There is a show here in Japan that Kenji and I always try to catch, about an unfortunate couple whose job makes them move to every prefecture in Japan. Each show is a new prefecture, and it highlights the famous products and different or interesting things about the prefecture featured that day. They also have a panel of celebrities from different prefectures to add further insight and explanation into the program. I REALLY want to see all the episodes of this, because as was the case with the sake festival, you can learn a lot!
It was the program on Niigata that we caught that alerted us to the Sake Festival that just happened to take place that very next weekend. 1500 yen (around 15 bucks) for two days of unlimited sake tasting?! YES PLEASE! So we made our hotel reservations and gave up another weekend of snowboarding for alcohol. Priorities here.
We sorta misjudged the shinkansen… okay, I’m blaming this one entirely on Kenji here. Despite my nagging to buy the shink tickets ahead of time, he insisted “there can’t possibly be THAT many people heading to Niigata on a weekend! We’ll get seats don’t worry!” Sold out. Surprise surprise. It worked out though, since we didn’t realize that all shinks have Free Seating sections where you just grab a seat if you can get one. We learned this, actually, with about 2 minutes to spare before our train actually left, so we bought the tickets and hauled ourselves and our stuff at a dead run to catch the shink we wanted with about 30 seconds to spare. Because we’re good like that.
We got seats luckily, and enjoyed the hour-long trip to Niigata.
Niigata or bust! Err…
Snow country along the way
Niigata City is right on the Sea of Japan, so it wasn’t snowy there at all. It was a bit rainy however, so we wasted no time in stowing our bags at our hotel and catching a bus to the festival.
Okay. So our original plan was to take it easy the first day and really experience the festival the first day, and then let ourselves go the second day. So we head out to get food, and I look for seats in the very very crowded seating area. Our plan? Was ruined by these guys:
A team of rugby players from the area
Me: *walking around looking for seating, not having any luck*
Old guys: Hey want some sake? Hey, here, have some! Hey come on sit down!
And since I was practically pulled to a seat, I sat and they filled my glass, and I flag down Kenji after getting plied with about three shots of sake, and we BOTH get plied with sake, and our plans of taking it easy flew RIGHT out the window. Oh man, they went away quick!
The guys were great and really nice. They did the festival every year, and really looked forward to it, and like most old people in Japan aren’t intimidated or scared of foreigners at all. I guess alcohol really does cross cultural boundaries! We finally decide that we better go otherwise we might not make it to the hotel that evening, so we said our goodbyes, snapped some pictures, and left. I think we made it back on the bus, checked into our hotel, and crashed for about 4 hours before hunger woke us up. I know I don’t remember much of the way back except apparently I was chatting in Japanese the whole time (nothing like alcohol to get rid of those linguistic inhibitions!) and was still drunk when I woke up. But we got ourselves cleaned up and went out for some food.
Niigata being right on the ocean, seafood is famous. And this stuff was GOOD. I didn’t get any more pics of the food, so I’ll get them from Kenji later. Suffice to say that the mean was extremely satisfying, if expensive!
So, day two dawns bright and pretty, and we actually (surprisingly) got up at a decent hour, around 10am. Most of the food places weren’t open, so we just found a chain and ate there. It was still good!
Toyoko Inn in the morning, right next to the station
First we headed to the beach to see the ocean. It was my first time seeing the Sea of Japan side, so I was really excited!
The sand was really dark, which was weird for me, but I liked it! It would be fun to go swimming in summer here!
After that we headed to the picturesque Bandai Bridge, which is a symbol of the city, then finally back to Toki Messe despite being actually pretty sake’d out.
We went up to the viewing platform for a view of the ocean and the mountains, then back down to the festival.
It was just as crowded. We found seats amazingly near a group from the same rugby league, though a different team, who also plied us with sake, but we didn’t drink near as much as the day before.
We grabbed a few bottles to take home and as gifts, I got a sake bag and Kenji an apron-thingy, and we called it a day on the sake after eating some awesome food there.
After that we caught the water taxi a few stops down for fun, then headed to the station for dinner.
Bandai from the water, and our taxi pulling away.
Dinner was a bit of a disaster. I had no idea what to have and what was around there, so we just got kinda crappy food from a shop near the station. We had planned an hour and a half or so for eating, and ended up done in 10 minutes. So we decided to go to a temple for one more stop in Niigata before heading home.
After that we took the bus back to the station, I got some sushi, and we caught our shink and headed back to Gunma. Definitely going to that festival next year, but we’ll be more careful around the rugby teams I think!