Right before the New Year, my family and I took a trip to Niigata. Our time in a ryokan in the snowy mountains was wonderful, our time in Niigata City less so.
I’m not blaming Niigata, mind you. It was merely because we’d arrived in a week when nearly everything closes for the holidays. While I thought I had done enough careful planning to accommodate the closures, hardly anything in Niigata City was open.
So on our second day in town, tired of feeling defeated by the lack of things to do in the city itself, we rented a car and headed south to the region of Agano. And there, in a place I’d never heard of before this trip, we found a shocking amount of things to fill our day.
This manhole cover illustrates just a few:
The birds are representative of the swans at Lake Hyoko, where nearly 3000 of them arrive from Siberia to pass the winter months in a (slightly) warmer climate. The cow is a nod to the area’s dairy production – there is both a yogurt factory and a special range of milk-based products, such as yogurt ramen and special milky soy-based noodles. The flowers could be anything, as Lake Hyoko is known for its colorful displays (sakura, irises, lotuses). And the mountains in the background? Well, we were privileged enough to see them covered in snow.
You could also come to Agano for the award-winning craft brewery just south of the lake, the cool roof tile factories which make the artistic pieces that adorn ALL the houses in the area, or the excellent radium hot springs of Gozu Onsen. Good thing we just didn’t pack it in an return to Tokyo like I initially wanted. Agano was a wonderful surprise and I’d actually love to head that way again.