To be perfectly honest with you I haven't got the faintest idea what to expect from Niigata beyond the fantasy I grown from reading the novel Yukiguni (Snow Country) by Yasunari Kawabata way back when I was in high school.
Just in case you don't know, the novel is a compelling tale of a geisha and a dilettante in Niigata. The fragility of life and love is brilliantly chronicled and the ending is heart-meltingly grievous; you can almost hear a whisper of sadness from the Snow Country as you read towards the end.
It is the book where I first read about sake: urbane geisha pouring sake for her clientèle to have the latter paralyzed by happiness. Oh, the definitive combination of good swill and good swing -- little wonder that I had loitered away half of my boyhood in countless romantic clouds that followed. Oh, g-eisha, ge-i-sha, my gei-sh-a! My dame serves me warm sake in the cold weather. It's aerial, it's musical and it's surely beautiful.
All of which does not alter the fact that sake is not served like this in Niigata in every-day reality.
Here in Ponshukan, one of the most famous sake shops in the southern part of Niigata, sakes are sold, cold, in Iidō-hanbaiki (vending machine in Japanese), as though those for condoms. If you want the sake, feed the greedy, stone cold DIY machine with coins first; put in the same kind of plastic cup they give you in the clinic for urine sample under the stupid dispenser second and third, await the machine to dole out the fluid you wanted.
Quite a dissonance, ain't it? The romance is missed, the bubble of my fantasy popped and the disappointment is beyond diagnosis.