Tokamachi, land of snow, food and scenic beauty
Receiving up to four meters of snow in the mountain heights and two meters of snowfall in town, Tokamachi spends half the year snowed under and is the snowiest city in the world. The beautiful village culture here is represented by kaen-gata pottery, named for its unique flame-shaped embellishments. This pottery, whose history can be traced back more than five millennia, is the oldest National Treasure of Japan. Unravel the history behind this ancient village culture as you sample distinctive local cuisine that reflects the area’s snowy climate.
Regional foods: Hegi Soba
As soon as the snow thaws, the preparation of the next winter’s food stores begins, and when the snows return, the looms are pulled back out for the long snowy months. Hegi soba was born from that cycle of food and thread—the seaweed that weavers use as an adhesive when making textiles is kneaded into buckwheat dough to make especially firm soba noodles. When rolled out, the soba is stacked in a special wooden tray known as a hegi in neat coils which are said to represent the weave and beauty of the kimono.
Regional foods: Sansai (Mountain vegetables)
Both the abundance of snow and the pristine snowmelt in spring are key to the excellent local mountain vegetables and high-quality crops that are grown in Tokamachi, such as Uonuma Koshihikari brand rice. The extreme seasons have shaped the local food culture: when food ingredients come into season, they must either be eaten immediately or preserved for winter using traditional methods. The preservation is well worth it—when you eat a meal with a cup of locally brewed sake, you will see why people have remained here since ancient times.
Scenery: Gimyo Rice Terraces
The Hoshitoge Rice Terraces of Tokamachi were selected by Tsunagu Japan as the top choice in its list of “30 reasons to go to Japan before you die.” The bucolic beauty of the terraces is amazing enough to warrant a side trip when visiting the vast Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, an art show spread over 760 square kilometers. Enjoy the breathtaking terraced scenery as you seek out more than 200 art pieces which have been distributed throughout the area.
Tokamachi is one of Japan’s preeminent kimono-producing regions. If you miss the kimono festival that is held each year, you can still experience kimono culture at close range through hands-on activities such as dyeing, fabric decoration, and weaving as part of a kimono workshop tour. Play in the snow and spend the night in a traditional home. Take a trip to a hot spring and partake of the local foods between sips of sake. Choose from a wide variety of ways to make your trip unforgettable.
Sightseeing route: Tokamachi City Museum
The Tokamachi City Museum offers multilingual audio guides for visitors to learn about kaen-gata doki, or flame-shaped pottery, and about the history and culture of this snowy region. See the terraced rice fields that gave Tokamachi a place on a list of Japan’s most interesting 100 villages. Stay at one of the accommodations in Matsunoyama Onsen Village, where you can enjoy local ingredients including rice from the terraced fields. Above all, enjoy a cultural aesthetic woven from wholesome village traditions and deep snowfalls.
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