The image of Joetsu, or the lack thereof…


From many people in Joetsu who I meet for the first time, as well as from friends and acquaintances in Tokyo, I often receive the same question: “Why Joetsu”? I can give them a fairly rational explanation.

The response becomes a little more difficult if the same friends and acquaintances in Tokyo ask the logical follow-up question: “Where is Joetsu”? 

People in Kanto are generally not so familiar with what happens at the other side of the Japan Alps, skiing and snowboarding excepted perhaps. The Japan Sea Coast prefectures, regions or cities therefore have to try a little harder to make themselves seen and heard. And most of them do…

Traveling the escalator at Ueno Station from and to the Hokuriku and Tohoku shinkansen is an education in what the region has to offer. The snow, hot springs, sake breweries, festivals, sashimi, local cuisine, beaches. Or more specifically, the slopes of Myoko and Echigo-Yuzawa, the Echigo Tsumari Art Field in Tokamachi, Itoigawa’s Fossa Magna Museum and its Geopark, Sado’s Earth Celebration as examples. Joetsu stands out through its absence. This suggests Joetsu has very little to offer but nothing could be further from the truth.

Takada Park and its castle. One of the best places for cherry blossom viewing in Japan.  A spectacular lotus pond. Takada’s machiya and gangi. The annual sake festival. I could go on but that would only obscure the point I would like to make.

Perhaps not the only reason but at least a major contributor to the relative lack of familiarity with Joetsu stems from the mergers of municipalities and smaller administrative entities that was initiated in the post-war period. The process of merging smaller entities in this region was capped by adding also Naoetsu and Takada and naming the combined city Joetsu. Takada, the castle town and Naoetsu its port were the main constituents. Takada and Naoetsu were also names people from elsewhere to this day still recognize and associate with the rich history of the region.

This merger took place exactly 50 years ago (1971). Takada and Naoetsu each had reasonable grounds to claim its place as the seat of the new city government but after years of negotiations the city arrived at the worst possible decision and that was to avoid a decision by building a new city hall half-way between Takada and Naoetsu. This set in a gradual decline of economic and social activities that Kida, the new “city center”, could not compensate for. Joetsu became a city without a “heart”. 

There are good reasons to clearly define the image the city wants to project. It will put Joetsu on the map, figuratively speaking. A strong image will help in promoting tourism, attracting industrial investment and in bringing new people and new activities to Joetsu. 50 years wasted but it is not too late!  It will require more than a constructive dialogue between bureaucrats, politicians and citizens to come up with results. It requires strong leadership in the community. Will the upcoming mayoral election be a turning point in this respect?


初めてお会いする上越の多くの方や、東京の友人・知人から、同じ質問を受けることがあります。それについて、私は、かなり合理的な説明をすることができます。:「なぜ (移住先が) 上越なのですか?」



北陸新幹線や東北新幹線の発着駅である上野駅のエスカレーターを利用すると、それぞれの地域の魅力を(観光ポスター等から)知ることができます。雪、温泉、酒蔵、祭り、刺身、郷土料理、ビーチ。さらに具体的には、妙高や越後湯沢のスノーゲレンデ、十日町の「大地の芸術祭 越後妻有アートトリエンナーレ」、糸魚川の「フォッサマグナミュージアム」や「ジオパーク」、佐渡の「アース・セレブレーション」など。上野駅ではその存在を消す事で逆に際立っているのが上越ですが、そしてその事で、上越には何もないと思われがちですが、実はそうではないのです。




上越市が映し出したいイメージを明確にするには、もっともな理由があります。それは、比喩的に言えば、上越市を地図上に示すことになるでしょう。強いイメージは、観光を促進し、産業投資を誘致し、新しい人々や活動を上越にもたらすのに役立ちます。50年の歳月を無駄にはしましたが、今からでも遅くはありません!  結果を出すためには、官僚、政治家、市民の間で建設的な対話をする以上のことが必要です。地域の強力なリーダーシップが必要なのです。今度の市長選挙は、この点で、ターニングポイントになるでしょうか?

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