Guideto JapanCulture History
Niigata Prefecture lies on Japan’s west coast, in the Hokuriku region, stretching out beside the Sea of Japan. While its borders with neighboring prefectures are mountainous, there are flatter areas toward the coast. Niigata includes the major island of Sado and the mouth of the Shinano River, Japan’s longest. The prefecture is known for its heavy snow, and is the setting for Kawabata Yasunari’s novel Yukiguni (trans. by Edward Seidensticker as Snow Country).
Niigata Prefecture at a Glance
- Established in 1876 (formerly Echigo and Sado provinces)
- Capital: Niigata
- Population: 2,201,000 (as of Oct. 2020)
- Area: 12,584 km2
Once a place of exile, the island of Sado is now a popular tourist destination. Visitors can explore its former gold mine, which helped to support the economy of the shogunate during the Edo period (1603–1868). It is also a habitat for the crested ibis, which has been successfully reintroduced to the island after local extinction. On the mainland, Yuzawa is known for its ski resorts and onsen hot springs. The nearby Mount Tanigawa is a celebrated mountain-climbing destination, but also a dangerous one, accounting for more deaths than any other peak in Japan.
Niigata Prefecture has a long tradition of producing high-quality rice, including particularly the superior Koshihikari variety, as well as related products like sake. It is the home of the ornamental carp nishikigoi, which have become a favorite with collectors overseas. While Japan mainly imports its fuel, the prefecture also has some of the country’s oil and gas projects.
- Tanaka Kakuei (1918–93): Prime minister of Japan from 1972 to 1974, he is remembered for establishing postwar relations with China and his involvement in the Lockheed Scandal.
- Watanabe Ken (1959–): Actor who made his name in Japan before becoming an international star.
- Hirano Ayumu (1998–): Snowboarder with three Olympic medals in the men’s half-pipe event, including a gold in 2022.
(Originally published in English. Banner photo: A Jōetsu Line train passes through a snowy landscape in Niigata Prefecture. © Pixta.)
For the complete list of the country’s 47 prefectures, see “The Prefectures of Japan.”