Niigata Prefecture is a region of contrasts. From the towering mountains of the Japan Alps, to the depths of the Japan Sea, Niigata’s natural beauty shines through. The seasons are also starkly divided as the winter months’ deep snow earned it the nickname of Snow Country, but the summer brings sweltering heat.

Niigata is particularly famous for its excellent rice. If you take the train, you will see rice paddies stretching away into the distance. The high-quality rice produces amazing nihon-shu. There are numerous breweries throughout Niigata and if you can’t choose where to go, you can find most of them in a handy vending machine in Niigata or Echigo Yuzawa Station. For just 500 yen you can choose 5 tastings from over 100 different varieties.

Niigata is also home to one of Japan’s largest ski areas, Yuzawa. Easily accessible by bullet train from Tokyo, Yuzawa offers a wide variety of slopes for all levels of snow sports. After a long day on the slopes, what could be better than a relaxing soak in one of Yuzawa’s famous hot springs?

A remote area of Niigata is transformed every three years into one of the world’s largest art exhibitions. The Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale brings together artists from around the world to create a vast range of exhibitions in and around the city of Tokamachi. The artwork is designed to bring together the local environment and culture and are scattered over 700 square kilometres.

The island of Sado, home of the famous Kodo drummers, is also well worth a visit to see a very different side of Japan.

Niigata is a great place to visit whether you’re a foodie, art enthusiast, hiker, skier, or just enjoy going somewhere a bit off the beaten track.