Niigata #4: Hegi soba (へぎそば)

Soba is buckwheat noodle, famous around the country and available in every prefecture across Japan. What makes Niigata-style noodles unique is in two ways. First, pure soba flour is difficult to work with, so most use about 80% soba flour and 20% something else, usually another flour. Niigata style adds seaweed called funori instead of another flour to help the noodles bond together. The second way is how the noodles are served. Much like Iwate’s Wanko soba, Hegisoba is also served in bite-sized portions, but with a large number on a platter called a hegi.

Hegi soba can of course be eaten all over Niigata, but there are restaurants that also serve this specialty in Tokyo, including Hegisobakon in Shinjuku. If you have the opportunity, try these noodles and enjoy!

Rivalry Part 1: Niigata #3 – Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信)

Postacollect Gotochi postcards usually depict famous goods, foods, or places, but of the 282 current cards, 10 feature famous people from the prefectures (11 if you count the folklore legend Momotaro from Okayama).

My next posts will introduce two of these: Niigata’s Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578) and Yamanashi’s Takeda Shingen (1521-1573). These two were both daimyo (warlords) in the Sengoku (warring states) era of Japanese history, and their long-standing rivalry and respect for one another is famous even (especially!) today. Since I’m speaking about their rivalry however, they will both feature in each others’ post, so be sure to read both!

Uesugi Kenshin was the daimyo of Echigo province, and Takeda Shingen the daimyo of Kai Province, which are now the modern-day prefectures of Niigata and Yamanashi. Their rivalry lasted for 14 years until Takeda’s death in 1573, and they engaged in many battles over the years. However despite their rivalry on the battlefield, they seemed to have held a great deal of respect for each other. It is said that Takeda sent Uesugi many gifts over the years, including a very valuable sword, while Uesugi refused to attack Takeda during a vulnerable time while he was being sieged, and even sent him precious salt, saying “wars are to be won with swords and spears, not with rice and salt”. Uesugi’s honorable conduct towards Takeda, despite their multiple meetings on the battlefield, shows his true “samurai spirit”, and the same can be said of Takeda.

Their rivalry and lives catch the imaginations people today, as evidenced by the large number of samurai movies, games, and goods that are produced for public consumption, and there are many places around Japan to learn about the history of these two figures. You can read about and explore some of these places here.

Interestingly, while Uesugi is considered to be “from” Niigata, his actual birthplace and the seat of his lands was actually in Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture, not Niigata. I’ve been to the site of the former castle that housed Uesugi, and the shrine that now stands on the castle grounds. It is a really interesting shrine that honors Uesugi, and there is an Uesugi Kenshin festival held there every year in late April/early May, where thousands of “samurai warriors” parade through the streets. Here are some pictures from the shrine during the preparation for this festival:

These boards on the way to the shrine have information on Uesugi, Takeda, and some of the other figures of the time.

Banners with each daimyo’s name, family crest, and picture lead up to the main shrine buildings

Close up of two of the banners

There is also a museum and a mausoleum in Yonezawa containing information, artifacts, and the burials of the Uesugi clan.

Following this post is another with more information on Takeda Shingen.