Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Niigata

Sushi and Sake

After our adventures exploring the Wara Animal Sculptures at Uwasekigata Park, we worked our way back to Niigata. Fortunately, the taxi driver gave us a card of the taxi service to call when we were finished. We called and had a taxi within minutes. We went back to the train station and then back to Niigata. We had a short walk to our hotel. 

We booked the Shinkansen and hotel through IACE Travel, the travel agency on base. The travel agent made everything so easy. She printed the train schedules because they don’t run as frequently as trains near the bigger cities. Also, she printed our hotel voucher making our check-in super easy (always remember to bring your passports). Our travel agent also gave us a voucher for a free sushi platter to use at one of several participating sushi restaurants in the area. To help us locate the restaurants, she printed a map! At check-in, the receptionist gave us two ¥500 coupons to use with dinner. 

We dropped our backpacks and headed out for sushi. I wish I had my camera ready to capture the sushi chef’s face when we walked in the door. He was obviously shocked to see two American girls walk into his restaurant. 😆 The chef and sous chef were welcoming and gracious hosts. They seated us at the sushi bar. We ordered two beers. When the beers were served I handed the sous chef our voucher and coupons. There was conversation between the two chefs and from what I understood, the voucher was good and the coupon would be applied to our beers. A short minute or two later, the sushi chef was displaying pieces of sushi for us to eat. 

The pile on the left is ginger. The white fish was good and the tuna was so buttery. Yummmmmmm… my favorite. 

Next, from the kitchen we eat were given a bowl of miso soup. 

The sushi chef placed more tuna (on the right) and raw shrimp. I wasn’t as squeamish as last time about the shrimp. It was delicious, actually. 

He added to our sushi display, krab stick, clam, and another white fish. I was worried about the clam. It was ok. It was slightly pickled, making it very crunchy. It was kindof a weird texture, but tasted ok. 

He place tamago (egg) on the right. And then the salmon roe and sea urchin arrived. I couldn’t do the sea urchin. I still remember the awful taste from our experience in Hiroshima. I used a trick my Mom taught me when she was forced to eat oysters. I hid the sea urchin in tissues and threw it away after we left. Sonia was so much braver than me. She ate hers like a sushi boss. 

When we eat completed our platters, I was still a little hungry. I ordered two additional pieces of tuna – maguro. “Oishi des” – “This is delicious!” Our sushi chef smiled. 

Once we finished, we requested our bill. The total costs was ¥1300 – less than $13.00. The voucher and coupons covered everything except my second beer and two pieces of additional maguro! The tuna was ¥350 each and the beer was ¥500. I’ve never eaten so much delicious food for so cheap!

We decided to walk around after dinner. We headed toward the train station and discovered an interesting sake shop. For ¥500, you received a sale cup and 5 Sake tasting tokens. 

There were 111 different sakes to taste! I started with #97! It was good. Better than any Sake I have tasted. 

We asked for recommendations for others to try. Number 86 was pretty delicious. 

The process was so kawaii. You set your Sake cup underneath the dispenser, inserted your coin, and then pressed the yello button. Five seconds later, you had Sake to taste. 

In addition to the Sake tasting, there were a plethora of different salts. Using the little scoop, you placed some on the back of your hand and licked it before tasting the saki. It was like the Japanese version of tequila shots. 

A map in the Sake tasting room showed where many of the Sakes were produced. 

The sake and salt tasting was another unique Japanese experience. It was another peek into the beautiful culture of Japan! 

Wara Animal Sculptures

One of my friends and Wabisabisole readers, Karen, shared a link with me about Rice Straw Animal Structures in the city of Niigata. Niigata is located in northern Japan. It is about a two-hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo. 

After looking at the pictures included in the article, I felt compelled to see the monsters! The city uses rice straw or wara that is leftover from the rice harvest to decorate large wooden structures. 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Wara Art Festival. The festival is over, but the creatures remain on display in Uwasekigata Park. 

I desired a liberty buddy for the trip. Sonia and I were able to coordinate our schedules and made the trip on 10/24/17. 

Our seats on the Shinkansen were on the second deck. I’ve never been on the double decker Shinkansen! 

After arriving in Niigata around 12:30, we grabbed a quick bite for lunch and then caught a local train to Echigo-sone Station. 

The train might have been the bumpiest train I have taken so far in Japan. It was clackety-clack the whole way! 40 minutes later, we were at the station and off the train. We hopped in the one and only taxi waiting outside the station. A 15-minute taxi ride later and we were finally at Uwasekigata Park. Time to find these amazing rice straw structures! It was a beautiful day! Do you spy the giant lion? 

They were so cool up close! 

There were four giant monsters total. A lion, bull, ape, and alligator. Next up was the bull! 

Me, grabbing the bull by the horns. 

It was a little apparent the animals had weathered a few storms over the last couple months. They were impressive none the less. Check out King Kong! 

Slapping King Kong on the tushy. 

The park was great. There was a nice running track – a 2.0 km course. The mountains provided a scenic backdrop. 

The last creature was the alligator. He was pretty cool. He was large enough to walk into and the straw was braided to add detail. 

Sonia helped me capturing the fun of the creatures and our afternoon adventures. It was a fun and unique experience perhaps only to be experienced in Japan. Thank you, Karen for sharing the article with me and inspiring our travels. I hope you enjoy reading and seeing our pictures! 

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