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One Japan ~ 47 Neighborhoods

Niigata, Niigata

Each region in Japan has its own appeal and originality, and through prefectural cross-fertilization, each has nurtured a unique culture. 47Neighborhoods is a story of BESS and PAPERSKY’S quest to uncover creative and wholesome lifestyles that can be lived in various parts of the Japanese archipelago. The second in this series is a visit to the city of Niigata, in Niigata Prefecture.


Niigata, famous above all for its tasty rice and sake. With that in mind, and with winter just around the corner, PAPERSKY Editor-in-Chief Lucas headed to Niigata City with an old friend and creative collaborator.

Host / Yoshie Sano(Niigata Resident / Owner of BESS Home)
Guest / Yuichiro Oyanagi (Proprietor of Factory Brand “G.F.G.S” / resident of Kamo City) 
Traveler / Lucas B.B.(PAPERSKY Editor)

1. A house that sparks your desire to give something a try.

Originally from Shirane City, Niigata Prefecture, Ms. Sano moved to Niigata City about 10 years ago due to her husband’s work. They are now enjoying a slower pace of life in a BESS house, which they were smitten with when they first glimpsed it in a magazine. Every moment spent in the house that they longed for is a treasure for Sano-san.

Lucas: “Your home is so nice and chilled out. How did you decide on this place?”  

Sano: “I fell in love with it straight away. I first saw the house advertised in a magazine, and immediately felt it was right up my street. I mentioned it to my husband, we went to see it, and the rest is history”.

Lucas: “First impressions really do count don’t they.”  

Sano: “Exactly. It’s what you might call a “modest” house. Someone else was having the same house built and my husband went to check it out. He is in the construction business and remarked on what a nice job they had done with the basic design and the plumbing. Next, we had to persuade his parents. There used to be an old house on this land where my in-laws lived. My husband had to persuade them to dismantle half of that house and to build a new one on that plot.”

Lucas: “How did you manage to persuade them?  

Sano: “We said that the exterior of the house would be Japanese style and refined and would complement the old house. They were convinced that it was much better than just throwing a Western-style house onto the plot” .

Lucas:  “The house is very elegant but in a quite way. I can see exactly why it would appeal to a wide range of people and taste. The design uses wood throughout the house and feels like the work of an artisan. How did your lifestyle change after moving in?”

Sano: “Although I don’t have any particular hobbies, it’s like this house has kindled my desire to try new things. Like weaving a basket or knotting Macramé”

Oyanagi: “I know exactly what you mean! The house inspires you to create.”

Sano: “I’m a full-time homemaker so I want to enjoy the time I spend in the house. The house is like my place of work, and so I like it to be laid out in a way that is easy to move around. This house is well designed and stress-free.”

Oyanagi: “The door between the living room and kitchen is lovely.”

Sano: “My husband made that. Having a door there keeps you warm in winter and makes the air con more efficient in summer. We were discussing it and then one day he just got his toolkit out and got on with it.”.

Lucas: “No way!”

Sano: “We had sofas and loads of other things to begin with but we simplified. So we’ve cleaned up a lot. The other day, my daughter was using this table to play ping-pong! That’s only possible when you haven’t got much stuff and have lots of room. There’s a lot to be said for a simple life”.

Lucas: “So your house actually changed the way you live your lives. I have an office in Shibuya but also keep a base in Yaizu down in Shizuoka. We’re going to give the Yaizu house a total revamp and we’re beginning by cleaning out the house to give us lots of space to breath and think.

Oyanagi: “I have to say that when I saw the BESS advert, I seriously thought about rebuilding myself. What Sano-san said makes a lot of sense. Our house has long corridors and loads of paper sliding doors. Even though it’s just my wife and me and my old man, there’s too much space. I’d love to be in a more simple and uncluttered living space”.

Lucas: “If you let it, stuff just turns into more stuff, so like editing a magazine it’s always important to be editing what you really need and constantly simplifying when possible. This idea of having less; I believe leads to a more comfortable and stress free life. ” 

Oyanagi: “You’re not wrong. We’re a generation that got completely hooked on stuff. Large-scale consumption is the norm. I’m now more inclined to live surrounded by the things that really mean something to me. The interior of Sano-san’s house was really an eye-opener, I reckon I could get rid of loads of stuff if I lived in a place like this”.  

Sano: “Yes, no doubt we can all simplify!”

Oyanagi: “I make clothes for a living, and I like the way this “moderate house” has a subtle outdoorsy feel to it. If you just throw a log house into a residential area, it would look incongruous, but this house has just the right balance. To be honest, I’m very envious of this house.”

2. Our one and only Niigata.

Sano-san and Oyanagi-san were both born in Niigata. The conversation turns to why they could never leave the area and what keeps them here.

Lucas: “Oyanagi-san, tell us a bit about your company GFGS, producing boarder shirts.”

Oyanagi: “It’s pretty strange, even if I do say it myself. Loads of people told me I’d go bust in 2 or 3 years, that doing borders alone would never be enough. I used to make scissors and stuff day after day but had no place to sell them, so I thought why don’t I make products without having inventory? Niigata is a knit production area, right? They are knitted horizontally, so I thought I could use that as a hint to create a border design.”

Lucas: “I feel more and more people like Oyanagi-san are moving to Niigata to do something new. Some areas just seem to pull people in”.

Sano: “Like Nuttari Terrace. The youngsters are swooping in on the old shopping streets, opening up coffee shops, bakeries and furniture stores”.

Lucas: “Oyanagi-san and I held an event at Nuttari Terrace a few years back. It’s a fun place to walk around, with galleries and accessory shops to pop into. Seems like loads of creative types have moved into the old shopping district.” 

Sano: “Recently, I’m really into Murakami City. I think the castle town is charming, and also enjoy the feeling of newly renovated shops. I also like Shimizuen in Shibata City. It still has the ambiance of a samurai residence, with cafes and restaurants inside. I definitely feel these areas that blend the old and the new are my favorite type of locations”

Oyanagi: “That is the great thing about Niigata of late. As soon as a building is empty, someone interesting moves in. I hope the trend continues”.  

Lucas: “There’s loads of other great sides to Niigata, aren’t there?”

Sano: “The real reason I could never leave Niigata is the rice. You take it for granted when you live here a long time, and then you notice when you leave the prefecture. It just doesn’t taste the same. Even the not-so-good stuff in Niigata is a cut above what you get in Tokyo. There’s no doubt about it, the water and rice in Niigata is second to none.

Oyanagi: “When customers come from outside the prefecture, they always say that the rice is delicious. Many of them come back to Niigata just because of the rice – even if you just cook it in a normal rice cooker, it tastes great!”

3. Make some time for yourself.

At this point, Oyanagi-san breaks out some snacks. Oyanagi also runs a café, and joined forces with Wakui Kintaro Shōten (a popular Japanese confectionary store in Kamo City) to create KOINOBORI and Wakui Kintaro’s steamed rice dumplings. The sweetness of the coffee and Japanese sweets notch up the chill factor.

Oyanagi: “Niigata’s sweet mochi dumplings are spot on. You know they are good when the bamboo grass and the rice cake don’t stick together.”

Lucas: “I’m loving these KOINOBORI. Sweet red bean paste with a fluffy pancake skin. These fish shaped sweets rock!”

Oyanagi: “Koinobori carp-shaped windsocks on the Kamo River are a classic spring sight. These snacks use them as a motif.”

Sano: “These KOINOBORI taste fantastic”.  

Lucas: “Kamo is another interesting place”.

Oyanagi: “More and more people are moving in. It’s full of old shops and tasty restaurants. Then there’s Tsubamesanjō, the old artisan quarter, which recently is attracting young aspiring artisans, who are moving in droves. It’s certainly an interesting place, brimming with vitality”.

Lucas: “In the city, everything is available, but living in the countryside, I think it’s great to be able to use old things and to start something on your own, and to naturally feel creative in that way. It doesn’t matter if it is inconspicuous or if it’s creative in a way that only you can understand. If each person has even a little bit of a creative spirit, the area will have energy.”

Sano: “I love spending time on my own. Of course, I love the house itself, but also feel good just by spending time in it. Then when my husband goes out, I can just be in heaven watching Netflix! Given our age, I’ve realized that less is more when it comes to the inside of your house, and it’s so fun to witness the change in the floor and walls over the years. I’m living in the house I always longed for.”

Oyanagi: “You’ve hit the nail on the head. A house is all down to how comfortable it makes you feel. I think it’s time I went back to the drawing board on mine…” 

BESS Homes