Joetsu City is known for its culinary delights of sake and rice, but there is more to discover. Takada Park boasts some of the country's finest cherry blossoms, and the castle ruins atop Mt. Kasuga speak of the city's fascinating history.
The Joestu area is best accessed by train or car.
From Tokyo, you can reach Joetsu in two hours via shinkansen. Get off at Joetsumyoko Station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, then take the local train (Shinetsu Honsen) to Takada or Naoetsu.
By car, the city is easily accessible by the Joetsu or Joetsu Takada Interchange on the Hokuriku and Joshinetsu Expressways.
Joetsu was once home to Uesugi Kenshin, one of Japan's most powerful feudal lords
The Nadachi River boasts the highest number of migrating salmon in Niigata
The most important landmark in the area is undoubtedly the castle ruins located high up on Mt. Kasuga. This was once the fortress of Uesugi Kenshin, a powerful 16th century feudal lord, renowned for his fearsome skills in the martial arts. You can visit Uesugi's grave in Rinsen-ji Temple.
After a gentle hike up Mt. Kasuga, you'll reach the top and be rewarded with a panoramic view of Joetsu City.
Head to Kasugayama Shrine near the base of the mountain for some post-hike tranquility.
Make sure to keep an eye out for the city's samurai actors, who hold dramatic sword fights in front of the shrine.
To see hundreds of modern samurai marching as they once did in ancient Japan, be sure to check out the annual Kenshin Festival which is held at Kasuga in late August.
Located 15 minutes away from Mt. Kasuga is Takada Par. Over 100,000 visitors flock here every year to see 4,000 cherry blossoms bloom under magical pink and purple lights from early to mid-April.
In summer, the lake of Takada Park is covered in bright green and pink lotus flowers, a perfect excuse for another colorful local festival.
The port of Naoetsu near central Joetsu once housed a prisoner of war camp, where many Australian soldiers lost their lives during World War II.
A visit to the Peace Memorial Park and accompanying museum allows you to dig into the city's emotional history, as well as its current international ties. Beautiful yet sobering, the park is well worth a visit, to see the friendship formed between two completely different countries and their efforts to commemorate a shared history.
After the Peace Memorial Park, visit nearby Naoetsu Beach, where you can wade in the beautifully clear waters and check out the iconic statue of a mermaid.
Being in the heart of rice country makes Joetsu a thriving hub for sake breweries. Among them, Katafune Sake Brewery — the winner of the International Wine Challenge 2015 — is definitely worth a visit. It's a family-owned brand and you need to call ahead to schedule a brewery visit. Although the brewery is small, the warm welcome will make you feel right at home.
Between the cities of Joetsu and Tokamachi lies the Cupid Valley ski resort, in an area known as 'Yukudaruma Kogen' or 'Snowman Heights'. The Kanayasan resort is also close to Joetsu, and is easily accessible from the city in case you want to spend a few hours on the slopes.
We recommend setting aside a couple of days to explore Joetsu and other nearby sights.
To the south is Myoko, where adventurers can explore Mt. Myoko, Naena-taki Waterfall, Tsubame Onsen and numerous ski resorts such as Ikenotaira and Akakura Onsen Ski Resorts.
To the east there is charming Tokamachi, where the striking Hoshitoge terraced rice paddies, Bijin-bayashi Forest and Kiyotsukyou Gorge are located.
Northwards you will find Kashiwazaki, a great little beach town perfect for those looking for an unfussy, simple getaway, undisturbed by flocks of tourists. Sightseeing spots of note include Lovers' Point and Akasakayama Park.
Joetsu locals love a chance to party, so look out for these festivals in the surrounding areas:
Early to mid-April: Nighttime cherry blossom-viewing in Takada Park, Joetsu
Mid-July to mid-August: Sacred Lotus Festival in Takada Park, Joetsu
July 26: Annual fireworks festival at Kashiwazaki Central Beach, Minatomachi Seaside Park area
The fourth weekend in August: Kenshinko Festival in Kasugayama, Joetsu
Late October to late November: Nighttime autumn leaves-viewing in Akasakayama Park, Kashiwazaki