Niigata is my current home. That’s why I might be a bit biased when I say that this is one of the greatest place to run in Japan. (I think it really is!) Mostly because of the beautiful Yasuragitei (やすらぎ堤) river side path, and the presence of the Shinano River (信濃川 the longest river in Japan) and the Sea of Japan. You can experience all of these on a single run.
You will probably be arriving in Niigata by shinkansen or by plane. Since 2012, the Niigata airport has been offering much more connections to Narita, which makes it really convenient to travel to and from internationally. Most of the hotels can be found in the proximity of the train station or in the Furumachi (古町) area. You can access the amazing Yasuragitei I was just telling you about in less than 15 minutes by walking from both these areas.
Basically, if you are in the station area, walk toward the Shinano River. If you are in the Furumachi area, you can walk toward the river or toward the sea. You’ll find the path on both sides since this area forms a kind of island with the river on one side and the sea on the other. Make sure you run on the “Island” side of the river and not on the train station side.
Once you’re on the path, you’ll notice the nice and smooth asphalt and the wide grass area next to it. It’s actually a great place for barefoot running if you’re into that kind of thing. If you follow the path all the way, you’ll be doing a closed loop of about 14.5 km. While you run, you’ll see the beautiful Shinano River, breathtaking cherry blossoms (in April), the Ryutopia Performing Arts Center with its roof garden, a few parks, the mighty Sea of Japan with Sado Island in the horizon (on clear days), Sekiya Beach, and probably a good amount of other runners. I have been doing 99% of my running there for the past 4 years and I’m still impressed by how nice it is every time. There are also a bunch of water fountains spread along the path and a couple of vending machines. These can be life savers during the summer months.
But wait! That’s not all! There is also the Niigata City Athletic Stadium right next to it. If you have a specific training session which requires track work; that’s your place! You can access the track for 200 yen most of the time. If you want to see the schedule and make sure you don’t show up while there is a special event taking place, you can consult the monthly schedule here by choosing the PDF in the left side menu (新潟市陸上競技場6月（PDF) , that’s the schedule for June 2014). This complex also has a gym and other installations.
Niigata City hosts many races throughout the year, mostly during spring and fall (THE place to find races and register for them is runner.jp). The biggest one is the Niigata City Marathon held in mid-October (the 2014 edition will be on October 12). Of course, it includes a 10K and a half marathon as well as the full. The starting line can be quite crowded, but it definitely is a beautiful course.
Running in Niigata during spring and fall is amazing! During the peak of summer though, it’s a bit different. It gets really hot and humid. In August, I rarely run after 9am or before 7pm. It’s just too hot. If you do run in the middle of day during summer, make sure you stay well hydrated (you can use the water fountains along the path). Winter is not too bad. Niigata prefecture is know for it’s heavy snow falls, but that is mostly true in the more mountainous rural regions. Niigata City doesn’t get that much. It’s safe to say that you shouldn’t have much trouble going out for a run at almost any moment during the winter months. Just make sure your clothes match the outside temperature. A nice pair of running glove goes a long way!
I could go on for a long time about Niigata, but I’ll just add that if you like Japanese food and sake, you HAVE to stop by. It is also your gate to Sado Island (stay tuned for that post).
Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions about this great city. If you are in the area, let me know and I’ll gladly join you for a run!