We are taking a break from Tohoku Tour in 2017. Please contact us to find future tour plans.
- Learn about sake from the world’s leading expert, John Gauntner, in an intimate class setting. Maximum group size is limited to fourteen people.
- This is going to be a sake fan’s dream tour with visits to four sake breweries across the Tohoku region during the brewing season, bridging the contrast between the snowy mountains of Yamagata and Miyagi’s Matsushima Bay.
- You will help to brew sake at Dewazakura. The brewers will share their philosophies and approaches with the group during the tours and at meals.
- Taste daiginjo just-pressed for the season right at the source and with meals.
- Taste beautifully marbled Yonezawa beef shabu shabu at the welcome dinner in a former feudal lord’s mansion.
- Try your hands at making rustic Yamagata style soba. See how simple local dishes from the mountains of Yamagata such as imoni taro simmered in broth pair with local sake.
- On the coastal side of our tour in Miyagi, it’s going to be a two-day seafood feast. Enjoy shopping from the local catch at the “Tsukiji Market” of Tohoku and enjoy your purchase either as sashimi or cooking on a grill. Kaiseki style farewell dinner showcases the best of the season in elegant style. Lunch on the last day is munching steamy hot oysters at a pop-up shack by the water.
Nature and Onsen
- This tour gives you the highlights of nature and onsen in Tohoku by taking you through snowy mountains and valleys in Yamagata down to the bays of Miyagi.
- You will trek up the snowy slopes to see Snow Monsters up close.
- Then, cruise in gentle Matsushima Bay dotted with oyster farms and sprinkled with islands.
Itinerary – 5 days
Day 1 (Monday) Yoneazawa, Yamagata
Travel from Tokyo to Yonezawa by JR Shinkansen in the morning. Visit the first sake brewery, Kojima Sohonten, producer of Toko and begin the tour with a lecture by John Gauntner to prepare you for our brewery visits. After the tour of the brewery and tasting, explore the Toko Sake Museum where you see old brewing tools and heirloom hina dolls passed down in the Kojima family, brewers of sake since 1597. The museum was a site for a short film and the brewer will share some behind-the-scenes stories.
Tonight’s welcome dinner features marbled Yonezawa beef shabu shabu and sake at former feudal lord’s mansion, Uesugi Hakushaku Tei.
Hotel: Tokyo Daiichi Hotel Yonezawa
Meals: Lunch; dinner with sake
Day 2 (Tuesday) Takahata and Zao Onsen, Yamagata
Today is going to be sake and adventure in the snow. The day begins with a visit to Yonetsuru Brewery. See just steamed sake rice scooped into the cooling machine and other work only done in the mornings. Learn their philosophy and traditions handed down through 12th generations of kuramoto. In the afternoon, we will drive up to Zao Onsen to take a gondola ropeway up to see the Snow Monsters. Snow Monsters are nature’s miracle in an endless sea of trees covered with snow seen only in a few areas of Yamagata in January and February. Bundle up just like you are going skiing so that you get close to these rarely seen beauties in the snow, but don’t worry! You will not ski down the slope. Alternatively, you can rent skiing gear and enjoy skiing in the afternoon. Tonight’s dinner is scheduled a bit early so that you can either go back in the snow to see the lit up Snow Monsters, hop to different onsen hot springs along the steamy creek or simply relax.
Hotel: Rurikura Resort, Zao Onsen
Meals: Breakfast; lunch; dinner with sake
Day 3 (Wednesday) Tendo, Yamagata
Today is dedicated to hands-on experiences in Tendo City. At Dewazakura, the brewer will host us to see and to learn many aspects of sake and the specialties of their hometown. First, you will help brewers to brew sake. The exact task will be announced on the day according to their production schedule, but be ready to find out for yourself just what it takes to make sake. Lunch is at a nearby noodle joint where you knead and cut your own soba. Lean how to roll out the rustic inaka style of buckwheat noodles from a master. In the afternoon, you will see other side of the brewer’s family. Visit two private museums of the Nakano family and see their dedication to art. The Nakano’s private pottery collections are shown at the original family residence. And, an atelier the family built for a local painter, Shinichi Saito, now houses his works. In the evening, kuramoto will join you at dinner to show you their simple local cuisine such as imoni, taro simmered in broth, paired with just pressed Dewazakura.
Day 4 (Thursday) Shiogama and Matsushima, Miyagi
Next, you will travel to Miyagi to spend two days on the Pacific Coast in the Matsushima Bay area. First stop and our lunch spot today is at Shiogama Wholesale Fish Market. Shiogama is known for having the most sushi restaurants per capita in the country and all local sushi chefs buy their fish from here. At this “Tsukiji Market” of Tohoku, you will find many special catches of the day along with local oysters, anago and fresh-caught tuna. What can be better than finding what you like at the market and then having them fresh as sashimi or grilled on the BBQ right on the spot? Shiogama is the home of Urakasumi, and they are the last brewery we visit on this tour. Learn their history as a brewer who dedicated their sake to Shiogama Jinja Shrine. The area and the brewery made tremendous recovery from the 311 disaster in 2011. With our tours, we aim to have fun highlighting people, food, and nature hard to find as an ordinary tourist. However, by visiting the coastal cities of Miyagi in the last two days, we sincerely hope to share what people went through in 2011 and the amazing recovery the area has experienced. In the evening, simply relax at open air hot springs by the serene bay and enjoy sumptuous local catch from the sea with sake.
Hotel: Komatsukan Kofutei Japanese style inn and onsen hot springs
Meals: Breakfast; dinner with sake
Day 5 (Friday) Matsushima, Miyagi Wake up to early to see the sunrise from the bay or take a morning stroll on the long bridge that leads to Godaido Hall on a tiny picture-perfect island. Early morning is the best time to explore the area on your own and enjoy the bay known as one of the three best scenic views in Japan. We start the day by taking a cruise that zips through endless small islands and oyster farms in gentle Matsushima Bay. Today’s lunch is the local winter specialty, oysters. Munch on steamy oysters at a pop-up shack by the water. In early afternoon, we will travel to Sendai by local train. From JR Sendai Station, continue your own onward travel or return to Tokyo with the group.
Meal: Breakfast, lunch
Please contact us.
- Sake lecture by sake expert, John Gauntner and a tour with him for the first brewery visit.
- Four special tours and tastings at sake breweries.
- Accommodations for 4 nights based on double occupancy: 3 nights at western style hotel and 1 night at ryokan Japanese style inn with hot springs.
- 4 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 4 dinners. Dinners include selected sake from the breweries we visit.
- Activities:One round-trip on either ropeway or snowmobile to see Snow Monsters. Bay cruise in Matsushima.
- All transportation during the tour starting Day 1 through Day 5. Travel to JR Yonezawa Station on Day 1 and continuing to your next destination from JR Sendai Station on Day 5 are not included.
- A qualified tour leader who is a Sake Samurai, Advanced Sake Professional and certified English Bilingual Interpretive Guide provides translation and informative commentary throughout the trip.
Domestic Transportation After Your Arrival in Japan
Your tour begins at JR Yonezawa Station.
For your convenience, we will of course coordinate your domestic transportation from Tokyo or other cities. Please see Optional Tours for Tohoku for transportation and additional accommodation packages.
For those planning to use JR Pass for more extended travel, please contact us for details.
Additional domestic travel arrangements and consulting are available by Michi Travel Japan. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.