We are going to take a break from Niigata Tour in 2015. However, we will travel back to Akita in the future or if you would like to plan a private tour. So, please let us know if you are interested.
- Learn about sake from the world’s leading expert, John Gauntner, in an intimate class setting. Maximum group size is limited to twelve people.
- Explore the area and visit four breweries during the brewing season. The brewers and rice growers will share their philosophies and approaches with the group during the tours and at the meals.
- Taste just pressed sake for the season right at the source and with meals.
- Start with a welcome dinner, and taste the hospitality of traditional elite Niigata society, with exquisite local cuisine, sake and Geisha dance performance.
- Discover how well sake pairs with French cuisine created by one of the best chefs in Niigata.
- See local salmon preparation and a different approach to tea in traditional machiya shops in Murakami.
- Savor simple onigiri rice balls made with highly praised Niigata rice at an old farmhouse.
Itinerary – 5 days
Day 1 Shibata, Niigata
Travel from Tokyo to Niigata by JR Shinkansen in the morning. Our first visit of the journey is Shibata to visit ichishima Brewery where you will see the glimpse of the history of the Ichishima family who was one of the five largest land-owners in the country during the Edo period. After a warm welcome from the president of the company with a masterful Japanese tea ceremony, enjoy lunch at the brewery’s guesthouse overlooking the peaceful snow-covered Japanese gardens. After the tour of the brewery and tasting, explore the museum where you see old brewing tools and family antiques from centuries ago.
Tonight’s welcome dinner gives you a taste of the old elite society of Niigata with exquisite local cuisine, sake, and Geisha dance performance.
Hotel: Hotel Okura Niigata
Meals: Lunch; banquet-style dinner with sake and Geisha performance
Day 2 Niigata, Niigata
Today is dedicated to discovering many aspects of sake. The day begins with a lecture by John Gauntner. Then, visit Imayo Tsukasa Brewery right in the center of Niigata that once flourished as a center for sake and soy sauce breweries and fermented food makers. Imayo Tsukasa is one of a few breweries who only make junmai. Learn their philosophy and tradition. For lunch, enjoy simple onigiri rice balls made with highly praised Niigata rice at an old farmhouse. In the afternoon, a sake rice grower and organic farmer who supplies rice to Imayo Tsukawa will take you through the snow-covered Fukushima-gata slough where he grows rice from spring to autumn. During the snow season, the vast plains become the home of migrating swans. Tonight’s dinner is a pairing of French cuisine and sake.
Hotel: Hotel Okura Niigata
Meals: Breakfast; lunch; French and sake pairing dinner
Day 3 Murakami, Niigata
Travel to northern Niigata prefecture, Murakami, for culinary culture found only in this town. Murakami was known as a salmon center in the11th century, and even today you will find rows of dried salmon hanging from the eaves of traditional machiya houses and shops. In Murakami, your sake discovery is going to be about how the foods and traditions of the area had impacted the taste of sake. After a brief visit to Taiyo Brewery, sip locally-grown tea by the irori fireplace in an old machiya-style tea shop. We will sample several salmon dishes at lunch. In the afternoon, we drive from this coastal city deep into the snow country to visit the home village of the toji, master brewer, of Taiyo Brewery. Try yukimi-sake while viewing snow, and home made doburoku sake in a rural setting. At night, relax or explore on your own the small entertainment district of narrow alleys filled with restaurants.
Hotel: Hotel Okura Niigata
Meals: Breakfast; lunch;
Day 4 Sado Island, Niigata
Next, you will travel by ferry and spend two days on the rugged, remote island of Sado off the Sea of Japan coast. The island was once a place of exile for court nobles and emperors as early as 8th century. Then, later in the 18th century, a goldrush brought workers and new riches. Due to its history and isolation, Sado has very distinct cultural heritage and a sake style different from other parts of Niigata. Upon arrival, one of the rice growers of Obata Brewery will take you through his fields to share his secret recipe for growing healthy sake rice. Learn how eco-friendly farming is applied on the island to save colony of the elegant Crested Ibis from the brink of extinction. Before visiting Obata Brewery, we visit one of the historic gold mines. Sake is matured deep in the shafts and you’ll get to taste sake right there. Finally, visit Obata Brewery to sum up their philosophy and approach to sake brewing.
In the evening, simply relax at open air hot springs by the sea and enjoy sumptuous local catch from the sea with sake.
Hotel：Yawata-kan Japanese style inn and onsen hot springs
Meals: Breakfast; lunch; dinner with sake
Day 5 Sado Island, Niigata
We start the day by visiting the western tip of the s-shaped island. In the old town of Shukunegi narrow streets are lined with historic 17th century houses with black walls and roofs dotted with lines of rocks. Then, a car will take you to the Taiko Center for a total Kodo drum workout. Not only will you feel the deep striking sound of the drums in your body, but you get to drum along with a Kodo drum master. We will return to Niigata by ferry in mid afternoon. From JR Niigata Station, continue your own onward travel or return to Tokyo with the group.
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- 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 Hotel Okura Niigata and 1 night at ryokan Japanese style inn with hot springs.
- 4 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 3 dinners. Dinners include selected sake from the breweries we visit.
- Activities and entertainments: private Geisha performance, Kodo drum experience, and admission to Sado gold mine.
- All transportation during the tour starting February 17th through 21st. Travel to Niigata on February 17th and continuing to your next destination from Niigata Station on February 21st are not included.
- A qualified tour leader who is an Advanced Sake Professional and a 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 Niigata Station.
To access Niigata, it is best to take JR Shinkansen to Niigata.
For your convenience, we will of course coordinate your domestic transportation from Tokyo or other cities. Please see Optional Tours for Niigata for transportation and additional accommodation packages.
For those planning to use JR Pass for more extended travel, please contact us for details.
Optional Tours for Niigata
Please see other travel destinations before and after the Niigata tour.
> Other Travel Destinations
Additional domestic travel arrangements and consulting are available by Michi Travel Japan. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.