Revised and updated 26th August 2016

Japan and, more specifically, Niigata Prefecture, the home and heartland of Nishikigoi has probably never been more accessible to Nishikigoi hobbyists than it is today.

In 2004 when Peter Waddington published Koi2Kichi I remember questioning the value of a whole book with maps, tours and a DVD to show people around the Koi breeders of Niigata – surely it was of limited interest and value.  In early 2007 those same maps, and the DVD which was sadly left in the DVD player of a rental car in Nagaoka, played a significant role in developing the love affair I now have with ‘Yamakoshi’.

Yamakoshi sign in the snow

Yamakoshi sign in the snow

Nowadays the Internet means information relating to ‘Yamakoshi’ is a whole lot easier to come by.  Facebook has made breeders accessible to all, some are just a private message away, hotel and car hire can be made via the Internet, individual breeders’ mudponds can even be pinpointed on Google maps, many applications will automatically translate text, and even speech.

In this article we will look at some of the options available, and things to consider, for the person wishing to visit ‘Yamakoshi’ independently.

Among the things we will cover include :


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  • Culture differences
  • Language differences, both written and verbal
  • How to travel around
  • Where to go and what to see
  • Where to stay
  • Where and what to eat

Having lived in Ojiya, and spent much of the last 9 years in the mountains of Yamakoshi, hopefully I’ll answer all of those questions and concerns and, more so, demonstrate that it is quite simple for the ‘Independent Koi Traveller’ to experience Niigata, see Koi, breeders and a whole lot more of Japanese culture.

 

Panoramic view from 'The Breakfast Spot'

Panoramic view from ‘The Breakfast Spot’

Buying Koi

I must start off by saying that if your objective is to visit Japan and purchase Koi then the simplest and most practical route to doing so is to visit the breeders with a dealer or agent. It is entirely possible to walk into breeders in Niigata and purchase Koi however, irrespective of what anyone may have written before, the logistics of arranging for them to be sent around the world are prohibitive on a number of levels, not least financially. If you are with an agent or dealer they will take care of all of this for you. However, most dealers and agents are understandably only going to be interested in purchasing Koi, not partaking in sightseeing and absorbing the culture. Should you wish to do both, it is perfectly practical to meet up with a dealer or agent for a few days Koi buying before or after taking in some sightseeing.

Getting to Japan

Most people visiting Japan and then travelling to Niigata will arrive at either Narita International Airport or, increasingly commonly, Tokyo International Airport (or Haneda as usually called).

The night view of Tokyo Narita Airport Terminal 1

The night view of Tokyo Narita Airport Terminal 1

Photo by Nanashinodensyaku (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 


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It is actually possible to fly to Niigata Airport using Korean Air (via Seoul) and China East Airlines (via Shanghai).

Visa Requirements

(information sourced from http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/essential/visa.html – 26th August 2016)

Any foreign visitor who wishes to enter Japan must have a passport, which will remain valid during the period of stay.

Nationals of many countries are eligible to enter Japan without a visa unless the purpose of the visit is to reside in Japan, to obtain employment or to otherwise engage in remunerative activities.

The following is a list of nationals of countries that have “Reciprocal Visa Exemption Arrangements” with Japan:

For a period of 90 days or less

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay


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For a period of 15 days or less

Thailand and Brunei

Countries that require visas

Nationals of countries that do not have “Reciprocal Visa Exemption Arrangements” with Japan must obtain a visa. Please see the information below if you are a visitor from a country that does not fall under the sixty-six countries with the visa exemption programs above.

China
http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/topics/china.html
Russia, CIS countries, or Georgia
http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/russia_nis.html
Philippines
http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/philippine.html
Other nationalities (if a visa is necessary)
http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/other_visa.html

Please check to ensure that the above is correct for your specific circumstances.

Arriving at the airport

Whichever airport you use, upon arrival in Japan visitors are required to fill in a temporary landing registration form and customs declaration before passing through passport control and onto baggage reclaim and customs checks. Normally the flight attendants will give you the appropriate forms. Around the airport there are many English signs and most officials can speak sufficient English to complete formalities. Don’t be surprised to spend an hour queuing for passport control, although my experience of recent years is that this time is much improved.

Japanese immigration card for foreigners

Japanese immigration card for foreigners

The immigration form requires completion of your hotel details so always have these to hand.  Also there are questions on the reverse of the immigration form to be completed.  Assuming you are granted entry a temporary visitor sticker will be placed in your passport and the embarkation part of the visa form stapled to your passport.  Ensure you don’t lose it as it will be required to be submitted when you leave, on that note, remember to complete it before arriving back at the immigration desks on your departure.


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When passing through immigration you will be required to have left and right index finger scans taken, and a head photograph.

Having passed immigration you will collect your baggage before passing through customs where you are required to hand in the completed customs declaration pictured below.

Japanese customs declaration

Japanese customs declaration

 

It’s likely the customs officers will ask a few questions, for example how long you are staying, and where you are staying, and they seem to inspect more bags than most airports I’ve passed through so don’t be surprised if they ask to check your bag.

Where now?

From Narita

Narita Airport is situated about 60km from central Tokyo and that is where you need to head first before progressing to Niigata. Just to clarify, your final destination is actually Nagaoka, which is in Niigata Prefecture.  Niigata City is prefecture capital.  Hereafter I will use Nagaoka as our destination.

There are 2 main options for getting from Narita Airport to Tokyo, the Narita Express or the Keisei Skyliner.


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The Narita Express, or N’Ex as it’s referred to, usually runs once every one hour, and every 30 minutes at peak times, and takes just under an hour to reach Tokyo Station.  As of 26th August 2016 the standard ticket price from Narita Airport to Tokyo is ¥3220,  if your stay is under 14 days it is possible to purchase a discounted return ticket for ¥4000 https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/pass/nex_round.html.

Narita Express

Narita Express

An alternative to the Narita Express is the Keisei Skyliner which takes 41minutes to travel from Narita Airport to Ueno Station in Tokyo, which also provides direct access to the Shinkansen trains to Nagaoka.  The cost of the service is ¥2630.

Despite being slightly cheaper and faster than the Narita Express, the Keisei Skyliner has the inconvenience of having to purchase 2 lots of tickets, one for the Skyliner and one for the Shinkansen, whereas the Japan Rail service counters can issue tickets from Narita Airport all the way to Nagaoka.  Also, if electing to use a JR Rail Pass, then they are not valid for travel on the Keisei Skyliner.In addition to the above options there are also a number of local trains that will take you from the airport to Tokyo, albeit at a somewhat slower pace.

From Haneda

The journey from Haneda Airport to Tokyo Station takes under 30 minutes.  Firstly take the Tokyo Monorail from the airport to Hamamatsucho, passing Tokyo Ryutsu Centre, home of the All Japan Koi Show, on route.  From Hamamatsucho a number of local lines will transfer you to Tokyo Station in a matter of minutes.  The total cost of the journey is just ¥650 making Haneda Airport a very convenient option to Narita Airport.

Shinkansen

Nagaoka is serviced by the Joetsu Shinkansen line which cuts straight through the mountainous spine of Japan.

Map showing route of Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagaoka

Map showing route of Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagaoka

Tokyo station is a central hub for Shinkansen (bullet) trains to just about anywhere you would want to go in Japan. There are information desks in the station where the staff speak very good English. Likewise signs are also clearly displayed in English. In total over 4000 trains pass through Tokyo station each day.  Tokyo is the likely starting point for most people heading to Nagaoka, unless you’ve used the Keisei Skyliner.  Ueno station is just a few minutes from Tokyo station and the first stop for the Shinkansen.


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Shinkansen in Nagaoka station

Shinkansen in Nagaoka station

Trains heading for Nagaoka from Tokyo station depart from platforms 20-23. Nagaoka is 245km away, a journey that takes around 1hr 45mins depending on which service you use. Seats can be reserved or non-reserved. All trains on the Joetsu line are non-smoking

Shinkansen trains are an experience in themselves. They are immaculately clean and almost without exception run on time, the suggestion being that if you think a train is late your watch is probably wrong. As mentioned above you can purchase tickets to take you all the way from Narita Airport to Nagaoka at the airport, you don’t need to worry about finding ticket booths in Tokyo. The total cost of the journey is around ¥12200. Tickets can be purchased using credit cards without any problem and, usually the station staff will issue them in English so they are easier to understand.

 

Rail Passes

Mention must be made of rail passes which are available for visitors to Japan.

JR East

If you are just visiting Niigata from Tokyo (including Narita Airport) then your whole visit falls within the rail network of Japan Rail East (JR East) and is covered, potentially by a JR East Nagano, Niigata Area Rail Pass. The JR East Pass is a flexible five day pass allowing unlimited travel on any five days within 14 days of issuance, including the day of issuance. The cost of the rail pass is ¥17000 offering immediate savings over the cost of the return journey from Narita Airport to Nagaoka (costing ¥24400), of course this assumes that your total stay is under 14 days.

JR East rail passes can be purchased in advance from an agent, online, or in Japan from ticket offices or service centres including those at Narita and Haneda Airports. For more information see – http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/eastpass_n/index.html


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All Japan

If you are travelling further afield in Japan, for example visiting, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, etc, the you can purchase a Japan Rail Pass which covers the whole of the country. The are issued for 7, 14 or 21 day periods however, unlike the JR East Pass above, must be purchased outside of Japan.

7 Day ¥29110
14 Day ¥46390
21 Day ¥59350

With a single shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Hiroshima costing ¥19000 the savings are obvious! For more information on the Japan Rail Pass see – http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/index.html

Where to Stay

There are essentially 2 choices of where to stay, either Nagaoka itself or Ojiya which is 20km away. Nagaoka is larger with a greater choice of hotels, bars and restaurants than Ojiya.  Nagaoka is situated slightly further away from the Koi breeders you’ll be wanting to visit, it takes around 25 minutes or so to reach Yamakoshi from Nagaoka. If staying in Ojiya then you can be in ‘Koi country’ within 10 minutes of leaving your hotel.

There are a number of hotels in Nagaoka and Ojiya offering a range of accommodation options from simple business rooms to rather more luxurious luxurious suite of the New Otani.

All of the hotels listed below offer Internet access and have the option of breakfast available.


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Nagaoka Hotels

Aerial photo map showing location of Nagaoka Hotels

Aerial photo map showing location of Nagaoka Hotels

Nagaoka Grand Hotel

New Otani Hotel

The Mets

Alpha-1 Hotel

Ojiya Hotels

Aerial photo map showing location of Ojiya Hotels

Aerial photo map showing location of Ojiya Hotels

New Plaza Business Hotel

Hotel Ojiya Park


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New Plaza Business Hotel, Ojiya City

New Plaza Business Hotel, Ojiya City

 

 

In the next part of this article we will look at the practicalities of staying in, and getting around, Niigata in more detail.


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