Summer is synonymous with festivals in Japan, and this month we’ve got our sights set on some of Niigata’s top matsuri. While many of us would love to throw caution to the wind and travel up and down the nation to experience these wonderful events firsthand, we know it’s not always easy to find the time. Thankfully you can also get your rural festival fix right here in the city at Tabisuru Shintora Market, a new ongoing event outside Toranomon Hills that opened earlier this year to promote local regions from across the nation.
The current theme, named Summer Breeze, begins in July and features five cities from Niigata touting their wares and local food specialties. But first, a closer look at the festivals and other attractions they’re famous for….
For Sake Enthusiasts: Murakami City
THE FESTIVAL This historical castle town is home to the Murakami Grand Festival, a traditional event that dates back over 380 years and features large floats called oshagiri as the main draw. July 6-7, www.sake3.com/murakamitaisai
WHILE YOU’RE THERE Located on Niigata’s coast, this city’s claim to local fame is sake, sake and sake. (That’s salmon, sake and empathy for the rest of us.) Visitors are welcomed to long lanes of black wooden walls and fences – a signature Edo-period style – and rows of whole salmon hanging to air dry in the sun. The city also a slew of beautiful beaches and onsen, the most famous being Senami Onsen, which overlooks the ocean.
HOW TO GET THERE Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Niigata City, then switch to the Uetsu Honsen Line for Murakami Station.
For Traditional Craft Lovers: Sanjo and Tsubame
THE FESTIVAL Known collectively as Sanjo-Tsubame, this world-class metalworking region is revered for its high-quality knives, and flatware used at the Nobel Prize banquet. The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival allows visitors to have a rare chance to see skilled craftsmen as they work, and also join them for a drink at organized receptions. October 5-8, kouba-fes.jp
WHILE YOU’RE THERE Hard physical work requires filling food, so it’s no surprise Sanjo and Tsubame are famous for their curry ramen and seabura (back fat) ramen respectively. Echigo Miso Jyouzo lets visitors can try making their own batch of this traditional condiment.
HOW TO GET THERE Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Tsubame-Sanjo station.
For Arty Types: Tokamachi City
THE FESTIVAL Tokamachi City is home to a unique art event, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, that transcends generations, genres and nationalities. Artists stay true to the vision of “humans are a part of nature” by creating works in diverse locations like rice fields, closed-down schools and more. Although the next Triennale isn’t until 2018, about 200 artworks can be viewed year round. Activities are held throughout the year, www.echigo-tsumari.jp/eng
WHILE YOU’RE THERE The city is also home to Kiyotsu Gorge, an expansive beech forest, and a treasure trove of exceptional Jomon Period (14,000-300 BC) flame-style pottery.
HOW TO GET THERE Take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa Station, then the Hokuhoku Line to Tokamachi Station.
For Fans of Fireworks: Nagaoka City
FESTIVAL Nagaoka Matsuri, now in its 72nd year, is one of Japan’s three great fireworks festivals and has made the event an explosive show. It features three monstrous sanshakudama, each over 300kg, as well as perfectly timed fireworks set to music. The event also features mikoshi shrine parades, as well as folk dance processions. August 1-3 (fireworks Aug 2-3), Shinano Riverside, nagaokamatsuri.com
WHILE YOU’RE THERE Shrines and temples dot the city’s environs, including the stunning Hotokusan Inari Taisha which has history dating back to the Jomon Period.
HOW TO GET THERE Take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen to Nagaoka Station.
For Tokyo Staycationers: Tabisuru Shintora Market
Before heading to Niigata, drop by the Toranomon Hills’ Tabisuru Shintora Market for a taste of these festive cities. The regions each have their own stand serving local delicacies and spirits. Accompanying the market is the Tabisuru store, with selected wares from the featured areas, and the Tabisuru café, which will serve dishes using Niigata-sourced, seasonal ingredients.
Tabisuru market: Jul 5-29, shop and café: Jul 5-Oct 1.
For more information, see our event listing.