Spend Some Leisurely Days in the Hills of Niigata
Late this summer, we escaped from the hectic big city and set off north, towards the healing hills of Joetsu-Myoko. Sitting up against the northern edge of the Chubu region, part of central Japan, the cooler breeze of Niigata flowing over green forests and blowing through mountains and valleys in the distance certainly made for a relaxing trip.
- We've written before about how much we like the onsen (温泉, natural hot springs), delicious food, and comfy suites at APA Resort Joetsu-Myoko, but this time we want to talk about all the time you can spend outdoors while you're there. If you want to get yourself lost in meadows and find yourself wandering paths through the sunflowers, you'll enjoy a visit.
Watch the Summer Come to a Close in the Golden Sunflower Petals,
and Autumn Begin in the Red Tendrils of Kochia
With blue skies overhead, late summer is the perfect time to appreciate APA Resort Joetsu-Myoko's new fields of sunflowers, at Sunflower & Kochia Kingdom. With a million sunflowers (that's right, 1,000,000) of 27 different varieties to browse through, the magical beauty of so many blooms is breathtaking.
If you arrive as the weather starts to cool and the sunflowers begin to go dormant for winter, no worries, you'll just want to head to the field right besides the sunflowers, which is full of kochia!
Peak sunflower season is usually from mid- to late August
, but it can really be affected by the year's weather patterns! When we visited in August this year
, it was still a little early, and the fields hadn't quite hit full bloom. Of course, while the full effect is truly spectacular, walking through even just a small part of the sunflower fields can be enchanting. Don't worry about getting there a few days too early or late.
With so many kinds, choosing your favorite sunflower might be a little difficult, but the lemony yellow crowd of petals on what the Japanese call "Monet sunflowers" (モネのひまわり), the silky golden "Van Gogh sunflowers" (ゴッホのひまわり) that trail in the wind, or the perky "Matisse sunflowers" (マティスのひまわり) that really do resemble the sun might be good picks.
Image Source: Official Website
These short bushes are found around the globe these days, but Japanese gardeners are experts at bringing out the beauty in kochia, and Sunflower & Kochia Kingdom might just be the best place to see them. With 150,000
bushes, they've got the largest field of kochia in Japan, and when fall comes and turns the bushes from green to red, they become a vast carpet of fluffy crimson. It's a little like cute pompoms covering the hillside. Kochia season lasts from early September to mid-November
, so you've got plenty of time to enjoy this striking landscape.
Normally, admission to the Sunflower & Kochia Kingdom costs 800 yen, but this year they're doing a special promotion where foreign visitors can show their passports for free entry
! If you can, you'll want to head over soon.
Sunflower & Kochia Kingdom
1090 Okemi, Myoko, Niigata
Open Aug. 10 ~ Nov. 17
Aug. Hours: 10:00 - 18:00
Sep./Oct./Nov. Hours: 10:00 - 17:00
Official Website (jp)
Have Some Tea with "Mon Ami"
After strolling through rows and rows of flowers, are you ready to take a break? Well walk just a tiny bit further to this pointy-roofed building, where you'll find a former church, now converted into a cafe with some European flair, called "Mon Ami."
The inside hasn't been changed much from its original form, and the cafe is really opened up by large windows accented with stained glass, and decorative arches reaching to the ceiling. Nowadays, however, pews have been replaced by simple, comfortable tables and chairs, looking out onto the pond and surrounding natural landscape.
The cafe's signature offering is an afternoon tea set styled after the nearby kochia and sunflowers. If you really want to get into the flower-viewing spirit, or you just like tasty sweets, ordering the set will get you a three-tiered tray of themed delights. Up top there are pink frosted tea cakes and cheery yellow mango macarons, recreations of kochia and sunflowers, with more macarons and gelato right underneath. The third plate holds a selection of sweet sandwiches using fresh-baked bread, made with local rice flour. You can sip on a variety of drinks while you snack and refresh yourself (including a good cup of tea, to make this a proper afternoon tea).
Watch the Night Sparkle at Japan's Biggest Light Show
You might have already noticed, but APA Resort Joetsu-Myoko likes to go big. Fields of 1,000,000 sunflowers, the biggest kochia areas in Japan, and the biggest light show as well. Japan is fond of calling these nighttime light-up spectaculars "illuminations", and this illumination is called APALLUSION. We've fawned over its beauty before.
APA Resort is constantly working with experts to bring new light displays and sculptures to the event, and it really is pretty amazing to walk through.
Cross through a jungle of animals made of light, wade through seas of electric roses, and find yourself in the midst of innovative projection mapping.
Take a Soak, Let Niigata's Hot Springs Revive You
Traveling can take a lot out of you, so take the time in Niigata to totally refresh yourself! Soak up the sun as you admire the local scenery, and then return to let the resort's onsen soak away your fatigue. Let your trip to Japan teach you the relaxing power of resting and taking a break, or even falling into bed on a soft mattress, after a long soak in steamy hot water. We wrote more about the comfortable rooms in the hotel last time we visited
, but there really is nothing better than opening the curtains to a gorgeous mountain view after a good night's sleep.
Feeling Recharged? There's More to See!
Naena Falls (苗名滝)
The roaring din of the Naena Waterfull can be heard from far away, and as you approach you'll see why. The deafening noise comes from the water shooting out of a U-shaped depression in the cliffside, and crashing 55 meters (180 ft) to the rocks below, before being knocked around by a series of large boulders in the river's path. It's a popular year-round destination, since green summer leaves, colorful autumn foliage, and winter snow all frame the falls quite beautifully. Of course this is Japan, where we rank the country's ~Best Waterfalls~, and Naena Falls is solidly in the top 100.
Togakushi Shrine (戸隠神社)
We've written about this shrine's legendary history and gorgeous surroundings
before. These days many people visit just to walk the shrine's paths through forests of towering cedar trees, but it has a history of more than 2,000 years, and is even the setting for myths told about Japan's traditional Shinto deities.
Togakushi Soba (戸隠そば)
Eaten here with a variety of Japanese pickles and other side dishes, nearby Togakushi is said to be one of the top three places to try soba (firm noodles made from rough buckwheat flour) in Japan. You could go all the way to Iwate Prefecture for the Wanko soba, or try Izumo soba in Shimane Prefecture, but why bother when Togakushi is so close by?
Zenkoji Temple (善光寺)
Another truly old religious structure nearby, Zenkoji is a Buddhist temple, making it a little different from the Shinto shrine of Togakushi. Zenkoji Temple has been around for 1,400 years, and is said to hold Japan's oldest statue of Buddha. If you're still interested in worldly possessions after visiting the temple, definitely browse the complex's Nakamise shopping street. Somewhat similar to the much more famous Nakamise shopping street in Asakusa
, you'll find some fun souvenirs and interesting treats there (try the miso ice cream).
Has this article, full of pictures of lush forests and flowery fields, been a relaxing read? Then just think of what a real trip to APA Resort Joetsu-Myoko might feel like! Busy cities like Tokyo and Osaka are popular destinations on a trip to Japan, but the hustle and bustle really takes it out of you, so take a little break and visit Niigata for a while! With this year's free entry to the Sunflower & Kochia Kingdom and APALLUSION, there's no reason to wait.
If you'd like the explore the region a little more, you can always make it a road trip into Nagano
! Or if you love the natural scenery but want to tour the landscape seated on a train instead, you might like a trip to Toyama
as well. Wherever you end up in Japan, we'd love to hear all about your experiences (and see your pictures) on twitter
, and facebook