This is Part III of my trip to Niigata.
The first night that I arrived at Niigata, I went to an izakaya bar and by chance met an Australian guy that was at the bar. Since there are not so many foreigners in Niigata, we stuck up a conversation. It turns out he is an English teacher on the JET program and has been living in Murakami for the last year and a half. He was in town for meetings at his company’s local HQ and was going back that evening. He really portrayed it as an interesting place – with a history of local samurai clans and the famous salmon industry. Although my plans were to go to Sado, I thought that it would not be hard to do both, and why not take advantage of being in Niigata city to see more of the prefecture?
Murakami was not so far – only about an hour and a half from Niigata city. Note that there is a huge savings by taking the Hakushin line and it only takes 10 to 30 minutes longer. Yes, it was a kakueki train.
A lot of the rolling stock in Niigata is older. It’s actually quite nice – spacious seating.
My first stop was the salmon museum. It is one of the most famous attractions in Murakami, and if you are a fan you cannot miss this.
You can see the whole lifecycle of the salmon. From various states after hatchling, to the adult fish. There is even an underground area that goes to a river viewing window, where you can see the fish moving upriver during spawning time.
Throughout Murakami, you can see the salmon hanging out to dry. The local famous product is like a dried jerky – it is salty, fatty and very delicious. Very similar in process to what you see from North American natives.
I had a nice lunch of salted salmon and sashimi. It was reasonably priced at ¥1,300 given the freshness and quality.
Next on my trip was a walk up a mountain to see the ruins of Murakami Castle(村上城).
During the Meiji restoration, although the samurai of the Murakami domain were divided between those who were loyal to the Tokugawa shogunate, and those who supported the imperial restoration, the domain joined the pro-Tokugawa. Due to its strategic position, the castle was attacked and destroyed by imperial forces. Fearing that the remnants of the castle would disappear completely, descendants of former Murakami domain samurai formed a society to petition for the protection of the remaining ruins. The ruins are now a national historic site.
Although the walk up the mountain was not particularly difficult, the fact that the path was covered with half-melted and icy snow make the going bit of a challenge. What always impresses me on these short hikes is the preponderance of senior citizens that are hiking, generally at a very good pace. A tribute to the healthy lifestyles of the Japanese. I hope that when I am in my 70’s I’m able to keep up a similar active life.
By design, castle ruins always give a good view of the surrounding area. I spent some time enjoying the solitude and scanning the surrounding area.
I enjoyed a nice walkabout in the surrounding areas and a had nice relaxing cup of coffee in a small shop. It was really charming – like walking into a family dining room. Typically, a cup of coffee in these kinds of places is ¥400 – a bit expensive compared to a chain but worth it to linger and relax and chat with the proprietors, typically semi-retired couples that are very friendly.
I had decided just to make it a day trip, since Niigata was not that far away and accommodation was much more affordable. As well, dining options in a place like Murakami are more suitable to groups and not a solo traveler so going back made a lot of sense.
Overall, it was a great day excursion and very easy to do.