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Niigata Noise Autumn 2017 Issue

Manga Magic! Discover The Manga World In Niigata

Fall In Love With Kōyō!

Credits Editor-In-Chief Samantha Wolfe Assistant Editors Robert Burns Sean Callahan Jenny Stein Design And Layouts Robert Burns Jenny Stein Samantha Wolfe

Article Contributors Francesca Abbondanza-Bergeron Robert Burns Sean Callahan Elizabeth Harrington Disante Johnson Ben Kohanski Korina Kozakevich (Burns) Angela Marie Moore Tathia MomPremier Jenny Stein Julia von Siebenthal Samantha Wolfe Photo Contributors Robert Burns Cara Lammie Jenny Stein Sharlene Su Julia von Siebenthal Samantha Wolfe

All article images have been provided by either the article’s author or Niigata Noise photo contributors, unless otherwise stated.

Contents Editorials And Interviews 4 Letter From The Editor 6 Welcome New JETs! 8 What Japanese Animal Are You? 14 Ask Mimir 16 Culture 20 The Mangaful World Of Niigata 22 Festival Focus - Hanabi 26 Niigata-Ben Lesson: Sanjo 32 Travel 34 Niigata Spotlight - Ojiya 36 Myoko Happiness Illumination 42 Event Review - Sado Earth Celebration 44 Seasonal Spotlight - Kōyō 52 Reviews 58 Film Review - Wonder Woman 60 Board Game Reviews - Let’s Printing 62 Café Review - Atoms Café 64 Restaurant Review - Hey, Chutta! 66 Creative 68 Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Muffins 70 Spot The Differences 72 Haikus 74 Solutions and Extras 76

Editorials And Interviews

Letter From The Editor

Dear Readers, The once brilliant green of Niigata’s foliage is changing to amazing warm colors of red, orange, and gold. With the arrival of fall, the air is getting cooler and the scent of winter is approaching. I think it’s the perfect opportunity to wrap up in a blanket and read quietly, listening to the autumn breeze whip by. So if you’re like me, why not check out Niigata Noise! Autumn edition! We have great articles for you this issue! Explore the secrets of Ojiya, discover the magic of the Myoko Illumination, find beautiful places to see the changing leaves, or learn some Niigata-ben! There are many more articles where those came from, so please have a read! Let’s enjoy the fall season. I’m going to celebrate it with a haiku! As the fall wind stirs Burning colors stain the air I hear winter sigh

Samantha Wolfe Editor-in-Chief Niigata Noise

Welcome New JETs! It’s that time of year! We are all sad because many of our wonderful JET friends have left the program and moved on to their next adventure. But we are also SUPER EXCITED because lots of new and interesting people have come to take their place! So let’s meet some of this year’s new JETs. Who are they? Where have they come from? And what do they expect from Japan??.

Jordanne Elliot From: Jamaica Placement: Kashiwazaki Teaching: SHS Nihongo-o: Basic Manga/Anime Alter Ego: Pikachuuuuuuuuu (Pokémon)

Why Japan? Why JET? What made you apply for the program? Jamaica, like Japan, is an island, but we are very small (smaller than Niigata prefecture itself). Japan is vastly different. Life in the East, especially Japanese culture, appeals to me. I chose to apply to the JET Programme because it is highly accredited and I felt much safer experiencing this journey with such a strong team, especially since this is my first time being away from home. First impressions? What definitely stood out for me was how courteous the people are. The Japanese have been extremely kind to me and are naturally curious about where I’m from and my culture. The major thing that took me a while to get used to were the

stares; I stick out like a sore thumb here but I’m okay now ^_^ Most surprising thing so far? Nothing really shocks me anymore after having experienced the heated toilets. Most challenging thing so far? Definitely the language, but I’m studying! What are you looking forward to or hoping to achieve in Japan? I hope to improve my Japanese and make lifelong connections here. This opportunity is a great way to meet people of different backgrounds and to share my culture as well. In every situation there’s something to learn and perhaps improve :D

Daniel Gould

From: Louisiana, USA Placement: Uonuma Teaching: SHS Nihongo-o: Early Intermediate Manga/Anime Alter Ego: Tombo (Kiki’s Delivery Service)

Why Japan? Why JET? What made you apply for the program? I have been interested in Japanese culture for a long time. Not long after college, I reached a point in my life where I wanted to leave Louisiana for a while, learn a language, and go on an international adventure while I was still young and Japan was the most alluring country. I found that the JET program was widely praised by past participants and it seemed like a great way to fulfill this dream. First impressions? There are many things that I have immediately taken a liking to in my rural town. The mountains around Uonuma are truly stunning and every day that I walk, run, or bike along my town’s river I feel at peace. There is also an adorable charm to life in Japan compared to America. The K-cars, small houses, conveyor-belt sushi, Japanese-style supermarkets, even the cute mascot creatures printed on everything, all of these things have made moments in my first month seem like a surreal and cute dream. However, it has been a real struggle at times to feel settled into my town and community. People really do not seem used to seeing a Westerner in their town and many often avoid me in public encounters. I have found the best way to counteract this is to greet, using Japanese, anybody that I pass on the street and usually they immediately warm up and seem more comfortable.

Most surprising thing so far? The most surprising thing would definitely be the degree to which students show respect to teachers. Every single time a student enters the faculty office they knock, say “shitsurei shimasu”, announce their name, year in school, and say which teacher they wish to speak to and about what. Every single time; I’ve never seen it not happen. Most challenging thing so far? Definitely adapting to being a foreigner in my small town. Compared to my travels in Japan last year in which I primarily visited cities that get lots of foreign travelers, the experience of living in a small rural town was quite shocking and demoralizing at first. Finding ways to try and overcome this challenge has given me satisfaction though, and I feel like it will ultimately be a fulfilling part of the experience when I reflect back on it. What are you looking forward to or hoping to achieve in Japan? While I am in Japan I hope to make the most of the language learning that I have been doing. I wish to become familiar with the culture, customs and, lifestyle so that even after JET is over I will continue to return to Japan and develop a lifelong relationship with the country. I also really want to adopt the Japanese style of drawing the cutest little creatures imaginable.

Elizabeth “Ellie” Harrington From: California, USA Placement: Muikamachi Teaching: SHS Nihongo-o: Complete Beginner Manga/Anime Alter Ego: Rukia, from Bleach, because she’s tough and does her best, but sometimes beats herself up about things. She always finds her motivation again though and also loves cute things.

Why Japan? Why JET? What made you apply for the program? I’ve visited Japan before, when I was 12, then again when I was 22 to visit a friend (now boyfriend haha). It’s a very vibrant country, and the closest I’ve felt to visiting another planet. I don’t know the language and wanted to challenge myself to live here, and learn what I could from the experience. I also have teaching experience and have learned so much from my students in the past, and felt that we could share our countries with each other. First impressions? It’s greener than the claredon Instagram filter here in Niigata, and the rice really does taste the best. Most surprising thing so far? I won’t lie. I was told Japan doesn’t have Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks, and for a country so in love with the idea of seasonal flavours I was both surprised and devastated to learn I’d be without my favourite fall delicacy this year. Hopefully the Sakura flavour is good, whenever that comes around.

Most challenging thing so far? I had three people in my apartment the other day, two fluent Japanese speakers, all wrestling with a wifi router. I’d been in Japan for a month and still didn’t have internet in my house, and the amount of frustration and subsequent isolation brought on by having to walk to a 7/11 to Skype my friends, was rough. When I finally got it working a few days later, I legit cried a little. Also, the garbage and recycling situation will be a year-long learning endeavour and I’ve accepted that. What are you looking forward to or hoping to achieve in Japan? I want to learn as much of the language as I can, so what better classroom than its native country? I also really want to get better at snowboarding, and I’m living in snow country so that works for me. I definitely want to encourage all of my students to explore and travel the world like I am, so I hope I’ll be able to influence them by just interacting with them a few times a week and spreading positive vibes.

Oliver “Oli” Garrud From: Sheffield, U.K. Placement: Nagaoka Teaching: JHS Nihongo-o: Complete Beginner Manga/Anime Alter Ego: Haku (Spirited Away)…who wouldn’t want to be able to turn into a dragon?!

Why Japan? Why JET? What made you apply for the program? I wanted a change of job and to live in a totally different culture. First impressions? Of Japan: what is this humid heat?! It’s totally alien to me. And of Nagaoka: beautiful scenery and ugly shopping malls! Most surprising thing so far? How smooth and easy the transition has been—a

testament to how helpful and lovely my BOE has been. Most challenging thing so far? Branching out from English speaking circles and forcing myself to improve my hopeless Japanese. What are you looking forward to or hoping to achieve in Japan? Doing cool stuff with cool people, and teach English good!

Hannah Wells

From: Nottingham, England Placement: Nagaoka Teaching: JHS/ES Nihongo-o: Beginner Manga/Anime Alter Ego: (To be discovered in Japan...)

Why Japan? Why JET? What made you apply for the program? I wanted to travel and decided teaching English abroad was a good way to do so. I wanted to visit Japan because of its unique culture/traditions and modern technology. I heard the JET Programme

was good so decided to go for it as Japan would be too expensive for me to get to easily on my own. First impressions? My experience so far has been so much better than I could have hoped – I am incredibly lucky to have a very supportive Board of Education supervisor

and colleagues who have helped me set up my apartment etc. My schools and the students are nice and I have been enjoying teaching my own lessons. One of my schools tends to only tell me what they want me to do an hour or less before the actual lesson but luckily my colleagues share a lot of teaching resources. Most surprising thing so far? The amount of paperwork and bureaucracy there has been setting up a bank account, a car and driving license etc. I’ve spent a lot of work time over the summer filling out forms. I’m also surprised by how strong peoples’ legs are here— how do they squat the way they do for so long?

Most challenging thing so far? Trying to understand mail and online forms etc. It can get frustrating having to always ask others for help interpreting and I feel like a nuisance at times. What are you looking forward to or hoping to achieve in Japan? I hope that soon I will have signed up to a class of some sort like art or sport. It’s been easy so far for me as I moved here with two other new JETs and we’ve met lots of other private teachers etc. But I want to go out of my comfort zone and make friends with people who are not so fluent in English.

Will Blake

From: Portland, Oregon, USA Placement: Itoigawa Teaching: JHS/ES Nihongo-o: Beginner - Intermediate Manga/Anime Alter Ego: Brock (Pokémon)

Why Japan? Why JET? What made you apply for the program? I have always had an appreciation for Japanese culture, especially education. I read a book by TR Reid about how Confucian principles are used in the Japanese education system and so I wanted to see how I could better my teaching skills before I go for my masters. JET was a coincidence. My Japanese professor in college knew of it and told me I could teach in Japan—something I had wanted to do. I applied because I wanted to seize the opportunity and not sit on it too long. I needed to jump into something new and exciting at this point in my life. First impressions? Good! Itoigawa is a sleepy coastal town, exactly where I have always wanted to live.

Most surprising thing so far? I have not had any bad food here in Japan yet. Besides a Sukiya in Kyoto, every single “real” restaurant has been delicious so far. Most challenging thing so far? I have gotten sick a few days and had a return of my lower back pain so it has been a trying time physically, especially because I don’t want to use my nenkyuu. But school-wise and culture-wise it’s been great! What are you looking forward to or hoping to achieve in Japan? I want to learn. As long as I keep learning I feel like I have a place on JET. If I’m not still learning by the end of the year I want to give my spot to someone who is going to!!

Good luck new JETs!! From all the team at Niigata Noise.

Interviews Conducted By Jenny Stein

What Japanese Animal Are You? A Personality Test

By Julia von Sieben

1. What’s your favorite region in Japan?

A) Hokkaido. あ B) Any of the smaller islands. う C) Literally anywhere, I like exploring cities as well. い D) Rural Japan is the best. え

2. What’s your social life like? A) I like being surrounded by family and friends nonstop. え B) I just need one close friend or partner and I`m happy. い C) Alone time is bliss. う D) Some people are okay but they need to keep their distance. あ 3. What do you do in winter?

A) Hibernation. い B) Onsen time! え C) I just stay put. The cold never bothered me anyway. あ and う

4. What’s your favorite way to breathe?

A) Beak. あ B) Nose. え C) Snout. い D) Oxygen absorption through skin. う

5. What’s the perfect water activity for you?

A) Soaking in a cold riverbed for a couple of hours.う B) Looking for snacks in the cold water by sticking my head into it. あ C) No water for me, it would mess up my hair. い D) Sitting in steaming hot water with 30 wild monkeys. え

nthal 6. What’s your favorite snack?

A) Fruits, leaves, fungi. え B) Frogs, crabs, shrimp. う C) Berries, rodents, birds. い D) Fish, snails, dragonflies. あ

7. What’s your favorite defense strategy?

A) Camouflage against the ground of a riverbed. う B) Jabbing with my beak. あ C) Scratching and biting. い and え

8. How do you want to die? A) Run over by a kei car. い B) Extinct because of habitat loss. あ C) Fatally sick after accidentally eating litter. う D) Electrocuted by a tourist who dropped his smartphone in the water. え

Now count your hiragana! Click here to see your results.

Dear ALTea, Seeing someone’s face in your tea leaves can have many different meanings depending on the situation. However, considering this is your student, there are two very probable explanations. The first one would be that you worry about this student. Perhaps they are not performing as well as they usually are. Perhaps they seem to always be tired recently. The leaves indicate that you have been thinking about them and worrying about their well-being. The second explanation, if you haven’t been concerned with this student before then, is that they are in need of your help. They might be struggling with their work or looking for someone to talk to. They probably see you as someone who could help them, but don’t know how to ask for your help. In both situations, I would advise that you go check up on this student and see if everything is okay. Let them know that you are willing to listen and help them if you can. Sincerely, Your humble advisor,


Dear Unexpectedly Expecting, If it is a real one, you should expect a human baby in roughly 9 months. Human babies don’t really do much at the beginning. They mostly sleep, eat, and cry. However, with some hard work, love, and determination, you will have a fully-grown human in about 18 years. Be aware that the brain will take 25 years to fully mature. If you are uncertain about how to care for the child, do not worry. Many books already exist on this subject and you will have 9 months to familiarize yourself with this topic.

Dear GiveMeMyPhoneCall, Unfortunately, as of right now, giving advice is all I capable of doing. I still need a few years of education before I am allowed to give legal counsel. I am sure you will be able to find qualified individuals for your friend. Sincerely, Your humble advisor,

Sincerely, Your humble advisor,



P.S. I hope that wasn’t your one phone call...

Dear Chicken Little, The tanuki crosses the road to affirm its presence to the humans of the region. It is its way of saying that it lives here and will not be turned away by the danger of humans or their cars. Please be sure to show them respect when you see them. Sincerely, Your humble advisor,


Dear No You Go First,

I understand the struggle you are going through. There aren’t many things m at a work place than getting trapped in an endless loop of politeness. Japan is very polite country. Even the language itself embodies this with the many di forms one can use while speaking it. It is therefore not surprising that politen occur rather frequently at your workplace. One important thing to keep in m these politeness loops cause a bit of a paradox. Within these loops, if you try polite, you end up being impolite. By being stubborn and refusing to go first coworker of the honor of being polite. It is very important to avoid this, whi suggest that, after a maximum of two “iie, dozo”s, you change your approac to let them through a maximum of two times, thank your coworker, acknow politeness, and go first. Your gratitude will reflect positively on you and, just will be free of the politeness loop! I hope this will help you navigate your wo confidence and humbleness. Sincerely, Your humble advisor,


Dear Where’s my combini gone?!,

No, I do not believe this to be the work of ninjas. While ninjas are incredib probably could make a house disappear in an afternoon if they wanted to, buildings isn't usually a common practice of theirs. However, there are ent renown to do just this thing. I believe the house was stolen and brought in by ghosts. With Halloween fast approaching, ghosts will become more and could be but a mere start. Ghosts will often try to lead humans into their r Keep an eye open for anything abnormal and remember to carry a 5-yen c all times. Good luck. Sincerely, Your humble advisor,


more awkward s culturally a fferent polite ness loops can mind is that y to be too t, you rob your ich is why I h. After trying wledge their t like that, you orkplace with

bly skilled and stealing entire tities that a nto another realm d more active. This realm if they can. coin with you at

Dear ALT in love or in lust, Once again, I must advise you to take things slowly and approach the situation with precaution. Only a month ago, you believed yourself to be in love with your math teacher. Now, just a few weeks later, you seem to have been swept away by this new physics teacher. Considering how quickly and strongly you are responding to these teachers, you seem to be prone to getting crushes rather than this being something more profound such as love. This is not to say that love can’t grow from these crushes. Most love stories begin with a simple crush. However, since this is your workplace, you must proceed with care. Otherwise, the entire office might have to pay for it. It is difficult to rival the feeling of awkwardness that arises from working with two coworkers that had a fling that didn’t work out. Get to know this physics teacher as a person. Find out if you two have anything in common. There is no rush and finding a good relationship is worth taking ones time. Sincerely, Your humble advisor,



The Mangaful World of Niigata

By Samantha Wolfe


iigata Prefecture has built its reputation on many great things rice, sake, snow, Ken Watanabe, and the badass samurai Uesugi Kenshin. But there is something else that Niigata boasts about - manga! There have been many great manga artists from Niigata such as Shinji Mizushima author of the baseball manga, Dokaben. You can find the statues of his characters in Furumachidori. There is also Takeshi Obata, author of Hikaru-no-go and Death Note; Nobuhiro Watsuki, creator of Rurouni Kenshin; and Rumiko Takahashi, writer of Ranma ½ and Inuyasha. The list goes on. 22

Niigata City, as the birth place of many manga artists, is trying to attract more manga lovers with special events. The Niigata City Manga Anime Museum has an exhibit where you can learn more about the famous authors of Niigata and you can also experience making manga or voice acting. You can watch short anime shows of the characters Hanano Komachi and Sasa Dangoro, who were especially made to represent Niigata City. Hanano Komachi’s look is based off of the Niigata tulip and she carries a manga pen with her and Sasa Dangoro of course takes his looks from Sasadango and carries the ink

in the anime industry and the Cosplay parade, which you can participate in. The Cosplay sign up is until October 9th! If you want to learn more about the festival here is the website:

of manga artists. If you’re interested in watching them, you can check them out at html. The museum also often has a special exhibition of different authors or manga magazines; a few months ago I attended the anniversary exhibition of the shoujo magazine LaLa. The exhibit was a treat to my otome heart! So keep an eye out for other exhibits that may seduce your inner otaku. There is also the Manga House, where you can relax while reading manga or try your hand at making manga! There are free classes about manga and they also provide a free, small manga exhibition there too. And let’s not forget Gatafuesu, the Anime and Manga Festival in October. That’s right, an Anime and Manga festival! This year it will be held on October 21st and 22nd. There will be special events held like experiencing making an anime or manga, listening to a voice actor talk about their experience

But have you ever wondered what it would take to become a manga artist? Well I did. I found out that JAM, the Japan Animation and Manga College in Furumachi, Niigata City holds an open campus and I went! JAM is a major manga and anime college where people from all over Japan come to visit the open campus, hoping to make their manga dreams come to life. For me, the open campus was a great experience because I was always curious about how manga is created. When I walked in, the students helping 23

Underworld. She is also originally from Niigata and she loves her work, and she told us to keep following our dreams.

©2017 Umiharu/SQUARE ENIX Cereberus of the Underworld by Umi Haru

out were very friendly and helped me fill in my information page and lead me to where I needed to go. At JAM, there are five different majors to choose from - Manga Illustration, Comic Illustration, Character Design, Animator, or Manga/Illustrator Master. I decided I wanted to learn more about the Manga/ Illustrator Master course, so I signed up for their example class experience. Before attending, I went to the opening presentation and listened to a fairly new manga artist speak. The author was Umi Haru うみハル, a former student of JAM and creator of the Manga series 冥界のケ ルベロス, or in English - Cerberus of the

Afterwards, I was sent off with four other students and a JAM teacher and learned a little about illustrating on the computer. We also had a senior student teach us the ropes as we tried coloring in an anime figure. We learned a little bit about choosing colors as well as how to create shadows and light. The software was a tricky but I could see that once you learn how to use it, it would be a breeze to create exactly what you want in your manga. It was a lot of fun and we were helped by bubbly JAM students, but after watching the senior student create a master piece, I knew I had a long way to go. My JAM teacher was great! He told us that there were others prior to us that were not artists at first, but eventually they created amazing manga. He showed us examples of pictures from a student when they first started and when they graduated after three years. It was amazing how different the pictures had become, as though different people had created them. He also explained that people see images differently but you can create something that everyone can identify. He drew different images on the board and asked what we saw; one student saw a window, while I saw a

domino piece. He kept drawing different shapes until we both thought we saw a person standing on a street. He used the most simple of shapes, but he created something we could recognize in the end. My teacher’s advice was that every person is different. There is no good or bad, just different. Never say muri! So now I’m hoping to be a great Niigata manga artist! The open campus was three hours long, but the time flew by and I soon found myself walking away from that magical place. There are a lot of things to learn to be a manga artist: illustration, design, character creation, art, and English! Manga artists at JAM also take English classes to reach out to other comic artists in the world. The manga world is growing even more! There are more open

campus opportunities at JAM so come on down to the city and become a Niigata manga artist!

Niigata City Manga Anime Museum 2-5-7 Yachiyo, Chuo-ku, Niigata-shi, Niigata-ken 950-0909 index.html Niigata Manga House 971-7 Furumachidori 6 Bancho, Chuo-ku, Niigata-shi, Niigata-ken 951-8063 Japan Animation and Manga College 602-1 Furumachidori 5 Bancho, Chuo-ku, Niigata-shi, Niigata-ken 951-8063

Festival Focus

i b a n a H By Jenny Stein

Here in Japan, hanabi refers to any one of a number of fireworks displays that take place around the country, particularly those over the summer season. Japan’s fireworks are renowned throughout the world for their size and variety, and some of the displays here in Niigata Prefecture are renowned throughout Japan. Ergo, you can see some of the most spectacular fireworks in the world right here in Niigata! Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen them already you’ve probably missed out this year. While you might catch fireworks at any number of local festivals throughout the year, the largest fireworks displays in Niigata Prefecture all take place between late July and mid-September.

However, attending hanabi is not for the faint hearted. There are crowds of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, all vying to lay down a tarp and claim their patch of ground from which to sit and view the event. While you can pay to reserve the choicest viewing positions, the displays are all so massive you’re guaranteed a great view from the free areas as well, but be aware that some people camp out more than a day in advance in order to claim the top spots here too. This may seem a bit extreme to those unfamiliar with hanabi. After all, why go to all that trouble just to watch 20minute’s worth of fireworks? Surely you can just stand?? Certainly that was my thought when I first went to hanabi, scarcely a week after I first arrived in Japan. Back home we think a 20minute display is a good run, and 30

minutes is legendary…but not so Japan! I soon discovered that an advertised three hour display is literally a three hour display. The fireworks are let off in semi-continuous waves, often interrupted only by sponsors’ announcements. My first time out it was all a little overwhelming. Two hours into the near-constant explosions overhead I began experiencing some sort of fireworks fatigue. If you close your eyes you might imagine you’re in some kind of war zone (which makes me think hanabi must be terrifying for anyone who has ever actually experienced one). But if you don’t mind flashing bright lights and really loud noises then you’re going to be in for a treat!

So what are the best fireworks displays in Niigata Prefecture? We’ve reviewed the four biggest to help you choose which ones to mark down on your calendar for next year. While each is unique in its setting and details, no matter which one you choose you are guaranteed a grand spectacle of fiery delights, whether its great rockets that burst into nebulas of ever-changing colour, fireworks that burst into the shape of love hearts, hellokitty, or teddy bears, or enormous multi-rocket cascades that seem to consume the entire sky, you’re bound to be left with your eyes wide and your jaw dropping. Ultimately “hanabi” means a fireworks display you are unlikely to experience outside of Japan. So grab yourself a yukata, make a note on your calendar, and save a date to catch hanabi next year!

26th July

Kashiwazaki Kashiwazaki’s location is what makes its display stand out from the other big displays in Niigata Prefecture. Situated right on the coast, with an expanse of beach and shoreline to accommodate the thousands of people who come to watch, Kashiwazaki City lets off fireworks from platforms built right next to and on the sea. Consequently, festival goers are treated to a 2.5+ hour long display of approximately 15,000 fireworks bursting across an uninterrupted skyline above, and reflected in the water below. The display features a variety of colours and patterns, however the most spectacular sequence is a cascade of golden fireworks that builds and builds, as rockets are semi-continuously let off with ever increasing size and height. The trails of flickering embers rain down, turning a great swathe of sky into a giant waterfall of golden fire. Though not the most colourful sequence of the night, its these ones that draw the greatest gasps from the crowd.

In contrast to other displays, Kashiwazaki has comparatively few and much shorter announcements between sets which arguably makes the overall display more enjoyable. But beware, the open coastal space means there is nothing to absorb the energy from the explosions, so as well as being very loud, if you’re right on the shore, be prepared for a second heartbeat when the pressure wave from the biggest fireworks hits your chest. Stalls selling festival food are a short walk from the main viewing area, but be prepared to queue for a long time. Parking can be a nightmare, but you can still park quite close even late in the day if you’re willing to pay \2000-3000 to park in a private parking lot a short walk from the shore. Bear in mind that the closer you park the longer it will take to get out of traffic on the way home!

In summary: While other displays may have slightly larger or more technical fireworks, if you want an almost uninterrupted and unique seaside display, this is the one to see!

1st - 3rd August


Of all the displays in Niigata Prefecture, this is the most famous and draws people from all over the country—not to mention the world—to watch it. And not without reason. Here you’ll see possibly the most beautiful and technically complex fireworks of all the displays, interspersed with sets of enormous symmetrical rockets that seem to light up the entire sky. Launching some 20,000+ fireworks over an approximately 1km-long stretch of the Shinano River is going to do that. Several of these are the enormous sanshakudama (“3-shakuball”). “Shaku” is a unit of measure roughly equivalent to 30cm, which gives you an idea of the diameter of these beasts. They look like man-sized gas cannisters on the ground, and burst into 650m wide florets in the sky. The grandest sequence is aptly named the “Phoenix”.

Nagaoka Hanabi is held over two nights during the 3-day Nagaoka Festival, which over one million people reputedly attend. The festival commemorates the day Nagaoka was bombed during WWII, and you get the impression that in its celebration of hanabi the city is saying something along the lines of “You think those were explosions? These are explosions!”. Viewing areas span both banks of the river, and are divided into sections, with those nearest the bridge reserved for ticket holders. As with other festivals there are several food stalls with long queues, but most people seem to pack a picnic dinner. You can access the area by packed train, bus or by car. Traffic is notoriously bad, but if you’re like me and would rather walk for 45 minutes than sit in your car not moving for the same length of time, then parking for free next to the I.C. on the outskirts of town and walking is a good option.

In summary: The 3+ hour-long Nagaoka Hanabi is the fireworks display to see for sheer grandeur, variety and epic festival atmosphere.

6th August


By Samantha Wolfe

Niigata Hanabi is part of the three days long Niigata Festival which usually starts on the Friday of the first weekend of August. The Bandai area is awash with festival food, companies from all over the city participate in the Bandai Bridge Dance, and on the Saturday night there is a small fireworks display to give a taste of what’s to come the next day. If you want to save a good spot for the main display, consider putting a tarp down somewhere on the banks of the Shinano River at the crack of dawn—or one in the morning, like I did! The fireworks are launched over the Showa Ohashi Bridge, and while the spectacle of magnificent fireworks bursting over the river against the backdrop of city lights is a mesmerizing sight, do be prepared to listen to long sponsors’ announcements between sets. Like most big displays the sequences are beautifully choreographed, and showcase a range of patterns and colours. The biggest sequence, called

“Evolution”, is a bright extravaganza that will make your heart flutter, before the final sequence, dubbed “Niagara Falls”, lights up the Ohashi Bridge in a cascade of gold. Viewing areas for Niigata Hanabi are a 15 minute walk from Niigata Station. Driving and parking is a similar trial of patience to other festivals. You have to enter the viewing area along the river bank before the display starts because the staff rope off the river to prevent more people from entering once the display has begun. Once you are there you can grab food at nearby stalls, or tuck into your pre-prepared picnic basket.

In summary: If you don’t mind long announcements and want to soak in the grandeur of a wonderful fireworks display with an urban backdrop, then Niigata Hanabi is the one for you!

9th - 10th September


Even some people living in Niigata may not have heard of the town of Katakai, and it’s true that it’s an unassuming little town in comparison with the other displays we’re reviewing. But the reason this display makes the list is that it is home to the biggest firework in the world—the Yonshakudama (4-shaku-balls). Weighing some 420kg, this monster is launched into the air and bursts into a 730m wide floret of sparkling multistage colour. While the world’s biggest firework is the main drawcard, the rest of the display is also spectacular. Various rockets burst in waterfalls of gold, starbursts of blue and red, and nebulas of ever-changing multi-colour. The Katakai Fireworks are launched from the Asahara Shrine. The main viewing area is a comparatively small open space in front of the shrine where several thousand people squeeze in to have an unobstructed view of the display. Those left over line the surrounding streets to watch the semi-continuous, announcement-free display. Yonshakudama-aside, the rockets seem especially big due to how close you are to the launching area, even as their sound is dampened slightly by the surrounding buildings. The launching of a yonshakudama is the 10pm finale of a 3hr display held on both evenings of the festival. Festival food is a short walk away and access is easy on foot or by shuttle bus from one of a number of nearby free parking lots.

In summary: Whether you’re after a more intimate display with a variety of technically advanced and wonderfully colourful fireworks, or simply want to be able to brag that you have seen the biggest firework in the world, don’t miss hanabi in Katakai!

Niigata-BenLesson: Sanjo

By Samantha Wolfe *picture: Honjo-ji Temple


people are really shy because they are ave you ever wanted to learn mostly craftsmen; they don’t often speak to outsiders. So Sanjo-ben is a soft a Niigata dialect? Well I have just the dialect. Let’s try it! thing for you! Sanjo-ben! I talked with one of my Japanese teachers of English, The most important thing to remember Kiyoshi Kawasaki, leading expert in about Sanjo-ben, like other Niigata Sanjo-ben. He’s an amazing person dialects, is that it often mixes up い and and was more than happy to share his え. For example let’s look at いちご or knowledge about his native tongue. strawberry, it’s pronounced えちご, One thing Mr. Kawasaki said to me Echigo, which is the old name of Niigata! If you want to impress your Japanese about Sanjo-ben is that, when spoken, it sounds mumbled, quick, and not very friends try this party trick, I’m sure they will be in awe of you! clear. The reason, he said, is that Sanjo 32

What else can you do? How about brainstorming means. So I ask what changing あなた for うめさん or less brain and storm means individually, and formal うめ. You can soften the tone when I ask for brain, my students reply “ of your voice by using ~ろがて to the のう.” And I reply, “Really? I didn’t ‘の end of your sentence. Here are some う’! A-ha...a-ha...a-ha...” Well, for times examples - うめさん つかてろがて (you like these you can whip out this Sanjolook tired, poor baby) or うめ ねむぇろ ben phrase – “しょきもねこと ゆうねい がて (you look sleepy, poor thing). Do て!” (Don’t say such a dumb thing! You you see what I did? I didn’t use ねむい disgust me!) Yes, this phrase incorporates but ねむぇ or you can use ねむて! You both of these sayings! Pretty useful, can also replace the ~ます form with ~ right? らろまさ or the short form ~らて. Here is an example – 東京 行くらろまさ (I’m And Mr. Kawasaki has some things going to Tokyo). See, Sanjo-ben is not so he wants to tell you readers: hard! 「うめさん ていした もんだて。ねい がた きて ようやてねがて。がんばりな Mr. Kawasaki also gave me some せの。」(あなた たいしたもの ですね。 useful expressions you can try! If 新潟 きて よっく。がんばって。) You are someone surprises you, you can exclaim a wonderful person. You’re working hard おっこっこっこ..... (But this is only in Niigata. Do you’re best! acceptable if you’re an older woman). If you haven’t seen someone in a long time use this - おっこっこっこ!ひさしぶり らねがて or in short form – おっこっ こっこ!ひさしぶりらの!(OMG! Long time no see!) Oh no! There’s natto on my plate! そんげやらて!そんげ is そ れ and やらて is やだ in other words, I don’t like that! (Please don’t use this if the person serving you natto is there.) One of my favorite jokes I use on my students is when I explain what 33


Niigata Spotlight In every Niigata Noise Issue, we travel to a new part of Niigata prefecture. This time we stumbled across Ojiya, a hidden treasure that holds breath-taking beauty.


A City of Thousand


ds of Small Towns

By Tathia MomPreMier


magine stumbling upon a well buried treasure. Oh, what could be better than unexpected jewels found? The excitement, the joy, and the gratefulness of having found precious metals, unexpectedly is exactly how it feels to experience the city of Ojiya as it truly is. Like a buried treasure, Ojiya ( 小千谷), on the surface, appears to be no more than a typical inaka town with its numerous rice fields and its median age of 65 years old. But to truly discover the spirit of Ojiya, a visitor must give it more than a passing glance. Those who have done so have found that next to the deteriorating buildings, underneath the rocks and the snow, somewhere in north of Niigata, lies the prefecture’s best kept secret. There, the keen eye can experience elements of Japan’s past and witness her transition into modernity. The keenest eye might even argue to see a clear foreshadowing of the nation’s future. No, there is no glitz and glamour here, no skyscrapers and flashy screens, yet this magnificent city will enchant you with her charms and captivate you with her natural beauty. Like the Seine River flows through Paris, so does Japan’s longest and widest river through Ojiya. The Shinano River (信濃川, Shinano-gawa) leaves east and west Ojiya to be reconnected by several bridges, among them the Asahi Bridge. No, Édith Piaf cannot be heard on the radio in the streets, but the liveliness of taiko drums and the laughter of precious children in the background creates an equally beautiful sound. Located in the north central part of Niigata Prefecture, the city of Ojiya was established on April 1st, 1889, however it only achieved city status on March 10th, 1954. As of this writing, the city has an estimated population of less than 40,000 people. Its official flower 38

is the spring perennial narcissus flower. This bright and beautiful flower can be seen printed and carved as decorations on various items and locations around the city. It can also be seen in several fields and private gardens throughout the city in spring and early summer. Ojiya is surrounded by gorgeous mountains which change colors with each season. Whether displaying spring and summer green, adorned in autumn brown or dressed in winter white, these elegant mountains stand lofty in the background and give the city an aesthetic advantage, pleasing to the eye in every direction, showcasing a land resplendent with nature’s beauty. It is so unbelievably beautiful that it could almost be mistaken for a welldesigned screen by a top Hollywood designer. This view is best observed from the Asahi Bridge and is guaranteed to leave visitors in awe of the spectacular scenery. Ojiya’s very own Mt. Yamamoto ( 山本山), which can be climbed by the most novice of hikers, often leaves hikers of all skill levels satisfied by her challenge and mesmerized by her beauty. The people of Ojiya are particularly proud of the city fish, the Japanese carp. Nishikigoi (錦鯉),as it is known in Japan , originated from Ojiya. This beautiful fish can be found in a variety of colors and patterns. The colorful carps can be seen in ponds and water gardens in several homes and businesses in Ojiya. They can also be seen in the annual colored carp competition, which attracts carp enthusiasts and buyers from all over the world. It is common for some of the carp to be sold at a price that could be regarded as exorbitant from the perspective of the general public and the novice, but is regarded as justly priced from the perspective of carp connoisseurs and breeders. For those who simply wish to enjoy their beauty, they can be seen at nishikigoi no sato (錦鯉の

里) which features both indoor and outdoor ponds, beautiful outdoor gardens, and offers information on the history of nishikigoi breeding. Ojiya’s nishikigoi no sato is the only place in the world where a variety of live carp species are on display, along with a comprehensive history of the breeding of certain colors and patterns. The nishikigoi is also the National Fish of Japan.

As hinted by its name, the city of Ojiya consists of several small towns. For this reason, it has been suggested that the English translation of its name, “thousands of small towns”, fits the city’s personality better than most other translations. Indeed, a map of the city reveals a number of small towns weaved together to form the city of Ojiya. Each of these towns boasts their own history, and some of them Chief among the things founded or are much older than the city of Ojiya itself. As such, Ojiya hosts not improved in Ojiya, one, but two summer is the delectable festivals with the Ojiya hegi soba. Epicures, Summer Festival in particularly those August and the worldinterested in Asian renowned Katakai cuisine, are often Summer Festival at a loss for words in early September. when describing this famous soba from The Katakai Festival Ojiya. It tastes as is arguably one of the good as it looks and best summer festivals leaves buyers satisfied with every single bite. Certainly, anyone who in Japan. This festival stands out not only for its has had the privilege to eat hegi soba from impressive fireworks show, but also because it is Ojiya highly recommends it. One of the stores one of the few summer festivals which has not which specializes in this kind of Soba is Ojiya’s been commercialized and has been said to be treasured Wataya soba restaurant. Just as it is fully funded by the citizens of Katakai. Free of traditional to go to the capital when visiting a the pressure to please corporations, the Katakai new country, so it exists as an unspoken rule Matsuri has been able to hold on to the original that when visiting Ojiya, you must go to Wataya. traditions of the town, which have been passed down through families for generations. This is Ojiya is also famous for the Ojiya-chijimi a fact that the people of Katakai are very proud cloth, which is made of hemp and is often used of; their ownership of this festival is evident to make summer garments. It is said that the and manifest in the pride they take in it. From hemp fabric is made by spinning the thread the very start of the festival, it is made clear tightly, which creates a beautiful and unique that this is the people’s festival, made for the crease called shibo. These creases, which feel people by the people, with all of the wonders smooth and cool when the fabric is worn, make and beauty of Japanese culture. Each family Ojiya-chijimi a perfect ally in the battle to beat in Katakai plays their own roles to ensure a the summer heat. Ojiya-chijimi was labeled successful and memorable summer festival. by the Japanese government as an Important Intangible Cultural Treasure in 1955, and later, This year’s Katakai Summer Festival in 1975, it was labeled as a traditional craft. showcased traditional Japanese sports such as 39

sumo wrestling and seijin sen (成人戦), which is an event that celebrates people who will turn 21 years old in the coming year. In that event, a group of 20-year old young adults’ objective is to get to a designated shrine as a group, but a group of 21-year-old young adults, proud of their seniority, are tasked with creating a blockade which makes it difficult for the group of 20-year-old young adults to pass through. Each side with their teams, chants and drums, push each other forwards and backwards as the 20-year-olds fight to make their way to the shrine. This Katakai Summer Festival tradition appears to be so uncommon that a number of people in Ojiya did not know what it was called. For that reason, it can be concluded that this activity exemplifies the ways that a citizen funded festival has maintained town traditions which may have been lost to city festivals being funded by various corporations. winter. Ojiya tsunotsuki (小千谷闘牛), although is directly translated to “bull fighting” In addition to centuries old dances, in English, is sometimes referred to as bull practices, and summer wear, the Katakai sumo wrestling because it is not a bullfight Summer Festival has achieved worldwide at all. Rather, it is an event in which the bulls fame for its spectacular fireworks display. Each display their strength, much like a sumo year the citizens of Katakai put on an amazing wrestling match than the bullfighting known fireworks show to be categorized with the in the West. This event, which has remained very best fireworks shows in the world. The unchanged since the Edo period, is performed Katakai Fireworks, along with the Kashiwazaki as an offering to the gods who bless the land. Fireworks, and Nagaoka City’s Fireworks are It is not considered a sport and all the matches sometimes referred to as the “Big Three Fireworks end in a draw. The absence of a winner and Festivals of Echigo”. The fireworks shown at the loser ensures the safety of the bulls, which are Katakai festival boasts 400 years of history and precious to their owners and are an integral part currently holds the Guinness world record for of this time-honored religious event. The bulls’ having the largest fireworks in the world. One caretakers are present in the ring to ensure that of these fireworks, which creates a flower about no bulls are harmed in this event. In winter the 800 meters in diameter, is just one of the many balloon festival is the main event hosted by the massive fireworks launched at this festival. city of Ojiya. People from all over Japan and the world come to participate in the hot air Along with summer festivals, Ojiya hosts balloon race. Every year a limited number of a variety of culturally unique events all year long, tickets are sold for hot air balloon rides. Those among them are bull sumo wrestling events fortunate enough to have experienced it have held in early fall and the balloon festival in referred to the view as stunning and memorable. 40

Lastly, wise men have said that a city is only as good as its people. If this is true then the city of Ojiya is one of the best cities in Japan. The citizens of Ojiya are collectively some of the most amazing people that can be found anywhere in the world. As such, it would be a disservice not to talk about the people of this city. More than its history, more than its traditions and natural beauty, the people of Ojiya are simply the best. It is nearly impossible to walk for 10 minutes in any direction of this city without being greeted by a friendly Ojiya resident. Here the people treat their guest as they would family. Their hearts are as opened as their city gates and their unmatched compassion and love for mankind has been known to leave visitors inarticulate with the proverbial “lump in the throat�. They learn from events of the past and leave a blue print for future generations to follow. They take even the worst things to happen to their city, such as the earthquake which devastated Ojiya in 2004, and

find ways to move forward better and stronger than before. Their work ethic is admirable and the pride they take in everything they do, whether it is big or small, is bound to teach any young person, ownership and responsibility. So the next time you drive through Ojiya, be sure to take a moment to look beneath the surface, you never know what you will find.


Myoko Happiness Illumination By Robert Burns

Listen, I know what you’re thinking. “Myoko is great in the winter, but I will have a few more glorious months before the snow starts to fall, the ski hills open, and I have to resort to strapping sticks to my feet and plunging down a mountain in order to try and forget about the fact that I feel like I’m freezing to death every time I leave my kotatsu. That can’t possibly be anything else for me to do there until then, so leave me alone until the dark times come again.” Well wrong you are, dear reader. While there is plenty to do in Myoko between the times where our fine city is buried deep in the snow (such as hiking, onsen trips, and a steady stream of matsuris) every year Myoko is host to a truly unique event: the one and only Myoko Happiness Illumination. This event, although admittedly ridiculously named, is something you should definitely put on your Japan to-do list. I included a brief overview of Happiness Illumination in our Myoko Spotlight last year (see the Niigata Noise Winter 2017 Issue) but I think the experience the event provides is unique enough that it deserved another mention, especially since there is still time for you to catch this year’s festivities. From the beginning of July until midNovember every year the APA Resort Joetsu-Myoko converts part of their golf course into a truly unique display featuring gods, dragons, romantic vistas, and more. Including multiple coordinated light and music performances, interactive features, and short films projected in some extremely unique ways, this one-to-two hour walking experience contains over 1.6 million LED lights (holding the current Guinness World Record) and is well worth the ¥1,500 price of admission. While some of the displays remain consistent each year, other sections are altered and new features are added in order to ensure that returning guests get as much enjoyment out of the experience as new patrons.

This year the organizers have updated quite a few sections of the course that were present last year, and have also added a new “Super Aurora” (these names are a thing of beauty) light show to the rear of the course. While the focus of the updates is usually on the Illumination itself, this year has also seen the expansion of services and attractions surrounding the walking course. The hotel has added a fireworks display that goes off above the Illumination at 20:00 on selected nights. You also have the opportunity to take a ride down a 13 meter tall and 34 meter long inflatable slide on selected days, for the price of ¥300 per ride. And as with previous years, there are a variety of food, drink, and gift options located at both the base and the summit of the Illumination, so you can focus enjoying the experience without worrying too much about what to bring with you. There are a few options for transportation up to the event, if driving isn’t an option available to you. On most days you can arrange transportation to APA Resort from Joetsu-Myoko Station, however the best method is probably the shuttle bus that the hotel runs to and from Sekiyama station for the event. The shuttle meets in from of Sekiyama Station at 18:15 on Saturdays and Sundays, transports guests up to the Illumination, then does a return trip to Sekiyama Station at 20:50. That should leave you with enough time to grab something to eat (and maybe a drink or two), take a stroll through the Illumination displays, and even browse through the gift and omiyage shops before heading back to the station to catch your train home. Or, if you ask one or the locals really nicely,

you’ll almost certainly be able to find someone to serve as a tour guide for the event. I’ve already had my life illuminated with happiness a few times so far, but I could always use a little bit more. With an end date this year of November 15th there is still plenty of time to catch Myoko Happiness Illumination before the snow begins to descend. While the ski resorts and onsens make Myoko a great place to come visit during the winter months, APA Resort’s Illumination might be one of the most unique things I’ve experienced during my time in Japan. As autumn sets in and the trees in the mountains begin to change colours, Myoko is already a stunning area to visit for some sightseeing. Happiness Illumination is icing on an already gorgeous cake, and provides a day trip experience unlike any other.

Event Review

o d a S th r a E tion a r b e l e C

If you find yourself in Niigata during the month of August (and if not, you might want to make plans) definitely consider boarding the ferry and taking a trip out to Sado Island for Earth Celebration. This annual festival is hosted by the worldrenowned, Sado-based taiko group: Kodo. It celebrates all earthly things through a fantastic blend and array of music and culture. While Sado is a great place to visit any time over summer, Earth Celebration is definitely its chance to shine, and people come from all over the world to enjoy and experience it.


While the festival focal point is the Harbour Market Live concert venue in the southern town of Ogi, numerous events are held throughout the town and around the island during festival week. You can try your hand at taiko, be enthralled by onidaiko, or be mesmerized by traditional Noh theatre. Culturebuffs can enjoy the many exhibitions and culture workshops, while outdoorsy-types can swim, kayak, and dive around the island’s beautiful coastline. Those interested in the earth in its rawest form can take a guided tour of the local geology (in Japanese), and there’s even a cave party for the more socially inclined. But the main draw is the Harbour Market Live concerts held on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Each concert is different and features members of Kodo performing together with visiting musicians from all over Asia, and the world.

Check out some highlights from this year’s festival...

Pre-Festival Event

Takigi Noh

By Sharlene Su

Takigi means “firewood” while Noh refers to the most ancient form of Japanese musical theatre. The man credited with founding Noh, playwright Zeami Motokiyo, was sent to Sado in exile. Because of him, Noh became popular on the island and now Sado has the most surviving Noh stages in all of Japan! Sitting cross-legged on one of the tarps, I kicked back and took in the night-time backdrop of the Noh stage. With the bonfires lit, I was engulfed by the mysterious atmosphere. An almost eerie silence ensued when the actors and musicians took to the stage. I soon realized that my Japanese friends and I wouldn’t be able to understand a single word! It was interesting to note that watching the ancient art of Noh was probably as exotic an experience to a Japanese person as it was to a foreigner. There were no emotions expressed on the faces or through the voices of the actors. It is difficult to possess a genuine understanding of the world of Noh (especially for a novice), but even though I didn’t understand the intricacies of the play, it felt surreal to experience a stirring encounter with elemental life through the body language and elaborate costumes and masks of the Noh actors. If you are interested in Japanese culture, a Takigi Noh play should catch your fancy during your visit to Sado.

Sight-Seeing Spot

Senkakuwan Bay Marine Park

As the main events of Earth Celebration happen at night, visitors have loads of time to explore Sado Island during the day. You can spend a chill afternoon at the Sobama Beach Campsite where you can go for a refreshing swim (just be wary of sneaky jellyfish!) and enjoy a simple lunch at the campsite cafe. On the second day of the festival, while my friends decided to unwind at the beach again, I chose to make a trip to Senkakuwan Bay Marine Park. To get to Senkakuwan Bay from Ogi Port by public transport I had to make a couple of bus transits. The whole journey took 2 hours in total, but it was a relaxing ride along the beautiful coast of the island.

By Cara Lammie

As I got closer to the marine park, a series of cliffs shaped like 30-meter steeples came into sight. Upon arrival at the park, I ran straight to the observation deck that offers a panoramic view of the shore. The long coastline of rugged cliffs and the vibrant blue of the Sea of Japan gave my soul a chance to calm, as well as my camera roll many otherworldly shots. To delve deeper into the beauty of the bay, I went on a 15-minute glass-bottom boat ride. While other passengers were feeding prawn crackers to the seagulls, I tried my best to soak in the intricate formation of the cliffs. The charm of this place is exactly why it was chosen to be a backdrop for the well-known movie Kimi no Na wa. I recommend you visit! 47

Festival Food

Harbour Market By Jenny Stein Next to the main concert venue in Ogi Harbour is the Harbour Market. Though slow to get going in the mornings, by lunchtime the market is a hive of activity, with numerous stalls selling local and international crafts and clothing, and offering anything from local travel advice to a chiropractic massage. Of course there is also lots of festival food! But it’s not festival food that you would normally associate with rural Japan. While there are traditional Japanese foods like yakisoba and yakitori, the majority of the food stalls sold internationalstyle dishes such as Thai green curry, Indian naan,

western-style burgers, and Mexican tacos. I imagine for local Japanese it is a chance to tickle their tastebuds with foreign flavors, but for foreigners like myself it was an offering of dishes my palette has been pining for ever since I gave up easy access to foreign foodstuffs and moved to Japan. My friends and I feasted our eyes…and our bellies…stuffing ourselves full of multiple dishes (because how can you choose just one?) before settling down with a gelato, beer, or a smoothie (or maybe all three) to enjoy the evening concert.

Local Activity/Destination

Taraibune Rides in Shukunegi

Because of my love for the sea and diving, Ogi is undoubtedly my favourite area on Sado, and the taraibune (tub boat)—one of the symbolic icons of Ogi—is a must-try!

Traditionally, the taraibune was used for collecting seashells and seaweed along the shorelines in Ogi. However, these days, it’s more common to see 48

By Sharlene Su

tourists using it to cruise around the blue waters of the bays. There are three main places you can ride on a taraibune: Ogi Port, Yajima-Kyojima, and Shukunegi. Most of the locals recommend the latter two, particularly because the taraibune there are fitted with glass windows in the bottom so you can see all the sea life in the clear water beneath you. Yajima-Kyojima is a lovely area with an iconic

red bridge and picturesque island pathway, and the taraibune rides are very popular with tourists there. But if you only have time for one place, I would highly recommend you head to Shukunegi for your taraibune ride. Shukunegi is a well-preserved traditional fishing port town which has spectacular views overlooking the Ogi peninsula. The best time to get on a taraibune would be at sunset, and for a more hands-on experience, remember to ask the rower if you can try your hand at steering!

After your taraibune ride, I recommend picking up a map at the port entrance and wandering around the idyllic village of Shukunegi. The village is characterized by its narrow alleys and over a hundred distinctive wooden houses covered with boards taken from old boats. It was liberating to be able to weave in and out of the different alleys, getting lost but indulging in the delights at every turn where there seemed to be a gem of a place waiting to be discovered. I was in awe and totally mesmerized by this charming little village. Shukunegi holds a special place in my heart and I would totally re-visit again!

Festival Workshop

Ogi Okesa Dancing By Jenny Stein If you’re anything like me then you like getting involved rather than just watching…in which case the Earth Celebration workshops may be just the thing for you! I went to a 2-hour workshop to learn the Ogi Okesa—a traditional festival dance. The origins of the Ogi Okesa date back to Edo Period sailors who traveled the Kitamaebune shipping route from Kyushu. They introduced parlor dance choreography to the geisha of Ogi which led to the development of the Ogi Okesa. The workshop began like any other in Japan—that is, you get thrown in at the deep end! I had foolishly expected to be shown the dance step by step but instead all thirty or so workshop participants were asked to join the dance circle and simply follow along with the other dancers, in time to the small band of traditional instruments. This was very unnerving at first, but I slowly got the hang of it. We were very lucky (and surprised) to have a bi-lingual instructor present who could explain the key points in English!

During a break the workshop dancers demonstrated three other Okesa-style dances from Sado Island. To the untrained eye the dances must look very similar, but after spending an hour trying to imitate just one of them, the differences are easier to spot. So we tried it again, dancing the Ogi Okesa altogether, continuously for 40 minutes! The rhythm and repetition is such that you don’t really notice the time passing, and it becomes almost meditative as the movements slowly come more naturally. You 50

suddenly realize you no longer have to think about every single step, wave of your arm or flick of your palm, and nor does anyone else! You are all dancing the Ogi Okesa together with confidence, if not actual precision. Unfortunately, as I haven’t practiced since the festival I am already forgetting the steps, but I’m sure the impression and memory of having learnt and participated in a quintessential piece of Japanese culture will remain with me for years to come.

Main Attraction

Harbour Market Live!

By Cara Lammie

The main event that everyone is hyped about at Earth Celebration is of course, Kodo’s finale performance on the last day of the festival. All 36 members of the world-renowned Taiko performing arts ensemble collaborated to play magic on taiko drums of various sizes and tunes for over 2 hours. As the world’s top professional taiko group, Kodo takes drumming to the next level. The members don’t just play the songs, they enable the soul and spirit of taiko to dance in front of the audience. Besides synchronizing with one another’s movements, Kodo members give their 100% in hitting each beat to its full potential. Watching the back muscles of the members glisten with sweat as the songs went on was itself a sight to see.

Towards the end, members jumped off the stage and paraded next to the audience, driving every single spectator to stand up and dance with the beat. To push things to a climax, colorful streamers, confetti, and banners filled the stage—suddenly the little harbor park became the party central of the island! What I liked the most about Kodo, though, is that the members always have big smiles on their faces. Seeing that, and how people from Japan, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, and Hong Kong—to name just a few—all clapped and mingled with each other during the festivities, I came to understand the meaning behind this festival: we were all here to celebrate the Earth beyond differences in ethnicity, language, religion, and gender. It was a fantastic night out for all.

Final Thoughts

Thank you Sado, for a fantastic weekend! You are a fine island in your own right, but the connections you allow your visitors to establish with each other, and with the warm-hearted locals, makes you an especially beautiful one!

can stay at a ryokan in town. There are no trains on Sado and the buses run infrequently, so your best travel tip would be to consider taking or renting a car so that you can fully utilize your time on the island.

So there you have it: you’d be crazy to miss out on Sado Earth Celebration! And don’t forget to explore the island while you are there. You can access Sado by one of three car ferry’s departing from Naoetsu, Teradomari, and Niigata. The ferry timetables vary so be sure to plan your trip accordingly. Cheap accommodation for the festival can be found by camping at designated campgrounds (accessible by bus or car), or those wishing to spend a little more

Earth Celebration is held in August every year. The event schedule does change, so be sure to check the website for current information. While many events are free, many require tickets and prices range from around ¥500 to ¥6000 depending on the event. These can easily be purchased and paid for in advance through the festival website (available in English). To find out more visit:, and be sure to enjoy Earth Celebration! 51


Seasonal Seasonal Sight Spotlight

Where to see the colours

By Jenny Stein

For weeks over summer we sat melting at our desks, drowning in sweat and generally suffering in the heat and humidity that is August in Niigata. But as September came around we started to feel a chill in the air...The days got shorter and the power bill cheaper as we turned off our air conditioners and got ready for autumn.

Undisputedly one of the best things about this time of year is all the vibrant colours we get to see around us. The leaves on numerous trees turn spectacular shades of yellow, orange, and red, and are whipped up by the seasonal winds into great flickering clouds before finally forming a firey mosaic at our feet. Momijigari or “autumn leaf hunting” has been a popular pastime in Japan since the 8th Century, featuring in Murosaki Shikibu’s famous 11th Century novel Genji Monogatari (The Tale Of Genji) and colouring the pages of numerous collections of poetry. Though traditionally a pursuit of the nobility, momjigari became popular among the common folk during the Edo Period, and since the Meiji Restoration improved public transportation has made even distant sightseeing spots accessible. Nowadays both locals and tourists alike take time to seek out and enjoy the changing leaves all over the country. While Niigata Prefecture is famous for being green, our autumn colours are also nothing to sneer at. So where can you go this autumn to see some gloriously vibrant colours? Here are some recommendations from around the prefecture—hopefully there’s one near you!

Maple Leaf Valley, Tsubame Momijitani or Maple Leaf Valley, in Yahiko Park, Tsubame City is renowned for its vibrant maple leaves, that are as bright as the vermillion Kan-tsuki Bridge they surround. In addition to taking in the autumn leaves in the valley, why not visit the nearby Yahiko Shrine and neighbouring temples, stop by an onsen, or take a ride on the ropeway up to the top of Mt Yahiko to take in commanding views of the city and the Sea of Japan.

More information: English Brochure: english-yahiko-roman.pdf

Naena Waterfall, Myoko Falling 55m meters, Naenataki, or Naena Falls, is one of the “100 Greatest Waterfalls of Japan”. While many people visit in spring when the melting snow makes this waterfall roar like an oncoming earthquake, it’s also a great spot to view beautiful colours in autumn. While in the area, the nearby Imori Pond with its legend about a giant fish is also worth a look.

More information:

Shounsanso Park, Kashiwazaki Apparently there used to be a grand house on this site, but while the house is now gone, the garden park is open for viewing and provides a wonderful display of autumn leaves. Enjoy exploring the winding pathways, ponds, and small bridges, all swathed in rich autumn colours. There’s even a tea house to stop by if you come during the day, or by 53

night the park it lit by lanterns making the colours seem even more vibrant in the surrounding darkness.

More Information:

Dragondola, Yuzawa Perhaps one of the most impressive places to see the autumn colours on a grand scale is via Japan’s longest gondola, the Dragondola, between Naeba and Kagura Ski Resorts. Here you can also ride Japan’s highest cable car, the Tashiro Ropeway. On either journey you’re sure to be treated to a spectacular view of a valley dominated by deciduous trees whose autumn colours set the mountains ablaze. More Information: The gondola will operate 9am-4pm from October 7 – November 5 and a one-way trip takes 25 min. A round-trip adult ticket via gondola or ropeway (or both; you can walk from one to the other at the top) costs 2,400 yen. See ski/naeba/dragondola/ for more information.

Maple Garden, Nagaoka Originally built as the villa garden for the Takahashi family, the Maple Garden is home to 150-200 year old maple trees, mainly of a variety thought to have been transplanted from the Pacific coast of Kyushu. Despite their age (or perhaps because of it) the maples turn astonishing shades of orange and red every autumn, and can be enjoyed lit up at night from the end of October through to late November. More Information:

Momijiyama Park, Sado Island The fabled fathers of Sado Island’s rice cultivation, Sansuke and Okiku, are enshrined at the peaks of Ogamiyama and Megamiyama in south-eastern Sado. Surely their spirits are happy with the view as these two peaks comprise Momijiyama Park—one of the best places to see autumn colours on the island. A walkway and viewing deck enables you to take in the charming view, and on the last Sunday of October every year the park hosts a festival of performing arts and autumn-themed activities. More Information:

Muramatsu Park, Gosen While famous for being one of the 100 best places to see cherry blossoms in Japan (having approximately 3,000 cherry trees), Muramatsu Park it also a lovely place to see autumn colours. Every OctoberNovember stunning maples carpet the walkways with their leaves, enabling you to walk through a beautiful red and yellow world, given depth and texture by the dark tree trunks and branches. No wonder it made No. 3 on the list of 100 scenic spots in Niigata Prefecture! More Information:

Saito Family Villa, Niigata Built in 1918 by the wealthy merchant Kijuro Saito IV, this large historic villa overlooks a traditional Japanese-style garden designed to incorporate the area’s natural sand dunes. Edo Period pine trees stand proudly over the garden’s 100 maple trees, which in autumn provides a stunning contrast between the

green of the pines and the firey reds and yellows of the maple leaves. You can take in the scenery and local history in this wonderful villa garden. More Information: The villa and garden is open from 9:30am - 5pm every day except Mondays, and on all public holidays. Admission is 300 yen for adults. Check out the website at:

Tashiro no Nanatsugama, Tokamachi What could be more impressive than autumn colours? How about autumn colours clinging to vertical cliffs lining a river valley dotted with waterfalls? If you’re up for something a little wilder than a manicured park or garden, check out Tashiro no Nanatsugama (Tashiro’s Seven Waterfall Basins). This nationally recognized place of scenic beauty offers a patchwork of autumn colours festooned over vertical cliffs composed of spectacular rocky columns. Walkways get dismantled prior to winter, so be sure to wear good shoes and watch your step. More Information: landscape/tashirono_nanatsugama/


For most places the autumn colours are at their best from the last week of October through to midNovember, but of course this will vary from place to place, and year to year. English information on other top spots around the prefecture can be found here: html. Also, be sure to check out: (Japanese). This awesome little website provides upto-date autumn colour information for 68 different spots around Niigata Prefecture, so you can keep up to date with the changing colours and see when is the best time to go! Although this is Japan, so be prepared for everyone else being there at that time as well…

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the autumn colours at a spot near you!

Momijiyama Park, Sado Island Location: Hamagawachi, Sado, Niigata Prefecture 952-0823 Access: Take the Iwakubi Line bus to the park, or else it’s a 55 min. drive from Ryotsu or Ogi by car.

Maple Leaf Valley, Tsubame Ryotsu

Location: Yahiko Park, Nishikanbara District, Niigata Prefecture 959-0323 Access: 26 min. drive from Tsubame-Sanjo Station and the Hokuriku Expressway, or take a local train to Yahiko Station—right next to the park!


Shounsanso Park, Kashiwazaki Location: 3-1 Midorich�, Kashiwazaki-shi, Niigata Prefecture 945-0841 Access: 20 min. walk from Kashiwazaki Station, or a 15 min. drive from the Kashiwazaki exit on the Hokuriku Expressway.


Joetsu Itoigawa

Naena Waterfall, Myoko Location: Suginosawa, Myoko, Kamiminochi District, Niigata Prefecture 949-2113 Access: Take a train to MyokoKogen Station and transfer to a local bus. If driving, take the MyokoKogen exit off the Joshin-etsu Expressway, and drive to the falls free parking lot. From there, it’s a 15 min. walk to the falls. 56


Location: 202Minamiuonum Access: The go or taxi ride from take Highway 17

Saito Family Villa, Niigata Location: 576 Nishiohatacho, Chuo Ward, Niigata, Niigata Prefecture 951-8104 Access: 2 min. walk from the Hoppo Bunka Hakubutsukan Niigata Bunkan-mae (Iriguchi) stop on the Niigata City Loop Bus route, or a 6 min. walk from the Nishi Ohata stop on the Hamaura-cho Line bus route.


Muramatsu Park, Gosen Niigata Gosen Tsubame Nagaoka



a, Yuzawa

-4 Mikuni, Yuzawa-machi, ma-gun, Niigata Prefecture 949-6212 ondola carpark is a 40-50 minute bus m Echigo-Yuzawa Station, or if driving, south from Yuzawa.

Location: Muramatsu Park, 2631-1 Atagokou, Gosen-shi, Niigata Prefecture 959-1765 Access: 15 min. drive from Gosen Station on the JR Banetsu West Line, or 25 min. by car from the Yasuda Interchange on the Banetsu Expressway.

Maple Garden, Nagaoka Location: 600 Asahi, Nagaka, Niigata Prefecture 949-5412 Access: The garden is a 5 min. drive from the Nagaoka Minami-Echizen exit on the Kanetsu Expressway, or a 20 min. walk from JR Raikoji Station.

Tashiro no Nanatsugama, Tokamachi Location: Tashiro, Tokamachi , Niigata Prefecture 949-8413 Access: The carpark is a 30 min. drive from Echigo-Tanaka Station, or a 35 min. walk from the closest bus stop.

Inset photos courtesy of 57


Photos Credit to Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman A Film Review

By Disante Johnson It’s no secret that DC Films has been plagued with silver screen issues ever since Christopher Nolan finished his Batman trilogy. Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice have been met with largely negative critical acclaim (though this hasn’t stopped the company from reaping massive financial gains on their cinematic ventures so the term “issues” is pretty relative). However, with the advent of Wonder Woman sporting the first super heroine to headline a major superhero film in recent years, could the Marvel rival finally be seeing a turn to their relatively lackluster films? Well, that’s yet to be seen. At the very least, however, we have a bit of a reprieve. Kind of. Wonder Woman pulls together a decent action flick, telling the origins of the titular character and her first foray into the World of Men. Though one won’t be surprised by anything as far as the story is concerned there are some decently executed scenes and acting, primarily through Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot and her counterpart Steve Trevor played by Chris Pine. There’s enough action in the film for Wonder Woman to show off her prowess as an Amazonian warrior and there are even some interesting ideas played with, though some of them are unfortunately left to dry without any follow up. The film starts with our heroine growing up on Themyscira, the island of the Amazons. She’s a rambunctious child who wants to be like all the other warriors though her mother Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, forbids her to train in a most conspicuous and overly esoteric manner. It’s clear that her mother doesn’t want her to be involved in training or the outside world but she does a terrible job at dissuading it (including telling young Diana fantastical bedtime stories about how it’s the Amazon’s duty to protect the world from the big 60

bad god of war, Ares). There’s no surprise in how this will end-; Wonder Woman (whose real name is Diana) will leave the island to stop a threat and have her worldviews challenged during the journey. Hippolyta as a character isn’t of much interest, unfortunately. She’s the constraining authority figure but does a relatively weak job of making it compelling. There are bits and pieces of some sort of secret but it’s really of no consequence to the story. When Diana finally leaves, all the Queen’s bluster amounts to nothing at all. This isn’t a large issue, but Themyscira does take up a good chunk of the movie and it’s a bit of a shame that the film couldn’t push past adequacy or do more with this part of the story. So about Diana. The child actress that plays her is….well, a child. However, Gal Gadot does a pretty good job of selling Wonder Woman. She’s a noble heart who wants to fight evil (in this case Ares, whom mankind’s evils are reported to flow from) and believes in the goodness of mankind. So when a man washes up on her beach and she hears of a great and terrible war happening outside Themyscira (WWI) she jumps at the chance to assist him. This strong sense of justice also comes with an incredible dose of naivety and this is something that, for the most part, is used quite well as Diana has to try and comprehend how things work outside of her Amazon paradise. It’s here that they work on some of the more interesting, though expected, issues. Diana comes from a place of not only all women but of a place where everyone is equal, war only exists in books, and things are as simple as good and evil. However, humankind is messy. It can be confusing, violent, unfair, and incredibly gray. This is something that Diana isn’t prepared for. There are some good moments between her and Steve where she has extreme trouble with understanding how to fit her incredibly narrow worldview to a place where tens of

millions of people are already dead from warfare. In fact, the interplay between these two makes for some of the best character interactions in the film. Steve is a good man but a man all the same, and even he does some questionable actions to get things done. This is also where there are several missed opportunities, though. Very little is said or explored in terms of women’s position in society. Remember, the year was 1918. Now, this isn’t to say that there should’ve been a large push for it and that a statement had to be made. However, it’s a bit odd that something like this should mostly be ignored. There are several characters who remark on why a woman is talking in important places, or where some men initially relegate Diana to a delicate flower before she displays her skills. Does this push more towards the aforementioned? Indeed it does. Even so, this is merely surface level attention. Even if the film didn’t want to go too deeply into that, something else that’s really missing are Diana’s reactions to this. She has about one outburst on someone due to these related issues but she says nothing on how she must change herself to fit into this society. She makes no remarks on why it seems like there are no women in any places of import. She never brings up why she has to be quiet and not speak, nor how the only other woman that regularly interacts with Steve is clearly subservient to him (due to her job position) and Steven never explains how and why things are the way they are. He just shuffles, shushes, and stops her from saying, doing, and expressing too much in the company of others. Even more demonstrative of how this film has a knack for not taking full advantage of its storyline is a particularly ingenious set up with no follow up. Without going deep into it, Diana becomes incredulous with a certain character’s actions and questions how he could live in a warzone as a smuggler that deals with whomever hires him. He remarks on how his people, Native Americans, faced the same sort of devastation and impending doom that Allied Forces were then facing against the Germans. Except it was many of the people from the Allied Forces that succeeded in largely wiping his people out. That left him only places like warzones where he could find a place to call his own. The same people that are fighting against the Germans who are painting them as evil murderers are the very same people that did this to another group of people. Diana drops the issue….or the scene changes. Either

way, this could’ve been a big moment of growth for Diana. A moment where she would do some deep introspection into what it is that she’s doing and who it is that she’s fighting for. What better impetus could there be for her to really take a step back and suss out her moral ideologies and try and reconcile them with the real human world than this? Or we can just ignore it. Yeah, let’s do that. The visuals of the film are fine enough. Themyscira is lushly green and has a few old looking buildings. Meanwhile cities like London and battlefields in general are a nice gray. The score is mostly forgettable and the film’s ending is…. mostly perfunctory. There are several bits of humor in the film but a lot of it and the story itself feels rushed. Now it’s plenty long (over two hours) but even so, the movie feels like there are characters and storylines that could’ve been a lot better developed. Maybe cutting a few unnecessary fight scenes could’ve alleviated that but better development of the aforementioned ideas would’ve been a more rewarding venture. Though there are a lot of negatives and shortcomings in this review, that’s not to say that the film is a wash. Again, Gal Gadot makes a fine Wonder Woman. Making her such a naive character with an incredibly idealistic view about how the world should work was a great idea. Right off the bat, there are going to be a lot of challenges just with her interacting with the society of normal humans that will cause her to really think hard about the world she thought she knew and the world that actually is. Steve plays against this well as he’s certainly not perfect but tries his hardest to do what’s right. That earnestness draws Diana in but at the same time, his imperfection clashes with Diana’s ideal world. The film isn’t incessantly dour (looking at you Man of Steel), relentlessly ridiculous nonsense (Suicide Squad, please stop), or an abject failure in terms of a coherent narrative (Dawn of Justice, though only injustice reigns here). The film isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun and Wonder Woman herself feels pretty right. There really is no doubt that this is the best DC film that has come out in the past several years. It’s a decent enough film in its own right but there are just several missed opportunities and aside from the two main characters, no one else is a standout or is of much consequence (notice how nothing is said of the antagonists). Here’s to hoping that the next films in the series just build upward from here.

LET’S PRINTING Free Board Game Reviews The nights are cooling down, the summer holidays are over, and the time is perfect to gather some friends, break out your towering stack of board games, and - Wait, what was that? You don’t have a towering stack of board games, you say? An all too common affliction, and one that is terribly hard to alleviate if you live in rural Japan. There might be one store in your town that sells games, and if there is they probably have about 4 games. You can order online, but you’ll be paying import prices and probably loads for shipping. May as well just despair and give up on having fun ever again. Fortunately, there is hope, in the form of the multitudes of game designers out there who release free “print and play” games that you can download and make yourself. If you’re the crafty sort you can have as much fun building your games as playing them, assembling boards, making tokens, and the like, but all you really need is access to a printer, some scissors, and you can have a bare-bones functional game. Here are a few of the free print and play games I’ve constructed and tried, along with my thoughts and links to where you can download them. I’ve only included games that use relatively few and simple components, so none of them should take more than a couple of hours to assemble.

By Ben Kohanski predictable pattern, so getting close to him or lying in wait is easy, but to pull off the deed you can’t have any witnesses. This is where the majority of the game’s strategy comes in, as you can’t make a murder attempt if any other player has line of sight to you through one of the room’s doors or windows. Each player also has a hand of cards that are used to bolster attacks or foil others, so a successful hit is never guaranteed. In practice, I found Kill Dr. Lucky a fun and intriguing concept that is a bit of a drag to actually play, at least in large groups. Getting alone with your target can take ages with a lot of players, and even when you’ve managed to finally evade line of sight from everyone else, more likely than not your attacks will be neutralized, leading to very long games where little actually happens. That said, I have only played large games near the player limit, and I imagine it would be a much snappier experience with 3-4 people, as fewer players would mean more of the board is open for attacks.


Kill Dr. Lucky

Kill Dr. Lucky has an ingenious premise: It’s Cluedo (Clue to my fellow Americans) in reverse. Players travel through a mansion with murder in their hearts, looking for their chance to kill the titular Doctor Lucky. The doctor moves in a 62

Saprobiont is a short, fast-paced asymmetrical strategy game for 4 players. Each player controls a faction of warring insects, each of which has different rules for deployment, combat, and scoring points. The rules are very simple. Players set up on a hex grid, and can place tokens each turn in a hex adjacent to one they already control. If they enter a hex owned by another player, they fight, both players removing a token until one side is gone. The game ends after 5 turns, meaning it doesn’t overstay its welcome and every move must

be weighed carefully. The fun of the game comes from the 4 unique factions and how their rules interact. One species focuses on territory control, another on kills, and the others on capturing enemy tokens or making the others fight. Because all 4 players are working towards different goals on the same map, there is a lot of room for interesting interactions with extremely simple rules. uploads/2012/18885/Saprobiont.pdf


Tradecraft is a card game of deception and deduction with a cold war spy theme. Each player is secretly assigned a mission as either a US or Soviet agent, and must try to fulfill their mission objective while also keeping their identity hidden from their opponents and figuring out who is an ally and who is an enemy. Players have some control over the cards they choose, so they can attempt to build a hand that supports their mission and allegiance. Tradecraft was an extremely pleasant surprise for me. It’s a microgame along the lines of Love Letter, consisting only of about 20 cards, yet there is an impressive degree of thought that goes into every decision a player makes. Cards have a function, a speed, a factional allegiance, and potential counters, all of which need to be considered, and the strategies are subtle and complex enough that the game remains compelling after repeated play. If you like hidden role games or wish Love Letter had more depth, I highly recommend checking out Tradecraft. tradecraft-spy-game

Dune: The Dice Game

A streamlined and modernized reinterpretation of the ‘70s original, D:TDG is a territory control game that strives to recreate the political machinations of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic. Players make alliances, gather resources, and wage war for control of key zones on the planet, all using an inventive dice rolling mechanic. On your turn you roll a pool of dice, with different colors representing espionage, resources, troops, and diplomacy. You can reroll the dice as many times as you want, but each time you have to keep at least one. It’s a fun mechanic, as you can push your luck for better / different rolls, but there’s always the chance that you’ll get stuck with something worse if you do. Once the dice are set, you take your actions based on what results you have and commence conquering the planet. My one qualm with Dune is its complex turn sequence which takes some time to get down, and the downtime this leads to can be lengthy as there is little to do while other players are active. That said, it’s an engaging game with a solid core mechanic that encourages shifting allegiances and a mix of planning and reactive flexibility, so it is well worth giving a try if that appeals to you. dune-dice-game Thanks to the efforts of print and play designers, I have managed to build up a reasonable collection of fun and interesting games that cost nothing more than the paper they are printed on. These games are just a few examples, and many more can be found on Boardgame Geek (https:// if you are interested in digging deeper. As long as you have access to a printer and a few hours of free time, you can easily enjoy a new game with your friends at any time. 63

Atoms Café in Muikamachi

By Elizabeth Harrington

After two years of working at coffee shops as a barista, I moved from my mountain town in Arizona to a new mountain town in Niigata, Japan. With no Starbucks, or any familiar coffee chain, I was eager to find a local café spot to relax over a good latte. Nestled above a flower shop in Muikamachi, sits the Atoms Café. The café is located on a street corner of izakayas, painted industrial black against the quieter buildings around it. I had easily picked it out when I first began settling into my new hometown, and it was finally time to have a look inside. So, I followed the chalkboard entrance sign up a flight of colorful stairs to the second level. The door opened to a calm dining area with intimate tables and bar seating at the window to view the intersection below. I was instantly greeted, and the server gestured to explain that I had my choice of seating. Though any spot, table or bar, would grant nice views, I took a spot right at the window and unloaded my computer. A server came with 64

water, and I was presented with a pair of menus, one for drinks and one for lunch meals. The day had been humid, and a quick rainstorm pulled some of the heat out of the air. The vending machines still only offered chilled beverages, and I was craving a hot drink to wrap my hands around. Even though my Japanese speaking and reading ability is naught, I wasn’t daunted. The enticing pictures led me to a quick decision- a simple latte accompanied by a brownie dessert. I waved the server over with a brave ‘sumimasen’ and tapped my selection from the menu. A few words like ‘kore, kudasai’, and a smile did the trick. I was pretty proud of myself. The free wifi and background Christmas music was nice, despite it being summer, and my order arrived not too long after settling in with my computer. The latte was capped by a sweet crema poured by a clearly experienced hand, and the brownie was dusted with powdered sugar. They were visually satisfying, pulled straight from pinterest. I took the spoon and cracked the top, reminiscent of a crème Brule, and released a puff of steam. The inside was molten decadence- I didn’t even mind that I burned my tongue. Dividing the spoon between

the cake and chocolate lava made for a delicious microbite. Sadly, it was gone too fast, despite my best self-control. But the price was fair, roughly 420 Yen. My only other complaint was that the café closes too soon - 7 pm, even on weekends. If allowed, I would have ordered a brownie every hour until midnight, while tapping away on my laptop from my perch above the street. Though I was welcomed when I first stepped inside, and sent off as I left for the evening, I did not feel an overbearing presence. Like most Japanese service, they took my order when I waved, and left me to my own devices, but sometimes I feel restaurants can be too attentive of their customers, especially foreigners. Being in the spotlight can make me a bit nervous, but the casual air of the café let me blend into my seat as if I’d been planted there, like one of the cute ferns I sat beside. I felt no urgency to move along, and neither did the locals; their conversations progressed long after their coffee was just a stain on the side of their mugs. Their food selection was small, but each dish would satisfy a different craving. A soup and bread combo, or a cheesy pasta. Flavorful sandwiches and lighter café fare were included as well. I came back and tried their honey toast - a tower of sweet bread drizzled in chocolate and ice cream - for breakfast, and wasn’t disappointed either. Though I can only speak for the sweeter side of their menu, if the other customers’ plates tasted as good as they looked, then I’m sure they’re wishing for longer hours as well. I will definitely be returning to try something new, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be ordering that brownie alongside it as well.

Hey, Chutta! A Restaurant Review

By Angela Marie Moore

There is one problem that sits in the back of most foreigners’ minds after living in Japan for a while…Or more accurately, the matter rests in our empty stomachs that hunger for something other than the usual okonomiyaki, tonkatsu, curry, sushi, and other foods that can become rather bland to the taste buds. Personally, I come from the Midwestern region of the United States of America, so I grew up eating spicy Mexican and Tex-Mex style foods. In Japan, it can be frustratingly difficult for one to find a restaurant that does spicy food well. For those that are willing to try something new and are tired of dumping a bunch of chili oil into their food, I have some good news. Chutta is a Sri Lankan restaurant where they serve their own version of curry soup. The flavor of this Sri Lankan dish differs from its Indian counterparts as it contains no turmeric. Instead, the punch comes from roasted chilis, coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom, and cloves. Maybe you can’t imagine what all those ingredients add up to, but I can sum it up in one word: Delicious! 66

This unique restaurant sits on the second floor of a small building that is about an eightminute walk from the south side of Niigata Station. Resting above a pizza restaurant it might be easy for one to walk right on by if not for the large sign with an Indian-style sun sitting at the base of the stairs leading up to Chutta. The restaurant is small and only seats around thirty people, with one long bar to sit at if you are dining alone. A ring of the small bell at your table summons a staff member to your table, armed with a large pitcher of water with lemon slices, to aid you in your journey to spicy enjoyment. The first thing you are asked is what style of soup you want. All the soups come with a softboiled egg, which is commonly seen in ramen, and vegetables, which includes pumpkin, carrots, eggplant, okra, daikon radish, peppers, burdock root, and potatoes. The difference between the soups is the main protein. The most popular is the Chutta Chicken Soup-In (チュッタチキン スープイン), which has a large portion of chicken that is encrusted with

Chutta’s signature Sri Lankan blend of spices, sitting in the bowl. Next, we have my personal favorite, the Pork Belly Soup (ポーク角煮), which as the name suggests, has a large, thick, and juicy cut of roast pork. The meat is incredibly tender and falls apart as you pick it up with your chopstick, so be careful not to get splashed! Want a cheeseburger with your soup? No problem, the Cheese Hamburger Soup-In (チーズ ハンバーグ スープイン) will fulfill all your desires as it comes with a Japanese style hamburger with a layer of melted cheese to grace your meal. There are many other variations such as the Bacon and Spinach(ベーコン&ホウレン草) and Fried Pork Tatsuta(豚竜田). Craving the other ‘white meat’? There’s a seafood option with the Fried Fish (フィッ シュフライ), and for vegetable lovers, the Vegetables & Vegetables(野菜&野菜). Some items on the menu are affected by the change of the seasons, so be aware that you might get something new each time you go! If you don’t want meat in your soup, don’t despair, for the chicken and cheeseburger versions there is an option of having your choice of protein set on a bed of rice. All you have to do is choose the Rice-On version(ライスオン) which is the same price as the soup. You can also add more toppings to your soup including cheese, mushrooms, fried eggs, and extra portions of meat for an additional charge. So, you’ve chosen the type of soup you want, now is time to pick the broth, there are two options, regular(レギュラー)and light (ラトウ). The regular broth is the classic one; the recipe has remained unchanged from the time that Chutta first opened. The regular is my recommendation as it had a deep flavor with an undertone of many different spices. The light option is made with a tomato base and is thicker than the regular broth. There is an additional charge of fifty yen if you decide to choose the light broth. Now, for a little…or a lot…of spice. You will choose the level of spiciness you want from a scale of one to ten. To give an idea of how serious Chutta is about providing your taste buds with delicious punishment, level one is listed as being okay for children, but level 10 is listed as “if you don’t plan to work tomorrow”. The first five levels are free of charge to order, but from level 6 on you will have an extra one hundred to one hundred and fifty yen stamped onto your ticket. For some of us, the price

is worth it. Personally, I prefer level 5 or level 6 depending on the day. The last thing you need to do is decide on the kind and amount of rice that comes with your soup. Chutta offers brown or white rice for you to choose from, and if you don’t order four hundred grams of rice, you won’t be charged extra. Need a break from the heat? Chutta offers Lassi, which is a yogurt based drink with Indian origins. With plain, mango or strawberry flavor to choose from it’s a delicious treat to round off your meal. The price of your meal, which includes, soup, spice, main ingredients (meat or vegetables), and rice, should round out to be 1,050 yen to 1,080 yen if you haven’t bumped up the size of the rice or the spice level beyond 5, or added toppings. Even without the extras, it’s an incredibly filling meal. So Chutta provides a great price that will power you through your day in Niigata City. There is no doubt that Chutta will have something that will pique your interest or, more appropriately, your appetite.



Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Muffins By Korina Kozakevich (Burns)

I have baked many different desserts, but the one recipe I always come back to is my cream cheese chocolate chip muffins. I have made these for birthdays, camp outs, and get togethers. You name it, I’ve made them for it. They are so simple, yet full of flavour. The perfect sweetness mixed with creamy goodness. This will always be a favourite to bake or eat!

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Baking Time: 20-25 minute

Yield: 18-20 Muffins

Cream Cheese Mix

Chocolate Mix


8oz cream cheese 1 egg 1/3 cup sugar 1 cup chocolate chip Pinch of salt

1 ½ cups flour 1 cup sugar ¼ cup cocoa 1 tsp baking soda ½ tsp salt 1 cup water ⅓ cup oil 1 tsp vinegar 1 tsp vanilla

2 bowls Measuring cup Measuring spoons Muffin liner Muffin tins Spatula Ladle Spoon Egg Beater or Wisk

Blend together 8oz cream cheese, 1 egg, ⅓ cup of sugar and salt. Fold in the chocolate chips. Place to the side for now. In the second mixing bowl combine 1 ½ cups flour, 1 cup sugar, ¼ cup cocoa, 1 tsp baking soda, and ½ tsp salt. Mix the dry ingredients and make a well. Inside the well, add 1 cup water, ⅓ cup oil, 1 tsp vinegar and tsp vanilla to the flour mixture and mix well. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Fill each muffin tin 1/3 full with chocolate batter and then a large spoon full of the cream cheese mixture on top. Bake at 350F (180C) for 20-25 mins. Use a toothpick to poke one of the muffins, if clean, remove muffins from the oven and place them on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Spot The Differences By Julia von Siebenthal

A visit to Lake Nojiri is highly recommended; you can enjoy the fantastic swan or helicopter shaped boats and check out the Shinto shrine on the tiny island. Or just spot the 11 differences between these two pictures instead. That will save you a lot of time.

Click here to see the solution.

Haikus By Sean Callahan

The chill of autumn As the wind moves fiery leaves Walks me through the past

The eye of the moon Looks down on the winter snow Hung in frozen mists

Cherry petals drift The spring air brushes my lips My illusions break

Solutions And Extras

Mostly あ

Photos Credit to John Anderson

Mostly え

Mostly い

Photos Credit to Travel 67

Mostly う

Photos Credit to Nikoerror

Photos Credit to Smithsonian’s National Zoo

You are a red crowned crane! You are one of a kind, generous, and sometimes mysterious.

You are a macaque monkey! You are smart, sociable, and like to relax.

You are a tanuki! You can adapt well to new situations, you like having fun and playing pranks on people.

You are a Japanese giant salamander! You are unique, a little shy, and like to stay up late.

The red crowned crane has a wingspan of up to 250cm (8.2 feet). It is said to live for 1000 years and grant favors in return for sacrifices. It is the rarest crane in the world and endangered.

The macaque, also known as snow monkey, is native to Japan and very intelligent. It can cope with temperatures as low as -20°C and likes to spend time grooming its friends.

The tanuki, also known as Japanese raccoon dog, is reputed to be jolly and mischievous and a master of shapeshifting. The tanuki appears in a lot of Japanese folklore and is considered to bring good luck.

The Japanese giant salamander only exists in Japan and can grow up to 150cm (5 feet) long. It spends most of its time in the water and is nocturnal. This species is part of many Japanese legends and endangered.

Click here to return to the What Japanese Animal Are You? article.

Click here to return to the Spot The Differences article.

Niigata Noise Autumn 2017  
Niigata Noise Autumn 2017