Ponshukan Sake Museum: Bathe in Japanese Rice Wine? Yes, It’s Possible!

Photo: Different varieties of sake served in coin-operated dispensers at the Ponshukan in Niigata.

Ponshukan Sake Museum: Bathe in Japanese Rice Wine? Yes, It’s Possible!

Cara Lam

I hope your trip to Niigata prefecture doesn’t stop with tasting the prefecture’s top-quality rice because there is at least one more place that you need to hit to taste the goodness of rice wine: Ponshukan. As a “theme park” for Japanese rice wine (sake), Ponshukan is located inside three major JR stations in Niigata — Niigata, Nagaoka, and Echigo Yuzawa. In each of them, you will be able to fill your heart with not only rice wine, but also rice-related products, pickled foods, and interesting take-home items. I will focus this article on the Echigo Yuzawa branch as it provides visitors with the most fun.
Drink (responsibly) to your heart’s content here! 

When It's Time to Drink

All three Ponshukan branches feature a sake-tasting corner. You may see a line waiting to get in because for only ¥500, you will get to taste five full shots of top-quality rice wine produced by Niigata breweries. Just like how you would at a toy capsule vending machine, simply insert a coin (five coins for ¥500) into the small sake vending machine, press the “start button,” and watch the wine flow into your cup. The tasting corner offers 117 different brands of sake — not going to lie, it’s quite bizarre to see so much sake in one room! As a result, it could be difficult to figure out where to start; but Ponshukan’s got you covered. Feel free to look at the lists and rankings of recommended sake if you’re lost. Each vending machine also comes with a brief description of the sake brand regarding the taste, texture, location of the brewery, and sometimes even tips for food pairing.
There are even tens of different types of salt... Photo by ChaXiu Bao on Flickr.

When It's Time to Play

Only at the Echigo-Yuzawa Ponshukan branch will you find a hot sake-infused bath next to the rice wine shop. You will be given towels so don’t worry about bringing your own. The slightly alkaline bath, in addition to mineral properties, is blended with sake. Rice wine is added to the bath regularly throughout the day. Take a bath here for better blood circulation and smoother skin! Though, this is quite a popular spot so if you could, try to go on weekdays and at early hours. Also worth-mentioning is that hot baths are not recommended after heavy drinking so it’s probably a better idea to bathe before you drink.

Great Souvenirs

Of course, Ponshukan won’t let you go until you have a walk around the adjoining souvenir shop. You will find all the sake from the tasting corner at the shop. In addition to that, expect to see sake cups, delicious pickled foods, snacks made from rice, and various kinds of soy sauce. (Hush hush, it’s a perfect place to get souvenirs for your friends and family.)
Varieties of pickles called tsukemono in Japanese. Photo by ChaXiu Bao on Flickr.
There are various tasting corners for the soy sauce and pickled foods, too. Please use the toothpicks and mini spoons provided and dispose of them properly when you’re finished. Respect the space by keeping it clean! I hope that the next time you pass through Niigata you will remember to sip some smooth, Niigata sake — or at least take a bath in it.

Details

Hours

Ponshukan is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in winter (January to March).

The sake bath, however, costs an entrance fee of ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children. Free lockers available. Sake bath summer hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sake bath winter hours: 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Address 2427-3 Yuzawa, Yuzawa Town, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata

Access

Ponshukan can be easily accessed by the Joetsu Shinkansen or local trains. The locations of the three branches are as follows:
  • Echigo-Yuzawa branch: inside the Shinkansen station, next to CocoLo shopping mall.
  • Nagaoka Branch: located right outside the ticketing machines. 
  • Niigata City Branch: near the south exit in the station, a few shops away from a 7-11 convenience store.