Japanese Culture and Food: Niigata
In the latest of our grand series of blogs surveying the unique tastes of Japan’s many prefectures, we leave the Tohoku region and enter Koshin’etsu. Niigata is situated on the eastern coast of Japan, towards the centre of the island. It has a long coastal section and is the only prefecture in the Koshin’etsu region with a coast.
Established in the 16th Century, Niigata began as a port town called ‘Nuuttari’ on the Agano River. For a long time, Japan was closed off for international trade, but when it began to reopen in 1858, Niigata was one of the five designated ports.
Throughout history, Niigata has been at war with the ocean it borders. In previous centuries, the shallow waters encouraged land reclamation, however, rising water levels has led to difficulties with flooding. As a result, attempts to expand further have been restricted, and flood control has become a high priority for Niigata’s coastal residents.
Niigata city has held a festival called the ‘Water and Land Art Festival’ since 2009, which is a big display of Niigata’s identity through the arts. It celebrates their lifestyle and culture and features a lot of projects, including many installations.
This prefecture has a strong connection to art, and alongside the celebration of its physical landscape, there are annual anime and manga festivals as well as dance festivals and cooking competitions.
Niigata is also home to Japan’s only residential dance company. The practice of housing artists in theatres is uncommon in Japan, but the elite choreographer and dancer, Jo Kanamori, was successful in establishing his dance company, Noism, at RYUTOPIA in Niigata City.
If you have a love for Japanese art and food, Niigata is a place you should be visiting in the near future.
Niigata prefecture has the largest rice paddy field acreage in all of Japan, so as one might expect, rice is an incredibly important source of food in Niigata – perhaps more so than across the rest of the country.
The Niigata prefecture has two very prominent rivers running through and around it. These rivers are prone to flooding, and the space between them has been wetland for centuries. Wetlands are brilliant for rice farming, and the rivers are especially important in the production of Niigata’s speciality saké.
The area’s soft water properties have unique effects on the fermentation of saké, and you can find out more about it in the video below:
If you love stew – and we know you do – you’ll love noppe. This dish is present all year round in households in this prefecture. From New Years celebration meals to comfort food after a hard day at school or work, Noppe is always there for the Niigatans.
Noppe stew is made from an array of vegetables, including konjac potato, carrot, lotus root and shiitake mushroom, and sometimes chefs will add chicken or salmon for variation.
We’ve already talked about how Niigata’s land is especially fertile for rice production, and it only follows that the Niigatan’s would have their own speciality genus of rice called Koshihikari. Scientists and food experts conclude that the popularity of Koshihikari rice is because of the temperature shifts between seasons and the incredibly nutrient-rich water from the mountains that feeds them.
Niigata’s appreciation for the ways that water and land interact also feeds into their culinary creations. Wappameshi is a surf and turf speciality, combining elements of sea and land into one dish. It’s a rice dish cooked in broth and steamed with local seasonal ingredients from the sea and land, such as salmon roe, chicken or oysters.
Niigata is an incredible prefecture and we would heartily recommend that you visit one day, but if you’re hungry for Japan and just can’t wait, we can satisfy you with our exclusive Japanese teppanyaki, prepared by highly trained and authentic chefs. We offer tasting menus if you want to get a full culinary experience, and we also offer plenty of drinks and desserts to supplement your stay with us.