Missing Niigata


My mother in law called me last weekend, and asked the perpetual question, as she does almost every year: “When are you coming here again, aren’t you doing the taiken nyuugaku anymore?” The last time we were in Japan was already more than three years ago and though we would have loved to go more often and earlier, there were some personal circumstances (in their part) that made us postpone going.

I smiled and asked her the same question. In two months, it will be TEN years since we moved to Dubai – and not once did they visit, nor expressed their wish to do so. Unlike other Japanese people who recently have been becoming keen to see the world, my in-laws ‘got out’ of Japan, all together only once – when their son and I got married almost 14 years ago in the Philippines.

For them, travelling is this big, insurmountable thing that takes too much energy to tackle and if they have extra cash, they’d rather use it to get another truck, farming tool or purchase more land. I never understood it at first but after a few visits to their town and I get it.

When I first visited in 1999, I learned how many of the townspeople choose to stay in their comfort zones. Some die without even leaving the small town or city. Travel is definitely not for everyone and definitely not for my in-laws. And that’s ok as long as they are happy tethered to their comfort zone.


My husband’s hometown is not a popular tourist destination in Japan. It’s miles and miles away from Tokyo. It’s dark after 8 pm. Ciccadas are loud in the summer and deers, wild rabbits and raccoon dogs appear out of nowhere any given time of the day.

The summers are hot and humid – believe me it’s tougher to spend summer there than in Dubai and the winters are long, wet and the snow…oh the snow.

I’ve been sorting out my old hard disk drive and found photos I took way before I started blogging so I thought, why not share the story behind these photos? My in-laws live in Niigata Prefecture, in the north western part of Japan, facing the Sea of Japan. Niigata prefecture, especially their town of Tokamachi is one of the biggest producers of premium quality rice in the country.


What you would find in the books about Tokamachi City in Niigata Prefecture are two things.

Rice and snow.

My father in-law owns a number of farm plots near his house. He tends to it ALONE. But forget the traditional farming in South East Asia where you see water buffalos tilling the soil and farmers having difficult time doing it alone.

ine kari

Like other modern Japanese farmers, my FIL (father in-law)  has these power tractors that make work easier for him. My mother in-law helps and during school breaks, when I didn’t have part time jobs, I was there to help out. {Even before getting married, I was already close to them.}


ine kari

So close that they allow me to help out in this seasonal task.

Actually, I would be there on long weekends in September too when the rice grains are ripe and ready to harvest because I had been enthralled with the whole process of rice production and wonder why this part of the country earned the honor of being “the best in Japan”.  Once you tasted the cooked Japanese rice from the first harvest…you somehow crave for it…along with awesome Japanese sake (rice wine)!

But before the bowl of rice reaches your table, you have to work for it! I was curious about how these machines work and my father in law allowed me to ‘test drive’.

Japan farm life

Now, my FIL is a typical Japanese who aims for perfection. I was surprised he allowed me to get into this thing!

Japan farm life

He was so detailed about everything and I have seen him during the planting season. This man takes his rice affair very seriously.


The Uonuma (name of their town) Koshihikari rice is the best in Japan, something that the locals of nearby Akita would contest.  The Uonuma district in Niigata prefecture is famous for producing Koshihikari of top quality, and this is why Koshihikari produced in this district, or Uonuma-san Koshihikari (“san” means “produce”), is called “burando mai” (brand rice). Uonuma-san Koshihikari is ranked as Toku A by the Japan Grain Inspection Association. (Toku means Special).

The other thing about this town is snow.

Tokamachi City is known for abundance of snow. In fact, the area receives the most snow compared to any area on the main island of Honshu and is the record holder of the most amount of snowfall with 463 cm. So that verdant green fields in the summer?

niigata snow

GONE by winter.

Japan farm life

Here’s a photo of my brother (left) and my husband’s brother taken just outside of my in-laws’ house during the middle of winter season. My brother who just arrived in Japan a few months prior wanted to see snow so I sent him off to my in-laws in Niigata prefecture. My family, we were living in Nagano prefecture where snow is less so I thought my brother need to see the real deal. I guess he got all the snow he wished for!

Japan farm life

The amount of snowfall is so ridiculous but instead of whining about it, the residents graciously deal with it every year and make gigantic figures out of it and also holds an annual “snow festival” in February. Tokamachi Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) was started in 1950 by the citizens and for the citizens of Tokamachi based on the idea “let’s not make snow our enemy, let’s make snow our friend.”

The fireworks that decorate the sky at the finale of the snow-stage carnival make snowy scenery that appears straight out of a fantasy.


I hoped you enjoyed today’s little tidbits about my life in Japan. If you’re a new reader, a little background: I lived in Japan for 10 years and a few months before relocating to the UAE.

I’ve not been able to visit my in laws during harvest time but one day, I hope to take the kids there to experience it. As I’ve said in the beginning of this post, my in laws’ little town isn’t as glamorous as the big and popular cities of Tokyo or Osaka but I miss it. It holds a special place in my heart.


  1. I can feel the love you have for Japan its heartbreaking. Its such a wonderful feeling! Sana we can live in 2 places at the same time. Haha!! Sana i can visit your in laws’ hometown, pero I’m sure Panget will be bored.

    Sama ako when you go japan! Haha..

    Love, Didi



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