I visited Minamiuonuma in early May. Minamiuonuma is one of the mountainous region of Niigata. According to my friend who lives this area, more visitors descend on the region this year due to popular TV drama "Tenchi-jin" in which this area is featured. Even in light of such visits of drama enthusiasts, we felt very relaxed, breathed fresh air, and were fascinated with the unspoiled beautiful countryside which you cannot see in urban jungle of Tokyo.
Niigata prefecture is well known among Japanese for Koshihikari - considered as the best rice in Japan. Moreover, great natural blessings from rivers and surrounding mountains in Niigata include sake, fresh fish, vegetables and hot springs - what else do you expect for a weekend retreat from urban life or for a trip seeking for beautiful pastoral landscape?
Lesser-known fact is that this experience is possible only within 2 hours from Tokyo. Fewer places within easy access by Shinknsen (bullet train) from Tokyo are rich in nature (mountain, river and rice field) than this area.
My friend drove us to local soba (buckwheat) restaurant nestled in the mountain. Despite remote location, some discerning gastronomist visit here from urban cities. The soba is simple but very flavorful. The other dish such as fried river fish and local vegetables are excellent.
We saw a number of Koinobori, carp-shaped flags. Japanese parents celebrate Childrens day in May with Koinobori in the hope that their children will grow up healthy and strong.
Then we drove to Hakkaisan and took the ropeway. The view from the top was stunning. If the sky is clearer, you can see Sea of Japan.
We chose to stay in Ryugon, one of the best ryokans in this area. I was fascinated by the architecture of the ryokan. Most buildings re-used the old merchant house or farmhouse (minka). They are beautifully revived as the cozy luxury ryokan. Soaking in the outdoor hot spring and strolling around the vast landscape garden are a privilege for the guests. Needless to say, we enjoyed the Japanese full-course dinner. Staffs of Ryugon were very friendly and cordial.
Next day, we enjoyed a leisurely walk around the countryside in the neighborhood. The nature and rustic atmosphere refreshed my mind and spirit. I would like to come back in winter to admire the white snow world.