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.
Joetsu City is a rural rice-paddy-covered town blessed by wonders ranging from ski resorts and lotus flowers to century-old sake breweries to castle ruins. And, it’s totally accessible from Tokyo by a 2-hour bullet train ride. The city has actually become a more accessible spot than it once was with the addition of the Joetsumyoko station in 2015.
While unknown by most tourists, this Niigata Prefecture gem has a lot to offer as far as day-trip and weekend getaways are concerned.
For nature and history lovers
The most important landmark is undoubtedly 16th century warlord Uesugi Kenshin’s castle ruins on Mt. Kasuga. He is buried in a sacred temple Rinsen-ji in Joetsu. (Visitors can pay ¥500 to go here.)
The hike up Mt. Kasuga, where a panoramic view of Joetsu City is showcased, is relatively short and easy, so if you’re up for more of a challenge, try the nearby Mt. Yoneyama for a hike. Located 15 minutes away from Mt. Kasuga is Takada Park, where more than 100,000 visitors flock to watch 4,000 cherry blossoms bloom under magical pink and purple lights every year in early to mid-April. In summer, Takada Park is covered in green, which is contrasted by its stunning lotus flowers.
On the other hand, the port of Naoetsu near central Joetsu housed a prisoner of war camp where tens of Australian soldiers lost their lives during World War II. A visit to the Peace Memorial Park and accompanying museum allows one to dig deeper into the city’s emotional history, as well as its current international ties.
But there’s still plenty of places left to unwind after your visit to the memorial. For example, pop over to the nearby Naoetsu Beach in summer, where you’ll find clear waters and an iconic statue of a mermaid.
Sake lovers' island
For sake lovers
Being in the heart of “rice country” makes Joetsu a thriving hub of sake breweries. Among them, Katafune Sake Brewery — the winner of the International Wine Challenge 2015 — is a family-owned brand that allows brewery visits upon inquiry. And of course, sake tasting is available after a tour around the brewery.
Joetsu by north, south and east
Joetsu is best visited with a car as it is quite a spread-out city. That said, one can reach neighboring cities in in about a half an hour. To the south there is Myoko where adventurers can explore Mt. Myoko, Naena-taki Waterfall, Tsubame Onsen, and numerous ski resorts such as Ikenotaira and Akakura Onsen Ski Resorts. To the east there is Tokamachi where the signature Hoshitoge terraced rice paddies, Bijin-bayashi Forest and Kiyotsukyou Gorge are located. Finally, to the north there is Kashiwazaki — a perfect beach town accompanied by Lovers’ Point and Akasakayama Park.
There are several festivals that shouldn’t be missed in and/or near Joetsu City:
- Early to mid-April: Night cherry blossom-viewing (Hanami) in Takada Park, Joetsu
- Mid-July to mid-August: Sacred Lotus festival in Takada Park, Joetsu
- July 26: Annual firework festival in Kashiwazaki Central Beach, Minatomachi Seaside Park area
- The 4th weekend in August: Kenshinko Festival in Kasugayama, Joetsu
- End of October to end of November: Night autumn leaves-viewing in Akasakayama Park, Kashiwazaki
- Beginning of July to end of November: Myoko Happiness Illumination in APA Resort, Joetsumyoko
An intersection between the rural and urban, and a connection between nature and culture, Joetsu can sure satisfy your craving for a whole slew of extraordinary Japanese experiences.