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Tour de Nippon

Niigata Itoigawa

Situated on the western tip of Niigata Prefecture, the city of Itoigawa is something of a jewelry box. Scrawling down the topographical traits and famous places on a map, you realize that it is crammed full of world-beating spots. As you pick up the round pebbles on the seashore, a glance over the city reveals the dramatic backdrop of the Northern Alps, including several of Japan’s most celebrated peaks. Time to take a trip into this bucolic yet unforgiving land, where locals agilely coexist with nature.


Knowledge and wisdom are key to polishing local gems. 

Tsurugiya, a long-established and castle-like bastion of Japanese cuisine, burned to the ground during the Great Fire of Itoigawa in 2016. However, this did not deter 5th generation owner Mr.Takao Aoki from setting up a temporary kitchen and working night and day to provide luxury lunchboxes to the passengers of Setsugetsuka, the resort train linking Itoigawa with Myoko Kogen. Mysteriously, his daughter Shihoko had moved back home just before the fire, which was welcome news for Mr.Aoki. Two years later they began a new chapter in the same location, and in a show of optimism over regret, he vowed to just start out small, to keep the flag flying.  Shihoko explains their thinking: “We wanted the new building to reflect the current day and age. While drawing on my father’s wealth of knowledge, we aimed to create Japanese cuisine that could really draw in the younger generation”. Each individual dish is bursting with the flavors of Itoigawa’s seasonal produce, which is a delight for both the eyes and palate in equal measure. The winds of change are abundant in the new “Tsurugiya”.

Shihoko-san’s endeavors are closely watched over by her father. They share a great bond.
A sumptuous spring seafood arrangement by “Tsurugiya”.

“Tsumugi Biyori” is a craft market held once a year, drawing in crowds from all over Japan. Organizer and eldest of three sisters Chie Amano reminisces on how it all started: “We were just sisters that liked hand-made stuff, and through our friends and network it just grew organically.” From a place to sell produce they had grown, it grew into an event for displaying the fruits of their collective labors. Originally a homemaker, Chie is now an employee at a local clothing company and also helping department stores organize activities to pass on traditional Niigata cuisines such as Sasa Zushi. She epitomizes the people of Niigata, who are the unpolished gemstones that forge local connections and make the whole region shine.

Chie Amano of the “Tsumugibiyori” craft market that acts as a social hub.
Papersky’s Tour de Nippon project is about finding the magic of Japan’s rural districts, their inhabitants, nature, culture and food. We travel to various prefectures and ride bicycles. Traveling via bicycle allows us a clean and healthy way to explore Japan’s rural areas.
text | KaO photography | Tsutomu Yamada special thanks | Itoigawa City, Masaki Igarashi, Kaoru Ito