Since we are miles outside Niigata city at the Northern Culture Museum, the taxi driver has kindly waited while I toured the former Ito estate. In that interval the weather has continued to deteriorate. Now high winds drive the rain sideways and flip umbrellas inside out. I’m definitely not going to get a feel for Niigata by wandering through its streets today.
I’m left with Plan B. The driver drops me off at item number two on the list of things tailored to my interests offered by the Tourist Information Centre: the Niigata City History Museum also known as Minatopia.
The buildings of the museum property include the only customs house in its original condition. It dates back to the 1850s when Niigata (along with Kobe, Yokohama, Nagasaki and Hakodate) was one of five Japanese ports engaged in foreign trade. The Daishi Bank building is also on site and presently used as a restaurant. These buildings are interesting for their 19th century architecture in Western style.
Since the weather isn’t inviting me to stroll through all the buildings (which I would like to do), I choose the main museum’s exhibition room. This gives visitors the overview of Niigata’s history from the Jomon period (Japanese prehistory beginning in 14,000 – 10,000 BCE and ending in 500-300 BCE when people first lived in Niigata’s wetlands) and chronicles the area’s development into modern times.
A superb and easily accessible exhibit even without English signage, I learn afterwards that an English audio tape is available. How much more engaging it would have been to learn more specific details!
When I purchased my ticket (quite obviously not speaking Japanese) I missed the sign tucked off into the corner. I also overlooked the rack of headphones which should have been quite obvious to me—but wasn’t. The attendant also didn’t think to indicate that English audio was available or ask whether I wished to have a headset.
Grrrr! A lesson learned twice today. Remember to ask—for a window seat, an audio tape, an English brochure—whatever I might want or need, here or anywhere else. Just ask.