Joetsu, located in the middle part of Niigata, is not a major tourist destination, but it is easy to access from Nagano Prefecture. Every May, we visit Niigata area to enjoy early Spring greens. If you were not Japanese passport holders, you can use the Japan Rail Pass to visit glorious scenic sites in Nagano and Niigata. Here are some of top favorites to enjoy hiking and sea activities in Niigata.
Hiking at Kanaya Mountain
Kanaya Mountain is known as the original place for skiing in Japan. Mr. Theodor Edler von Lerch came from Germany and taught Japanese how to ski. A very small museum near a parking area exhibited pictures of old-style skiing and Mr. Edler’s personal belongings. After 30 mins walking, we reached to the top of the mountain, where you can enjoy this view. My kids tried to hunt for tadpoles for 2 hours. Yes, it’s a good time to do so on a sunny day.
Kanaya Mountain is also popular for summer bobsledding. The length is 450 meters from the top of Kanaya Mountain to the end. My kids could not stop riding and they took it more than three times. The high speed of bobsled and refreshing air made them so excited.
Super Bobsled at Kanaya Mountain opens from the end of April to October from 9:30 to 17:00. It is closed on Monday except holidays. There are over 300 parking lots. There were two choices to get to top of the Kanaya Mountain, taking a lift or walking along a path covered with green. We tried both ways, by taking a lift and walking.
Fishing at Naoetsu Port
Joetsu is famous for skiing but it’s also a very popular area for fishing. We went to Naoetsu Port for fishing in May. It took 40 mins by car from Joetsu Myoko Station. The best season for fishing is from May to October. It is hard to find parking lots during weekends and Summer vacation season, so early morning is better to go.
Ebisuya fishing tackle shop near Naoetsu Harbor opens from very early morning and you can buy reasonable fishing rods and baits. The shop owner was so supportive to advise us where to go and which bait and type would be the best to use at Naoetsu Port. We went to Naoetsu Fishing site.
Ruins of Takada Castle
We visited the Ruins of Takada Castle from Kanaya Mountain to see Mieyagura, a three-story turret, reconstructed in 1993. It took 15 mins by car from Kanaya Mountain. The founders of Takada Castle were relatives of Ieyasu Tokugawa, who started the Edo era in Japan.
There are no stone walls or tower castle due to the urgent request to build a castle. The outer moat was a huge leveraging natural river. Climbing the scaffold of Mieyagura, you will see some mountains in the distance. We could walk on some part of the castle ruins along with the outer moat.
Japanese-style painter’s Old House
In the same area, there is the old house of Kobayashi Kodo, a Japanese-style painter. It has a gorgeous Japanese garden which is maintained very well. The contrast of blue sky and green garden is perfect to enjoy Japanese early summer. You can see the inside of the house and his painting room with a huge window for lighting. I imagined the artist enjoyed the changing of the light and seasonal greens.
The admission fee of Mieyagura is 300 yen per person and it opens from 9:00 to 17:00. A multi-Site ticket of Takada Castle’s Mieyagura and Kodo Kobayashi’s house is available. We missed some cultural things after fishing and hiking in Niigata, so the Ruins of Takada Castle area was the best place for us to learn the history of Joetsu.
How to get there:
By Shinkansen and rent-a-car
If you were not Japanese Passport holders, the Japan Rail (JR) Pass is one of reasonable ways to visit all over Japan by JR line. JR EAST-NAGANO NIIGATA PASS allows unlimited travel all JR trains around Tokyo, Nagano and Niigata during 5 flexible days over a period 14 days.
From Tokyo, take Joetsu Shinkansen bullet train to Joetsu Myoko Station and the travel time is approximately two hours. Rent-a-car is the easiest way to see around. JR offers special discount for the pass users.
From Nagano Prefecture
We rented a car at Nagano Station and drove to Niigata by Joshinetsu Expressway for a one and a half hour. Some parts of the Expressway were two lanes both ways, so it caused a heavy traffic jam. Early morning would be the best time to drive.
Sample Itinerary with the Japan Rail Pass
On the first day, get on the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station. Visit Zenkoji Temple near Nagano Station. Next head to Joetsu Myoko Station in Niigata from Nagano Station. On the next day, visit Kanaya Mountain and Naoetsu Port by rent-a-car and visit Sado Island by ferry from Naoetsu Port to Ogi Port on Sado Island. Next, continue further up to Ryotsu Port on Sado Island and take a ferry to Niigata Port on the mainland. When you return your car at Niigata Station, head back to Tokyo Station from Niigata Station.