Parcly Taxel: Consider Niigata as one of Japan's rising cities. Unlike Fujiyoshida, which we saw was frequented by the elderly and by day-trippers, the outlets here skew younger and more adventurous, pachinko machines clattering with ball bearings and bands of young adults moving as swarms of varying colonies. Even Tokyo looks slightly too tourist-minded.
A distinct, uniform warmth permeated the glass walls of my bottle, meaning it had leached out all my stress and worries into the surrounding air to vanish. The coat of a pony genie when they wake up is always soft and smooth like the mist they emerge from, reassuring wishers of a peaceful conversation to follow. It also boosts the genie's confidence after an extended period wisping around in their solitary confines.
Spindle: Rather than the buffet provided by the Dormy Inn, we had our convenience store takeouts for breakfast, these being bread with corn kernels and cereal with berries. Our next destination was not really reachable by train, so we resorted to travelling on hoof…
Earlier, Parcly mentioned the distinction between old Japanese cities like Tokyo/Osaka and newer ones like Fujiyoshida. Niigata can be considered intermediate between the two classes: it has a well-defined urban core, but a very small one compared to the greater metropolitan area, mostly rice fields absorbed during one or more prefectural reorganisations.
Parcly: Outside city limits in this dry winter morning, the landscape was dominated by pylons and power poles, their cables and frames easily contrasting against the clear sky. Further ahead were the interior mountains of Honshu, tinted blue because of atmospheric refraction, though noise barriers against parallel-running trains (Shinkansen or otherwise) sometimes obstructed the view.
Spindle: Overall, we went south for around 120 km on the Hokuriku (北陸) and Kan-Etsu Expressways (関越自動車道) into Tōkamachi (十日町). There was a dramatic change in scenery for the second half of this ride; grassy mountains became draped in thick snow suited for alpine skiing or snowboarding, while trees thinned out into pines and soon receded into the distance, leaving blankets of white. The sheer beauty of these environments is partly a legacy of the Winter Olympics that were held in Nagano (長野), further south of Tōkamachi, in the year Parcly was foaled – windigos were ready to welcome the athletes and have since maintained the region's many resorts.
At times Parcly would get tired from galloping for so long with surroundings so pure. When that happened, I helped her into her bottle and carried it along. My species, in addition to permanently turning ponies into windigos, can also "windify" any object temporarily, imparting the ethereal properties of their bodies, and I did that to my bottled cutie so as not to affect other traffic.
Parcly: When all the changes in elevation played out, we ended up at Kiyotsu Gorge (清津峡), part of the Jōshin'etsu Highlands National Park (上信越高原国立公園) straddling the prefectural tripoint of Niigata, Nagano and Gunma (群馬). The gorge was equipped with a sightseeing tunnel, which I duly entered.
Maud Pie: The tunnel is around 750 m long and follows the Shinano River (信濃川), whose mouth is at Niigata, as it runs through the gorge. It has four lookout points, the first three simply facing the other side and the last turning the passageway around with a serene reflecting pool that was completed only last April. Parcly could sympathise with the gorgeous rock-and-snow patterns on the gorge's sides, the rock of a hexagonal habit (much like the Giant's Causeway) and the snow hanging wherever there was a "balcony" for them. With her own eyes, there seemed to be no start or end to the scenery; it blended into a harmonious whole.
Parcly: Walking was making me hungry, but the ryokans and other houses surrounding the entrance showed no signs of activity, so we backtracked a bit after stunning ourselves into Tōkamachi. At Koshimaya (小嶋屋) I had cold soba and tempura… and a small bowl of rice with scallop and locally grown sweet potato, a larger meal than last night's dinner. Together they formed one of the restaurant's winter sets. The establishment itself was surprisingly popular, considering that it lay in the middle of a lonely road, but the Shōwa Emperor once dined there and it received endorsement.
Spindle: The remaining distance from Tōkamachi back to Niigata took over 90 minutes, during which the sun set. Parcly was half-asleep when she waded into Bandai City, a cluster of department stores and smaller shops including Isetan (伊勢丹; there are a few branches back home) and Loft. Sitting on a bench there, she stretched her hooves a little beyond normal pony limits, feeling the tingle provided by modularity and geniehood, then a wave of calm when the strain was released.
Parcly: At last I returned to the Dormy Inn at 7:30. One peculiarity I had noticed the day before (when going to the onsen) was that the room corridors were not enclosed, so varied in temperature with the outside. A few minutes' rest and I was out again to the Niigata Station shops, but they quickly proved repetitive (save for a restaurant which I noted down).
After a pleasant onsen session the day before, I realised what most Japanese celebrate: onsen, if available, is better than "normal" showering. Thus I came out of this session warm and fluffy, much like how I emerge from my bottle warm and smooth. To end the day I took the inn's free ramen bowl (offered between 21:30 and 23:00) for dinner, containing just the usual ingredients of seaweed and bamboo shoots.