On a recent Sunday I set off for Shibata (新発田市), a city some 30k northeast of Niigata (新潟市) in the Kaetsu region of the prefecture. My son's high school baseball team had a game there against a local school, and as I rarely pass on an opportunity to visit this quaint locale, I was doubly glad, trebly in fact, for the weather was glorious, surely one of the last (the last?) mild days in Niigata this year before the onset of winter.
Shibata was a castle town during the Edo era (1603-1867), and the city has done a fine job of restoring the structure, completing the project in 2004. The original 60,000 stone castle was built in 1654 but was destroyed by fire a few years later. In its present form the castle dates to 1679.
Castle towns throughout the country tended to act as centers of culture, usually imitating Japan's greatest such center, Kyoto. Thus it is that one will often find such towns dotted with temples and imposing residential compounds. An example of the latter, Shimizu-en, is shown below.
Shimizu-en was comlpeted in 1693 and has been designated a National Cultural Treasure. The above building, unique in Japan for its combination of purpose and architectural style, was a kind of dormitory for low-ranking warriors who received instruction in the way of the samurai, or bushido, while in residence.
High-ranking samurai lived in detached houses, of which that below is an example.
Hokoji, a temple about 400 years old, is one of several in the area in Shibata known as teramachi, or "temple district".
The visitor's center just up the street was definitely worth a stop.
Especially nice was the selection of locally-grown veg, the succulent asparagus in particular, as I
discovered that evening.