Rich in history and famous for salmon, beef and tea, Murakami should be on every discerning foodie and culture buff’s list, as World Travel Guide explains
While most travellers make a beeline for bustling megacities like Tokyo and Yokohama, those after a slice of authentic Japanese experience hop on a Shinkansen (bullet train) or JR lines and find their way to Murakami on the west coast of Japan, within the Niigata prefecture. This mountainous city is laced with rivers and waterfalls, plus a string of sandy beaches tucked between ridges of rock. Come for a unique cultural experience and a vibrant food scene. And with this post highlighting all the essential things to see & do in Murakami, you know you’re in for a good time.
A big dose of culture
An ancient castle town and a samurai stronghold in the 1600s, Murakami retains many of the original samurai houses – a few of them offer tours to visitors, so visit one or two and keep a look out for features such as intricate wooden doors and Byōbu (Japanese folding screens bearing beautiful painting depicting nature).
The Japanese Garden Festival, held from May 1 to 31 each year, is a delightful event made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of the good people of Murakami. During this time, many Japanese gardens in private homes, shops, and temples welcome visitors to enjoy the blossoms of spring for free. Look for a small green sign with numbers posted at the entrance – it signifies a warm welcome.
Another key event takes place from September 15 to October 15. Known as Machiya Byōbu exhibition, the traditional wooden houses across Murakami open their doors and showcase their very best Byōbu – some with backgrounds made from gold leaf and date back to the Edo period (1603-1868).
Local crafts are yet another expression of Murakami’s old-world charm. Tsuishu Urushi red lacquerware is a traditional craft of Japan and is considered to be the speciality handicraft of the Niigata prefecture. Visit the lovely shop of Kosugi Shikki and learn the significance of lacquerware from the owners.
Sensational sea views
The 11km (7 miles) stretch of Sasagawa-nagare coastline with turquoise waters is a popular beach paradise attracting visitors of all ages. A little further south of Murakami Marina lies the famous Senami Onsen, a hot spring haven. Check into a seafront ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) to soothe your aches by immersing yourself in a hot spring bath while gazing out over the Sea of Japan.
Salmon is everywhere, and beef is famous too
Learn the word sake (Japanese for salmon) quickly as they are everywhere in Murakami. They are hung neatly from the ceiling, prepared delicately in 100 ways, and they even had their pictures painted on manhole covers. The fish is caught fresh from the Miomote River using traditional fishing nets and often air-cured for six months before being sold.
Another local speciality is the beautifully-marbled high-grade Murakami beef, from cows raised with quality rice straw and hay. Try a rare steak rice bowl – thin strips of meat served on a bed of rice and onion with soy sauce – simple but delicious.
Where to stay in Murakami
Taikanso Senami no Yu (2-10-24 Senamionsen) promises the ultimate spa experience with a large open-air hot spring bath right on the beach. All rooms offer panoramic sea views too. For ¥16,000 (US$150) per person, you get to enjoy a night of accommodation plus dinner and breakfast.
An intimate thatched-roofed cottage sitting peacefully amid a beautiful garden, Gono no yakata Goshikan inn (289-1 Nukuide) is a mid-range retreat combining rustic with luxurious. The centre of the inn is a traditional dining room featuring a fiery hearth in the middle of the large dining table. A night of accommodation plus dinner and breakfast costs ¥13,000 (US$120) per person.
Budget travellers may want to choose Zaigomon (728 Takane), a local farm-stay perched on a small hill with a very enticing price – accommodation with dinner and breakfast only sets you back ¥5,000 (US$48), what a deal!
Where to eat in Murakami
Founded in 1867, Shintaku (3-38 Komachi) focuses on hearty food with the chefs using only the best seasonal ingredients – salmon in autumn, crab in winter and fine Murakami beef throughout the year. Price starts from ¥5,000 (US$48) per person.
Edosho (2-17 Omachi) is the place to enjoy Murakami beef – you can have it grilled, sautéed, drenched in hot broth or served raw – and it is excellent value too, with prices starting from ¥2,000 (US$19) per person.
If you’re looking to enjoy a hearty Japanese meal without breaking the bank, Chidori (2-14 Saikumachi) is a great option. Renowned for their friendly staff and fresh ingredients, this casual dining spot is ideal for set meals with prices starting at ¥1,500 (US$14) per person.
Getting to Murakami
Murakami is an easy reach from Tokyo – take a Joetsu Shinkansen (bullet train) northwest to Niigata for about two hours. Then, transfer to the JR Uetsu line for an hour, getting off at Murakami station.
If you’re visiting the Niigata prefecture, you can also fly into Niigata airport and catch the JR Uetsu line straight to Murakami station.