Visiting Niigata is always my dream; to the snow country which is also the kingdom of senbei, rice, and SAKE! I didn’t manage to run around Niigata in depth last November, but I made it to Echigo-Yuzawa with the JR Tokyo Wide Pass that cost only ¥ 10,180, where you can use it consecutively for 3 days to its coverage areas.
For full itinerary, check out Japan Trip Autumn 2019: 9D8N in Tokyo and Explore Tokyo Wide Area
Echigo-Yuzawa is well known for its hot springs and ski resorts such as Gala Yuzawa. It is about 90 minutes away from Tokyo on Joetsu Shinkansen from Ueno Station, so day trip is very possible.
As usual, favourite breakkie on train.
Beautiful weather. I miss taking shinkansen a lot!
If you enjoy skiing and love winter and snow, do get this pass which may bring you up north to the ski resort, priced affordably too! Remember to check out the opening time for the ski resorts. As I was still early for opening of the ski resort (just to play snow) and a little late for the ultimate breath-taking view of momiji /autumn leaves (the peak for autumn leaves is around mid of October to early November in Echigo-Yuzawa), I set my mission for day trip this round is SAKE and trying my luck for MOMIJI!
1. Head over to the Sake Museum Ponshukan ポン酒館 for SAKE!
Sake lovers gotta mark this place down! This is going to be your heaven! There are more than 100 SAKE VENDING MACHINEs over here where you can try out types of sake from all over japan! I literally went crazy inside this space. LOL.
For only ¥500, you will be given five coins and a sake cup (to be returned before leaving the facility), you may then “purchase” the sake from the vending machine accordingly. If you are not sure where to start, follow the ranking board or the recommended list for the no fail experience.
Just put the cup under the dispenser, insert the coin and push the button!
This was on the rank number 1!
There are also brief descriptions about the sake on each vending machine. All information such as taste, the texture, the sake meter value, acidity value, alcohol content and which brewery also can be found on the vending machine. It will help you to choose your favourite, try out before bringing your favourite sake home!
I really love this one 北雪！
There are a small range of umeshu and wine available here too!
Guess what?! We had our second round to try out more Sake before leaving Echigo-Yuzawa. There were “special nihonshu” that I must check them out. Of course, they cost more than 1 coin, some were 2 to 3 coins too for one small cup. It was really worth spending for them because you may not be able to get them elsewhere. This sake above really WOWed me!
Don’t ask me how much I have spent inside here. I have lost count. LOL.
super nice buddy to drink drink
Yo Bro, are you okay?
Please don’t walk out like him ya! Drink responsibly. LOL
Revisit? YES I WILL WANT TO!
Ponshukan Sake Museum is located inside Echigo-Yuzawa Station, next to CocoLo Shopping Mall.
2. Try out the Miso and Salt available in Ponshukan
There is salt tasting in the same sake vending machine place. Just check out the variety of salt available, every salt has it owns flavours and characteristic.
Tasting sake and salt at the same time was another new experience to me.
We also spent ¥ 100 to get a stick of kyuri (cucumber) to try out the miso like how others did. Refreshing and filled with umaminess! Delicious! I even carried a bag of the same miso home, just to mimic the way of eating it with kyuri back in my homeland.
Trying out the special salt too!
3. Fuel up with Onigiri BOMB!
Also known as Bakudan onigiri, this giant onigiri is a local Niigata’s specialty. It is a huge rice ball, made with Koshihikari rice from Shiozawa area of Minami- Uonuma in the traditional Japanese pot know as Hagama, inserted with different fillings of your choice such as umeboshi, mentaiko, salmon, sujiko, various types of miso, braised pork, konbu and etc.
Each onigiri is made of 150 gram A grace of rice. It is so much bigger than the usual onigiri, as huge as your palm!
My leng chai brother here “modelling” it. Can be as huge as your face yo!
4. Chasing after momiji at Fudotaki
Peak autumn was already over and the Dragon Gondola nearby had closed after autumn, we headed off to Fudotaki, a waterfall nearby recommended by the very friendly staff at the tourist center. The staff mentioned to us we would still be able to catch the red leaves. He even plot the time needed and distance for us, told us to walk slowly and enjoy the scenic view of the waterfall.
My team members sure hate me for taking them on this journey. There were slopes everywhere before reaching to the water fall.
Fudotaki is a two-step waterfall that is located after a short climb from Takizawa Park. The smaller one is into the terrace of the bank while the bigger one is located at the end of the path. But they are not the majestic type like one we see in Malaysia
So scenic over here! However, to path was wet and covered with leaves; we had to be extra careful when walking up to the waterfall.
5. Enjoy the free foot bath
Time for some FOC spa. We enjoyed our foot bath here for free, right after we climbed down from the waterfall trail. There is another foot bath situated in front of the station, FOC too! TBH, the temperature of the water was really warm, but we enjoyed it very much.
It was so satisfying to have a full foot soak after walking.
The foot bath in front of station.
6. BUY BUY BUY when you see Niigata-only-souvenirs
We stopped by to shop for local souvenirs in random souvenir stores. Sake, liquor, beer, noodles, rice, and cute stuffs were all available here.
7. Feel the culture of Snow Country in Yukiguni-kan
If you are interested in history and cultural, drop by the Yuzawa Folklore History Museum “Yukiguni-kan” (Snow Country Museum) to learn more about them, there are exhibitions and details on the lifestyle and history of Yuzawa. Entrance fee is priced at ¥ 500 per adult.
354-1 Yuzawa, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma, Niigata prefecture
Opens from 9am to 5pm
Close on every Wednesday
8. Eat that incredibly smooth Koji soft serve!
Got my soft served from Koji Latte and it was the smoothest soft serve and also has the most milky flavour of soft serve I had throughout the trip. It was extremely milky that one will not be enough for you.
The café also serves coffee beverages like latte, and also special Cocktail Float (Koji soft serve with sake). There is a small space with classic seating in the café lounge where you can spend some quality time over here.
9. Dig in a bowl of donburi before leaving Echigo Yuzawa
Yes! Do not leave without digging in into a bowl of delicious donburi from this little restaurant, Uonuma No Hatake. They are specialized in donburi or the rice bowl dish with different ingredients topped over the rice.
We had the Shoyagaki Buta Don (¥ 980) and the daily limited quantity Oyakodon (¥ 980). Both were very delicious and what caught our attention was the local rice grain that is used in making the don, super fluffy and chewy; as the amylase did its work, the flavour intensified.
Donburi-ya Uonuma No Hatake
Located inside Echigo Yuzawa Station
Opens from 11am to 7.30pm
10. Shop for more local delights and souvenirs here!
Yes, here in CocoLo and Ponshukan, shopping for local souvenirs is a must do over here! Niigata-produced rice, sake, senbei, miso, soy sauce and many many more, bring them home with you!
11. Send greetings home!
Postcards here were really expensive but we still could not stop ourselves from sending some “hello” home.
These postcards were extremely beautiful, with autumn scene plastered on them, that’s the season back then!
12. Let your skin drink sake!
If you do have time and do not feel embarrassed going naked in public, do try bathing in the “sake-infused onsen”! The hot spring bath in Ponshukan is specially blended with sake! How I wish I have time to get an onsen dip over here!