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Region
Chubu
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Niigata
Population
2,475,724

Niigata

Honshu's snow country

The rice is right in Niigata prefecture where there's skiing in winter, festivals in summer and sake all year round.

Benefiting from the heaviest snowfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu, Niigata is known for its top-notch winter resorts featuring long gondolas and historic hot springs, like Tsubamen Onsen. But the snow also blesses the prefecture with another famous attraction — rice. When spring comes, the snow melts bringing nutrient-rich water from the mountains down to the paddy fields and creating the perfect conditions for some of the fluffiest grains you’ll ever taste. Of course, where there’s rice, there’s also sake (rice wine) and happily the prefecture has plenty of opportunities to sample the national drink; you can drink it, eat it and even bathe in it.

See the autumn leaves at Daigenta Lake in Niigata.

Pack some Niigata rice balls for a picnic and hike around Daigenta Lake.

Niigata city is the bustling prefectural capital, spit in two by Japan’s longest river, the Shinanogawa, and bordered by the Sea of Japan. Stock up on fresh seafood and premium rice — you can taste the difference — and enjoy the enormous range of locally brewed sake (there are 100 breweries in the city).

In March, the city hosts the annual Sake-no-jin, a kind of Oktoberfest but with sake instead of beer.

Visitors can sample more than 500 types at the fair and enjoy performances, seminars and other sake-related entertainment.

Just across the water from Niigata city is Sado island, reachable with a one-hour jetfoil or two-hour ferry. A former place of exile for political dissidents, nowadays its mountains, beaches and delicious persimmons attract crowds of urban escapees. In August, you can catch the Earth Celebration,  a music and arts festival hosted by the famous Kodo Drummers.

Niigata Sake

Raise your glass for a kanpai (cheers) with Niigata’s quality sake.

Another big festival is Fuji Rock, a three-day international music extravaganza that draws more than 100,000 people to the scenic ski resort of Naeba in late July. It’s a huge event, with several stages featuring foreign and Japanese acts, as well as fantastic food, workshops, a fairground and surprisingly clean toilets. In the winter, Naeba’s slopes are the starting point for the world’s longest gondola which links four ski resorts across the mountains and some of the season’s highest quality powder.

From Tokyo, it’s a fast and cheap bullet train to the enormous JR Echigo-Yuzawa station which has its own onsen and sake tasting bar. On March 29th 2016, the new Genbi bullet train launched – basically a contemporary art gallery on very fast wheels, allowing passengers to revel in the masterful scenery both inside and outside the train. Mind blown.

Places to visit

Sado Island’s Tarai Bune Rides

A boating experience straight out of a ‘Spirited Away’ scene

Sado Island

Sado Island

A little nihonshu, nature and... De Niro? Plus taiko drums!


Lovers’ Point

Declare your undying love — or just enjoy the view.

YoneYama

Mount Yoneyama

A spiritual hike up Niigata’s guardian of prosperity.


Niigata Rice Terrace

Hoshitoge Rice Terrace

With the sunrise, it becomes a fairytale.

Tsubame Onsen

Refresh in this hot spring village with secluded outdoor hot baths that even include a mixed-gender bath.


Joetsu

If you're a looking to do a little of everything — from traditional festivals to spiritual mountain hikes to trying out a sake flight — get here.

Kiyotsu gorge

Kiyotsu Gorge

Massive lava rock formations surround you, as you tunnel your way to the best panoramic view.


Naena Falls in Niigata.

Naena Falls

A recommended nature spot in any season, plus the Japanese tradition of "flowing noodles."  

Myoko Kogen

Just looking for a day on the ski slopes then a dip in the hot springs? Myoko’s got nine ski resorts and seven hot springs waiting for you.

Other Destinations in Chubu

Nagoya, Japan city skyline, Aichi Prefecture

Aichi

Aichi prefecture is the dynamic capital of Japanese industrialization.

Karamon Gate in Fukui Prefecture

Fukui

Discover dinosaurs and the art of Zen in fossil-filled Fukui.

Traditional street in Takayama, Gifu prefecture

Gifu

Scenic Gifu prefecture is a rewarding stopping point on the way from Kanto to Kansai.

Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref

Ishikawa

Rich cultural heritage, great seafood and some stunning coastal scenery - if you're into that sort of thing.

Monkeys bathing in the onsen in Nagano

Nagano

World-class winter sports, hot springs (occasionally monkey-filled), delicious local food and a foreigner-friendly vibe.

View of Mount Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture

Shizuoka

It's resorts galore in serene Shizuoka.

Lake Kurobe in Toyama Prefecture

Toyama

Toyama's speciality is mountains and there's no better place to experience them than here.

View of Mt Fuji Yamanashi Prefecture

Yamanashi

Pack a prized Yamanashi piece of fruit in your camping bag and head for the hills.