My last day in Japan!
We started the morning at Yahiko Shrine 弥彦神社.
The solemn shrine at the foot of the sacred Mt. Yahiko is built to be surrounded by mountains and is popularly known as a power spot for love and good fortune. It is said that the shrine was built around 1300 years ago though the present shrine was rebuilt in 1916. The earlier shrine buildings were destroyed by a 1912 fire which started in the village.
When we visited the shrine, it had just rained so there was a certain calmness and tranquility in the air - loved it!
(By the way, if you are wondering what's the difference between temples and shrines in Japan (I was!), it has basically got to do with different religions. Shinto is practiced at a shrine and Buddhism is practiced at a temple.)
Yahiko Shrine // 〒959-0323 Niigata Prefecture, Nishikanbara District, 弥彦村 Yahiko, 2887-2
Next, we went to Tsubame-shi Migakiya-Ichibankan.
Tsubame-Sanjo in Japan's Niigata prefecture is known for its metalwork and production of craftsmen's tools. For example, the metal iPod cases used to be made here. Why used to? Well, with intense competition from other Asian countries (I'm not saying where specifically but I guess we all know the answer), the metal production industry in Tsubame City has been greatly affected.
As such, the Tsubame City Migakiya Ichibankan (Polishing Building Number One) was established to nurture successors of the metal polishing industry. The facility aims to encourage and support startup entrepreneurs, as well as to train individuals in the metal production industry and promote production centers through advances in technology.
Visitors can tour the factory and try their hand at polishing techniques.
(I polished my own fork and I'm happy to say that I'm quite good at it HAHA, unlike my knife sharpening experience lolol.)
Migakiya Ichibankan also sells metal tableware and I had bought a special beer mug for the hubs - it's supposed to make your beer more creamy and smooth as you pour it in due to the cup's unique design. Interesting huh?
Tsubame-shi Migakiya-Ichibankan // 3633-7 Koike, Tsubame City, Niigata Prefecture // Website
We then went for lunch at Omura Shokudo おおむら食堂 which is one of the oldest and most established noodlehouses in Tsubame City.
They are known for their backfat - the white pieces you see floating on the soup - ramen here.
I really like the broth, which is made from soy sauce with fish stock and topped with chopped white onions. But I have to disclaim that the portions are HUGE here (for only 770 yen!) and it's best that you arrive with a very empty stomach.
Omura Shokudo // 810-4 Kotaka, Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture // Tel: +81 256-62-4746
I never thought I will ever get so excited over nail clippers but I guess this is Japan after all.
The Suwada Open Factory like the name suggests, is an open factory so you can see the entire production of their impressive nail clipper, or what they call nail nipper.
This place is branding heaven for all business owners, creatives and basically anybody who likes design. From the lobby, to the layout of the factory to their retail store and even the design of their logo, the entire place was impressive beyond words.
There’s just so much precision, engineering, thought and branding given to the humble nail nipper and I definitely recommend checking it out even if it’s just to marvel at their interior (they have a super pretty bathroom with Molten Brown toiletries!) and enjoy their raspberry cuppa.
Suwada Open Factory // 1332 Koanji, Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture 959-1114 // Website
Our last stop in Niigata was at sake brewery Asahi Shuzo 朝日酒造は. I didn't manage to capture any pictures because we were sanitised (my favourite activity lol) and dressed in lab coats (so fun!) as we made our rounds from room to room as we see how the fermentation and brewing actually happened - think HUGE cylinders and pipes!
Founded in 1830, this is one of the oldest nihon-shu breweries in Niigata.
From here, I learned how the heavy snowfall and Sea of Japan’s coastline in this region offer ideal conditions for rice cultivation (mention Niigata and I'm sure you'll think of the world-famous Niigata rice) and a plentiful supply of clean water that leads to clean, pure sake.
We were also introduced to Asahi Shuzo's main brand, Kubota and I'm not a sake expert and I won't pretend to be one but when you taste it, the cleanness and simplicity of the sake are striking. I like how the flavour is rather mellow and has a slight floral aroma.
The brewery also has a retail store that sells sake confectionery! I had a great time sampling (and eventually buying of course) sake crackers, sake cookies and sake cakes. YUM!
Asahi Shuzo // 880-1 Asahi, Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture 949-5412 // Website
We then took the Max Toki 336 shinkansen from Nagaoka Station to Tokyo Station (where we enjoyed a delicious traditional seafood train bento Ekiben on board) and conveniently boarded the local JR train and Tokyo Monorail with the JR EAST PASS to Haneda Airport for our flight back to Singapore!
And this marks the end of my 5 days in Japan on the Northward Golden Route.
About the Northward Golden Route
The Northward Golden Route is a new train route that connects three areas of Saitama, Gunma, and Niigata Prefectures along with the outskirts of Tokyo. Through the route, you can enjoy experiences that you can't usually get in Tokyo such as unique cuisines, magnificent nature sites, onsen hot springs and SNOW!
You can explore the Northward Golden Route with the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and you can purchase it for ¥17,000 at the East Japan Rail website or the Japan Rail Cafe in Singapore. If you prefer to get it when you land in Japan, you can purchase it at Narita or Haneda Airport, as well as Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Nagano, Niigata and many other JR East stations for ¥18,000.
The JR EAST PASS is a flexible pass that is valid for up to 14 days as long as you take the trains only on any 5 days during the period (so you can take your time to explore these areas) and allows unlimited train rides including Shinkansen (bullet trains) between Tokyo and Joetsu and Shinetsu area. Specifically, the pass covers unlimited rides using reserved seats (you can reserve up to 3 days in advance at the JR East ticket reservation page) on the ordinary cars of the limited express trains (including shinkansen), express trains and local trains on JR EAST train lines, all the Izu Kyuko lines, al the Tokyo Monorail lines, all the Hokuetsu Express lines and the Echigo TOKImeki Railway line (between Naoetsu and Arai) within the “Unlimited-ride area”. In addition, the pass also allows unlimited rides using reserved seats on the ordinary cars of the limited express trains such as the Tobu Direct Limited Express “Nikko”, “Kinugawa”, and “SPACIA Kinugawa” trains.
More details at: http://www.jp-rail-sg.com/northward-golden-route/