Two geisha girls walking on a road during Autumn in Niigata, Japan
Niigata's Saito Villa was the summer house of a wealthy merchant family in the 20th century. Walk through the tatami-floored rooms, catching glimpses of the artful private garden. Be mesmerized by a geisha dance and play traditional geisha games. One of the games is like a geisha version of rock paper scissors: You play three times, and the loser turns around while the winner beats a drum.
Sake being poured in a shop in Niigata, Japan
Niigata is famous for its rice, so you'll find a treasure trove of sake breweries. Tour Imayotsukasa Brewery where they still make sake the old-fashioned way. Next, nibble miso-pickles while sipping sweet sake at Minemura Brewery, and choose from 92 sake brands at Ponshu-kan Sake Tasting Corner.
Head to Hakusan Park, the first park public park Japan ever built in 1873. You'll find two large ponds teaming with koi fish, a 1,000-year-old shrine dedicated to marriage, impressive autumn leaves in the middle of the city and a bounty of pale-pink cherry blossoms in the spring.
Visit the Niigata Furusato Bazaar Hall to find every specialty in one place. Grab a bowl of tarekatsu donbori, a fried pork cutlet over rice with a salty-sweet sauce. Tuck into a 10-piece Kiwami sushi platter of the fresh daily fish, and try hegi soba, the local type of slippery noodles made from seaweed during your cruise.
The Furumachi neighborhood started off as a Geisha district, but now it's buzzing with commercial shops. Respectfully step into one of the many revered kimono stores, lined with delicately patterned fabric. Cruise to Niigata and take home intricate jeweled hair ornaments, or try on a pair of traditional geta shoes worn with Yukata.
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