JOETSU cont’d

Joetsu has not remained untouched by the blatant commercialism that spoils so many small and large Japanese cities. It has also not been able to escape creation of what Alex Kerr in his “Dogs and Demons” describes as demons. Large infra-structural projects benefitting the construction industry more than ordinary citizens.

  • Passing through Joetsu is the Hokuriku Shinkansen that runs between Tokyo and Kanazawa. Joetsumyoko Station offers a direct 2-hour shinkansen connection with Tokyo.
  • The Hokuriku Expressway, running parallel to the coast from Niigata city through Joetsu (Joetsu I.C.), to Kanazawa and on to Maibara (Shiga Prefecture).
  • Finally, the Joshin-etsu Expressway which branches off from the Kan-Etsu Expressway in Gumma Prefecture, terminating at the junction with the Hokuriku Expressway (Joetsu I.C.).

You could hardly describe this shinkansen route and these expressways “demons”. They are functional and have been important in making this part of the country accessible.

A number of public facilities exist  like for instance Region Plaza and Citizens Plaza  which — although not architectural masterworks — do serve a useful purpose. “Demons”? Yes and no.

But where are the “Dogs”? As Alex Kerr explains: “ The emperor of China asked his court painter, “What’s easy to paint, and what’s hard to paint?” and the answer was “Dogs are difficult, demons are easy.” Quiet, low key things like dogs in our immediate surroundings are hard to get right, but anybody can draw a demon.”   

It does not require much effort to notice the “dogs” that are around us in the Shin’etsu region.

The mountains of Nagano and the mountains that surround the plain in which Joetsu is situated. Spectacular snowfall in winter that is beginning to attract attention from an ever increasing number of domestic and foreign tourists. The unfortunate result of the multitude of ski slopes is that outside the skiing season they look like ugly scratches in the landscape made by a giant hand, somewhat comparable to the image of golf courses seen from above.

As soon as the snow has retreated to higher elevations, nature tries to make up for lost time. Bears wake up from their winter slumber and there is almost an explosion of plants and flowers in every park and garden in the region. Flooding of the rice paddies starts in April and the rice seedlings — mostly Niigata’s precious Koshi-hikari rice — are planted at the beginning of May.

The mountain passes on the road between Joetsu and Tokamachi are the best places in the area to view the terraced rice fields (tanada), a photographer’s dream almost any time of the year.

As soon as you descend from the mountains towards the coast, the road signs will start pointing at Takada Park. This is the central part of Takada which city has historically always been the center of activities in the region. It is also the location of Takada Castle.

Naoetsu, on the coast, provided the fish and was the port for the region. It  no longer is the fishing village it once was but its port facilities have been expanded and include a large LNG terminal as well as the ferry services to Sado Island.

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