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Monday 5 January 2015

Fact 53. Hull is a sister city to Niigata in Japan.

Niigata is a sister city of Hull. I understands that a sister city is the same as a twin city. Niigata is the capital city of the Prefecture (county) of the same name. It lies on the north west coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu and faces the island in the Japan Sea of Sado. The city has a population of about 800,000. Niigata apparently means 'New Lagoon' and the city is also sometimes called the 'City of Water' as it is at the confluence of two rivers.

The city is connected to National and International destinations by air and to Sado Island. The Shinkansen or Bullet Train was connected through to Tokyo in 1991.

The City was established at the mouth of the Shinano River around 600 years ago. About 5 miles away the Agano River reached the sea. A town was built there too, called Nuttari. In the canal many canals were dug in the area and  eventually this led to both rivers reaching the Sea of Japan at the same outlet. This then allowed much land to be converted to rice paddy and this helped the Niigata Prefucture bcome the main rice growing area in Japan. The deeper water at the single outlet also meant that a port became established. Fishing developed with boats ranging far and wide, as they do to this day. In 1730 further canals were dug and the rivers once again re aligned with the larger amount of water now discharging from the Agano River and by passing Niigata. More land was able to be put under cultivation

Rice paddies near Niigata

The city of Niigata and the Agano River and bridges. Sado Island can be seen in the distance to the left.

In 1858 Niigata was coosen as one of five ports to be opened up for International Trade at the end of the Japanese Isolation period. It wasn't until 1869 that the first foreign ship visited though due to the need for dredging the shallow waters of the port. In 1914 Nuttari on the east bank of the Agano River was merged with Niigata on the west side.

Niigata was lucky not to go down in history as it was selected as one of the targets for the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan to end WWII. It was to be the target of the second bomb if Japan didn't surrender after the first on Hiroshima. Other targets were Kokura and Nagasaki. Rumours of a bombing lead the Governor to announce an evacuation of the city and it was deserted for several days. In the end poor weather over the area and the extra distance from the airbases meant they were spared and Nagasaki went down in the history books.

In 1955 a great fir devastated much of the city centre and in the 1960's the old canals were filled in allowing more building and easier transport links. Japan is in an earthquake zone and in 1964 at 13:23 the city was hit by a 7.5 earthquake. Fortunately only 29 were killed but 1960 properties were destroyed, 6640 partially destroyed and 15298 damaged by liquification where the land becomes unstable due to the vibrations and foundations sink.

Buildings toppled by liquification in Nigata in 1964.

Further earthquakes shook the area but little or no damage was recorded in 2004, 2007 and 2011. Inland from the city are mountains that offer skiing in the winter.

Ski resorts not too far from Niigata.

At this time of the year, the Lunar New Year, in the area are several festivals. about 10000 visit Shibata to witness the great Mochi Soup competition and if that doesn't interest you maybe you could go along to the Yakushido Shrine where the Son in Law Throwing Festival takes place. It is the 15th of January this year so if you hurry you could still make it! It has taken place for over 600 years and is for all the local men of Matsunoyama who have got married in the past year. They get thrown into the snow presumably by their mother in laws, but in the photo it looks like they now use proxy men. Afterwards all visit the shrine and whilst congratulating themselves daub each other with sacred ashes and snow! 

Son in Law throwing near Niigata, Japan. (No Mother in Law jokes from me).

I can not find when or why a twinning was set up between Hull and Niigata but there do seem to be similarities between our cities. Outlets of large rivers, port city, fishing and agriculture. I reckon inviting a delegation over for our City of Culture year would be great fun and what a draw there would be if we introduced Son in Law Throwing at some stage.

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