Shimbashi. The area was destroyed by a large fire in the 1950's, but the Furumachi Geisha, or Geigi as they are known in Niigata, are still highly sought after. Just a short walk from the Furumachi neighborhood, the Saitou Villa's Hanamachi Chaya (Geisha District Teahouse) hosts gatherings where visitors and locals alike have a chance to meet the elusive Niigata Geigi.
Iwamuro Hiyotsuma Firefly Festival
Photo by Takayuki Suzuki/Flickr
In the summer, local firefly (hotaru) colonies begin their dance in the mountains near Iwamuro Onsen Street in Niigata. To celebrate, the locals host a Firefly Festival, where visitors can play games, snack and catch live shows while they wait for evening, when the real entertainment begins.
Kiyotsu Gorge and the Tunnel of Light
Photo by segawa7/Shutterstock
Kiyotsu Gorge is the natural beauty of the Niigata countryside at its finest. But when the riverside hiking trail closed to the public nearly ten years ago over safety concerns, the people demanded something be done about it. The solution was The Tunnel of Light, also known as the Kiyotsu Gorge Viewing Tunnel, which culminates at the picturesque Panorama Station offering an impressive view of the gorge.
Dragondola, the Naeba-Tashiro Ropeway
Photo by Thanya Jones/Shutterstock
The Naeba-Tashiro Gondola, nicknamed 'Dragondola', is the longest lift line in Japan. The line was built by Prince Hotels to link their two ski resorts on Mount Naeba, and incidentally created one of the most stunning mountain viewpoints in the country. The ride takes passengers on a trip over the mountain, offering spectacular views of Naramata Dam and Lake Shakunage down below.
Sado Island's Abandoned Gold Mines
Photo by ziggy_mars/Shutterstock
Sado is a sizable island located off the coast of Niigata City, in the Sea of Japan. Centuries ago, the gold and silver mines on Sado helped shape the future of Japan, boosting the local economy and funding the central government. The mine produced 78 tons of precious metals before its closure in 1989. Today, the mines and tertiary structures are well-preserved heritage sites offering a look into the mining techniques of the Edo Period and beyond.
Tsunan Yuki Matsuri and the Floating Lantern Festival
Photo by adisornfoto/Shutterstock
The Yuki Matsuri is held each year in Tsunan, a town in Niigata Prefecture famous for its heavy snowfall and picturesque natural landscape. The highlight of this winter festival are the floating, glowing paper lanterns. Festival-goers purchase the sky lanterns to write their wishes on before releasing them into the night sky all at once, creating a fairytale atmosphere.
Shukunegi Historic Fishing Village
Photo by 伊藤善行/WikiCommons
Established around 200 years ago on Sado Island, Shukunegi Village once thrived as a port town, home to ship-builders and fishermen. The traditional wooden architecture and narrow alleys are a fascinating window into Japan's past. While there are a few villagers still living here, many of the heritage homes are open to the public for viewing. A trip to Shukunegi Village can easily be combined with an outing to the nearby Sobama Beach.
Urasa Bishamondo Hadaka Oshiai 'The Naked Jostling Festival'
Photo by Mstyslav Chernov/WikiCommons
Known as one of the country's strangest festivals, the annual Hadaka Oshiai Festival is just one of many so-called 'naked festivals' held throughout Japan. The annual Naked Jostling Festival sees groups of scantily clad youths racing and shoving to get closer and pray faster to a statue of Bishamonten, one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. The festival has a history of over 1,200 years and takes place at Urasa Fukoji, a Buddhist temple in Minami-uonoma City, Niigata.
Yahiko Shrine and the Sacred Mountain
Photo by mTaira/Shutterstock
With over one thousand years of history, Yahiko Shrine shrine is nestled among the trees at the base of Mount Yahiko. The impressive property boasts a sumo ring, archery range, a kagura theater stage, a deer pen and even a chicken coop. Several trails leading up the mountain branch out from the rear precincts. Along with the nearby Yahiko Park, it would be easy to spend an entire day exploring the area.
The Northern Culture Museum
The Northern Culture Museum in Niigata City was once the private residence of the Ito family, an exceptionally wealthy clan descended from humble farmers. The historic home has been expertly preserved and restored, transporting visitors back in time to the late Edo Period. The gardens were designed with the changing seasons in mind: drooping wisterias in the spring, bright, full flowers in summer and crimson foliage in the fall.
Home to ancient traditions and heritage homes, the beguiling Niigata Geigi and unrivaled natural scenery, a trip to this seaside prefecture is the perfect addition to any traveler's itinerary.