Densha de Dan #4: The Niigata Stamp Rally (Part Two)

Welcome back to part two of the Niigata Umasagisshiri Stamp Rally.

Although the previous day required a lot of traveling around to different ends of the Prefecture, this day in particular really knocked me out physically…

…but more on that later.

Let’s review from yesterday. I’m in pursuit of 10 stamps around the Prefecture. I currently have 6. The remaining areas to cover will be Tsubame-Sanjo, the silverware capital of Japan, and Shibata City, the, um, other city up north.

As usual, everything starts at Nagaoka Station.

random fact: speakers above the platform play a looping track of birds chirping. if you memorize the timing, you can act like a bird and scare passengers

In all honesty, I wasn’t too excited about going to the Tsubame-Sanjo area. As far as sightseeing goes, there isn’t a whole lot. I’m sure its a nice place to live, but it makes me wonder why they put a Shinkansen stop there in the first place. The stamps that I need in Tsubame-Sanjo can also be found at the nearby Mt. Yahiko hot springs town…

…but I’ve already been there. And isn’t the point of this trip to see new things? Maybe there’s something interesting I haven’t discovered in Tsubame-Sanjo yet. We’ll see.

As you can see from the map, the first leg of today’s journey isn’t very far, as it only takes about 40 minutes to get to Tsubame-Sanjo Station. From there’s, its a 10 minute walk to the day’s first destination.

Destination #1: Silverware Center, Kitaro (洋食器センター キタロー)

should i be worried that part of the sign is missing?

I can’t exactly say I was skipping with joy to the silverware center. I mean, how excited could one person get? However, I did read somewhere that they have a spoon-making factory inside. Then I was like, “Well, I like factories. I watch TV shows like that all the time, where they enter a factory and show how stuff is made. Its fun.”

Right?…

…So, inside I went. And no one was there, except a few workers. I went to the back of the building where the ”factory” was, and it was closed. They had exactly what you would expect from a silverware center: silverware. Spoons and forks of all sizes. Pots and pans made out of expensive copper. And a wall of knives. There was a restaurant connected to the place, but that too was empty. However, I felt I should buy something before getting my stamp. In front of the register was an ¥80 bin. I rummaged through it and found a decent bottle opener, something I felt I should always carry around. You’d be surprised how often I’ve found myself in a situation requiring a bottle opener.

¥80 and a few steps later, I found my stamp.

7 down, 3 to go

With a new bottle opener in hand, it was time to head off to my my next destination.

...thanks?

Destination #2: Tsubame Sanjo Regional Industries Promotion Center (燕三条地場産業振興センター)

I chose to get a stamp here for two reasons.

One, it was within walking distance of the silverware center. And two, I had a coupon for a free crab spoon.

Considering the name of the place, I really didn’t know what to expect. What exactly is a regional industries promotion center, anyways? Was it some kind of convention hall? Or a tourist center?

Unfortunately, I didn’t care about getting the answer for either question because as soon as I was walking up to the doors, a huge bus pulled up and unloaded about 30 old people. I wasn’t sure if I should have taken it as a warning sign, but I entered anyways.

Inside, there was a restaurant, meeting halls, and a few displays with local metalwork and silverware goods. The stamp I needed was in front of the sales and exhibition hall, which was where most of the old people were making a bee line towards.

random question: do they still show those Ginza knife informercials back in the States?

Since I wasn’t in the mood to go silverware shopping, I presented my coupon for my free crab spoon, found my stamp, and got the hell out of there.

8 down, 2 to go

crab spoon posing with the alligator tongs i bought at last minute

With Tsubame-Sanjo out of the way, I walked back to the station to finally make my way to the last major area of the weekend.

to Shibata City!

From Tsubame-Sanjo Station to Tsukioka Station, it’s about a two hour ride via the Shinetsu and Uetsu lines.

The last spot of the day will be a hot springs resort area called Tsukioka Onsen, where I’ll be able to get the last 2 stamps needed.

Upon arrival, I assumed that Tsukioka Onsen would be within walking distance of the station since they share the same name.

That wasn’t the case.

Tsukioka Station

Looking around, there was absolutely nothing except for rows and rows of rice patties on one side of the station, and a few houses here and there on the other. Surely, there had to be a bus, I thought.

But in front of the station was a sign for Tsukioka Onsen. “10 minutes by car, 40 minutes on foot” was written at the top. No bus services available on weekends. -sigh-

im lost.

After all the rice patties (and sore feet from walking), you’ll finally come to the town of Tsukioka. Being a hot springs enthusiast, I was pretty excited to start looking around. I heard there’s a foot bath around, and after all that walking it was something to definitely look forward to. But other important matters come first.

Destination #3: Tsukioka Waku Waku Farm (月岡わくわくファーム)

Tsukioka Waku Waku Farm is a complex that promotes locally grown food, and also has a few restaurants, also featuring local ingredients. I thought it was going to have a hippie vibe, but it wasn’t that way at all. In fact, this place really seemed to appeal to couples and families. In the middle of the farm was a small courtyard, and it was there that I noticed that everyone was eating ice cream. After some snooping around, I found something better than an ice cream stand, a gelato stand!

chocolate banana! tiramisu! strawberry! aspa....huh?!

I know gelato shops are a dime a dozen in the States, but in Japan, it’s a rarity. The choices were plentiful and included flavors for everyone.

And then it caught my eye. Is that an asparagus spear sticking out? Indeed, it was. May is asparagus season, hence the asparagus gelato. The light green color kind of turned me off so I instead opted for the Echigo-Hime Strawberry gelato, a local (and sweet!) variety of strawberries grown in Niigata.

As I was heading out the door, there it was:

9 down, 1 to go

A farm wouldn’t be complete without a few animals. In addition to all the food they had there, there was also a goat and few rabbits.

random goat fact: they're good swimmers.

Starting to feel the pain from the 40 minute walk, I thought it was about time to finish this trip up.

Destination #4: Tsukioka-ya (月岡屋)

the finish line?

Tsukioka-ya is a manju shop. Manju is a traditional Japanese sweets that can be found throughout the country. In general, manju is about the size of a golf ball and has a soft, cake-like flour texture on the outside, with sweet bean paste filling on the inside. Each region has it’s own variation, such as green tea flavor, chocolate flavor, maple flavor, etc., so it’s worth while to try them out whenever traveling around Japan.

The manju I got didn’t taste any different than most I’ve already tried, but it was still delicious.

The old woman working at the counter was courteous enough to offer me some iced green tea, which was a welcome surprise. Was it that easy to see how exhausted I looked?

But it all paid off, because right next to the register was the final stamp.

FINISHED!!

Feeling accomplished and satisfied, I thought I deserved a foot bath.

Finally getting the chance to catch a break, I take a glance a brochure I found about the hot springs town and find out that there’s a shuttle that can take me back to the station!! There was no way I could do another 40 minute trek back to the station, so I found the bus stop and waited there.

The pick-up time came and went, and I started to get worried. Maybe I read something wrong? Maybe it’s just running late? As I was reading over the brochure more closely, I was struck with a gust of wind and looked up to see the bus driving away. Panicked, I thought about running after it but it was already too late. Why didn’t it stop for me? But after looking at the bus stop signs, I realized I was waiting on the wrong side of the road.

And it was the last bus of the day.

Next to the bus stop, there was a liquor shop where I bought a couple beers. Using my newly purchased bottle opener, I cracked open a tall bottle of Sapporo and started my 40 minute walk back to the station.

Feet blistered, and a little drunk, I arrived at the station, boarded the train, and  headed back home.

accomplishment is delicious.

Completed stamp card in hand, I filled out all the important stuff, and off it went.

safe travels

I have to remember that this is a contest. A time-consuming, slightly expensive, and exhausting contest. By mailing this in, it’s not guaranteed that I’ll actually win anything.

But for me, that wasn’t the point. On this 2-day trip around Niigata Prefecture, I was able to realize that there’s still stuff worth doing. It just takes a little searching, that’s all. And the reward FAR outweighs the effort. It’s nice that to say that I was able to try TEN new things and places in such a short amount of time. How many people can say that about where they live, especially if they’ve already been there for years and years.

Point being, any town can become boring, no matter how big or small it is, if it’s left unexplored.

…whoa, deep.

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One response to “Densha de Dan #4: The Niigata Stamp Rally (Part Two)

  • Marke

    Hey this sounds like a really fun adventure. You’re right that a town can become boring after a while so getting out there to look at different things can really uncover hidden gems.

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