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The Niigata Hustle

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Our time in Niigata City was hectic. After our visit to the senbei factory, we rounded out the day with a trip to the Northern Culture Museum( External link ), the former residence of the wealthy landowning Itoh family dating from the 1800s. It's a stunning example of traditional Japanese architecture, and, from the looks of things (including but not limited to the 100-tamami-mat wide banquet room, and the special entrance made of 100% keyaki wood), the Itoths were rolling in it. There's also a beautiful garden and a super cool triangular tea house/study, also built in the Japanese style, on the grounds.

The next day we got up bright and early for the Niigata Sake no Jin. This was the first time for me to attend one of these huge sake festivals, and I'm so glad I had the chance. Sake no Jin is a mad affair. Last year, 78,000 turned out for it, and I heard that this year the crowds were even bigger -- it certainly felt that way. It's really a big party, but I'll post later in the week with some of my notes from the tasting.

I would have been content to stay at Sake no Jin all day, but after a couple of hours, we were escorted to the Shirone Grape Garden taste sugary-sweet Echigo Hime strawberries, which are, counter-intuitively, in season right now. We each picked a basket full and then said hi to the goats and rabbits.

Next, we stopped at the Niigata Kite Fighting Museum and marveled at the size of the kites used for a wacky kite-tug-of-war that takes place in a river (they're nearly 3 storeys high). Long story, and I still don't quite understand it all. But I flew a kite the size of a car.

Imagine, for a moment, what it must be like to fly a kite the size of a compact car. Now, imagine doing it after sampling at least 30 sakes.

But the day didn't end there. While my travel companion snapped photos of tulips at the curiously named Appeal Hall, I bought a sack of koshihikari rice -- the pride of Niigata prefecture -- that had been dried naturally in the sun. Priorities, my friends, priorites.

Dinner was more delicious sushi at a terrific local sushiya called Kanekyou. I was particularly fond of the flash-grilled aburi toro fatty tuna, abalone, and uni. Good stuff. Earlier, I'd tried some nice sake from a producer I'd never heard of called Gunki, so when I noticed their Gunki Junmai-shu on the menu, I went for it. Solid and bone-dry with a bit of a bite toward the finish.

Yesterday, we traveled at a much more relaxed pace. You can take a peek at what we did here( External link ).

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