Into another world
As the Shinkansen left the main train station of Tokyo, heading to Niigata on a two hour long trip, I started to realize I was going to another reality of Japanese culture, one not made of overcrowded streets and fascinating lights.
Buildings, noise, all of the big city was leaving me behind, the landscape of the outskirts and flatlands taking its place.
As I stepped down from the train in Niigata station, the air entering my lungs was completely fresh and different. The temperature was lower, the place almost empty. Getting out of the train, I faced the quiet life of a city as Niigata revealed itself over the next few days: a city surrounded by rice fields, where nature was still the ruling queen.
Simple life in rural Japan
The many experiences I had opened my eyes to the countryside life I had read about in books many times. I had a chance to visit the fish market after an hour long trip by car on the coast, and even if the weather wasn’t the best, the nice manners of fishermen towards me, the blonde foreigner, made my day.
I also got to eat some delicious just-picked fresh fish at the restaurant on the upper floor of the market! Later, we chose to visit an abandoned shrine on the nearby mountain, and the rain that was pouring at that moment made everything more magical.
Wearing kimono in an old house
The other amazing experiences I had were wearing a kimono and walking around the garden of an ancient house, which used to be the residence of a little village of farmers back in the 19th century. I really enjoyed trying on the kimono – the only problems I faced were the issue of breathing normally and my too big feet trying to fit into the cute little sandals the ladies who dressed me kindly lent me. That was awkward! But at least I made them smile ☺
In the one week I spent in Niigata prefecture, I had a close encounter with nature on Sado Island. I saw with my own eyes how seaweed production works, helped them pack up the boxes for the market, went around the hill picking the Shiitake mushrooms old ladies used to let grow on pieces of wood along the hill road to the top.
Making an exploration in unknown places
And I visited one of the most ancient shrines in Japan carved in a cave inside a bamboo wood, tasted wasabi leaves, and saw the sun and sky reflecting on the watered rice paddies on the sides of the hill. It was all so simple yet amazing.
Being an animal lover, I really hoped to see a Toki or a Tanuki up close but “unfortunately” I just saw some dolphins passing close to the coast of the Island, and let me say, it was extremely fascinating.
One of the cutest things that happened to me while being in Sado was when I met this little girl getting back home after a school day. As she saw me she couldn’t help staring at me getting onto the bus and sitting behind her. I can tell she thought about all the English she studied at school before turning in my direction and say “harro (hello)”.
It was just the cutest thing ever. She was such a brave kid and I was so happy to see that someone wasn’t just scared by my presence. We had a small conversation, her asking in English, me replying in Japanese. After few questions our conversation was over and she went back to sitting in her seat. She totally melted my heart.
I recommend to anyone who has the chance to not focus only on main tourist spots!
Go beyond, and you’ll have a lot more to talk about when you get back home ☺
Written by Monica Peviani (Reggio Emilia, Italia)