Nagaoka City is located in the Chuetsu region of Niigata prefecture. It flourished as a castle town back in the Edo period. It is known for producing the cream of the crop in terms of taste and texture when it comes to Koshihikari variety of rice that the entire prefecture of Niigata is known for, as well as local sake made in traditional sake breweries since the Edo period and the Meiji period. With this alone, Nagaoka City produces a great selection of speciality products.
Nagaoka City is also renowned for its talented artisans. For example the Tochio Temari, a ball used to celebrate a child’s growth can be distinguished by the bright threads used in the traditional techniques to create the finished product. Production of buddhist altars has been carried out since the Edo period also, with distinctive delicate carvings and gold embellishments of traditional ornaments used to create what is known as the Nagaoka Buddhist Altar.
And the largest event of the city is ‘Nagaoka Festival’ attracting 1,000,000 visitors last year! This festival was originally organised as part of town rejuvenation efforts in the old part of Nagaoka City that suffered huge damages from air raids during the second world war. It began under the name of the ‘Nagaoka Rejuvenation Festival’, and has been held since the 21st year of Showa, the year following the air raids that caused so much damage. It is a traditional summer festival that goes back 70 years.
The piece de resistance of this festival is the grandiose fireworks display that plays out over the Shinano River. While there are many fireworks displays held in Japan, the Nagaoka fireworks are famous for their sheer height, reaching 600 metres high featuring enormous fireworks as well as 100 consecutive shots for a show that will blow you away. A total of 20,000 fireworks are set off to light up the sky of Nagaoka in a show of glorious colour. Another point that makes the Nagaoka Festival stand a head above the rest is the fusion of music and light in the fireworks show. Last year feisty singer Ayaka Hirahara made a guest appearance performing her song ‘Jupiter’ in sync with the fireworks display. There were also other musical performances, such as a local choral group singing in time with the fireworks. This collaboration of music and lights allows for a message to be communicated through the firework show. It is now known as one of Japan’s top firework shows.
Nagaoka City is also known for its heavy snowfall in winter. There is a ‘Yuki shika matsuri’ (lit. snow fridge festival) held every February. Back when people didn’t have a refrigerator in their homes, merchants selling snow from Nagaoka as a coolant were known as ‘Yuki shika ya’, and that is where the festival derives its name. Long ago, storing items in a pyramid of snow was practiced in the various areas of Nagaoka. The pyramid of snow was called a ‘Yuki shika’ by the people of Nagaoka, and so this term came to use.
During the ‘Yuki Shika Festival’, enjoying winter in Nagaoka is the purpose, and there are many events aimed at all ages. For example, there is a jumbo snow slide in the midst of all the snow, along with an enchanting snow illumination. And of course, the beautiful fireworks show that lights up the sky even more beautifully thanks to the clear crisp winter air.
There are plenty more interesting places in Nagaoka City. The weeping cherry blossom tree of Kuritamazawa is over 100 years old and is a designated item of cultural heritage as well as a natural treasure. This ancient tree is 15 metres tall and has a circumference of 2.25 metres. But is not only its large size that is impressive, it sports a full bloom of cherry blossoms each spring, captivating those who come to see it. There is also the alpacas given as a symbol of rejuvenation following a great earthquake, presented by the state of Colorado to Yamakoshimura, where damages were particularly acute. The surrounding countryside is full of greenery, and the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art that has received a number of modern art awards is also attracting attention as a popular sightseeing spot.
Nagaoka is easy to reach, at just 1.5hours distance from Tokyo by the Joetsu Shinkansen. It can also be reached from popular tourist destinations such as Kanazawa and Nagano by the Hokuriku Shinkansen line. Because it is so easy to get to, it feels all the closer, and looks to become more and more accessible, and will receive more visitors.
Nagaoka City is on the Sea of Japan side of Japan, and is located in a naturally abundant area famous for rice production. It was originally a castle town so historical places to visit, as well as plenty of local products to enjoy. There are various events throughout the seasons, meaning that Nagaoka is a great place to visit not matter the time of year. How about planning a trip to Nagaoka during your next time travelling?
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