In my previous post I talked about the amazing underground music festival, Labyrinth. Being held in the town of Naeba (苗場), in Niigata Prefecture (新潟県), the trip would not have been complete without doing a bit of exploration. What my wife and I found while out walking around, however, is something that neither of us had been prepared for!
While exploring the town, we experienced a range of emotional reactions touching upon loniless, melancholy and even mild trepidation. Naeba was obviously a trendy resort town decades ago and clearly enjoyed a lucrative tourism boom during the 1980s bubble economy. What's left of it now are the remains of a time long forgotten filled with faded memories, abandoned dreams and probably a number of ghosts and wandering spirits as well. In a discussion about the town, my wife, our friends and I speculated that perhaps the town comes alive in winter when the ski slopes are covered with fresh snow. It could be possible, but many of the chair lifts have clearly gone several years without maintenance, which makes this seem unlikely. I mentioned the experience to a co-worker whose grandparents were raised in, and still live in northern Niigata. She said that she remembers a time when Naeba was indeed an exceedingly popular vacation spot for skiers, but that it lost its popularity quite some time ago and is rarely mentioned as a travel destination nowadays. She was somewhat shocked that Naeba is the host of such a highly-acclaimed international electronic music festival. Indeed the locals must mire at the annual influx of visitors from overseas.
Other high-points of the trip worth mentioning are the two brief stop-overs at Echigo-Yuzawa Station (越後湯沢駅) on the Joetsu Bullet Train line (上越新幹線). Yuzawa is a charming mountain town with quaint shopping streets and a fantastic train station that's packed with outstanding restaurants and shops, all featuring locally-produced products, foods, crafts and souvenirs. As Niigata Prefecture is famous for rice, sake and microbrews, these items are available there in great abundance and vast variety.
Naeba. What an unexpected and fascinating journey!
More photos are available here for anyone who's interested.