Manga drawing lesson (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)
Manga drawing lesson (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)
- 6 min read

Cultural Workshops: Explore the Past and Present

Tokyo’s pop culture meets Niigata’s cherished traditions

While seeing is believing, why not take your adventure one step further with some immersive workshops?

Thanks to their hands-on action, mental engagement, and connections with locals and experts, workshops are excellent ways to deepen your Japanese experience. With Tokyo’s pop culture-influenced vibes and Niigata’s deep-rooted customs, craft a memorable itinerary that embodies the duality of Japan’s urban and traditional landscapes.


Japanese Plastic Food Sample Art Experience

Japanese Plastic Food Sample Sweets
Japanese Plastic Food Sample Sweets (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Food models, or shokuhin sampuru in Japanese, have been staples in Japan’s restaurant industry since the early Showa era (1926-1989). These food replicas are frequently found in glass display cases outside restaurants and offer visual insight into the eateries’ menus within. Initially, restaurants would make food samples out of wax, but these models had a tendency to melt. Therefore, about 50 to 60 years ago, these wax models were replaced with more durable plastic ones. At Yamato Sample Seisakusyo in Tokyo, you can craft your own delectable souvenir with a Japanese Plastic Food Sample Art experience and immortalize your favorite Western or Japanese dish following traditional wax and current plastic techniques. Whether you have a sweet tooth or favor more savory dishes, the workshop has you covered with options such as cupcakes, ice cream sundaes, fried rice, curry rice, ramen, sushi, and more. For the dessert choices, the facility has a variety of vibrant toppings—allowing you to customize your model to your heart’s content. By the end of the course, your realistic creation will surely leave you craving the real thing!

Manga Drawing Lesson

Manga drawing lesson
Manga drawing lesson (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Are you a fan of anime or manga? If so, test your drawing skills with a Manga Lesson led by an English-speaking manga artist. The Manga School Nakano International offers multiple mini courses that span from two hours to full-day. Depending on your preference, you can select lessons that focus on drawing characters, expressions, sceneries, four-paneled manga, or character designs. Nao Yazawa, your teacher, is extremely helpful and kind—explaining manga-drawing techniques, providing constant assistance, and demonstrating how to use the appropriate tools. Yazawa also offers plenty of reference materials to fuel your creative process. As you follow the steps, watch your design come to life! Thanks to the level of detail and personalized attention, these courses are suitable for people of all skill levels—making them fun ways to experience one of Japan’s most beloved forms of storytelling.

Decorative Sushi-making Class

Traditional and flower sushi
Traditional and flower sushi (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Sushi needs no introduction. This iconic Japanese food is popular worldwide and exists in numerous iterations—from the traditional to the flashy. Experience a modern take on this classic dish with a private Decorative Sushi-making Class in English! Your friendly teacher, Mami, has a Edomae sushi chef diploma and offers easy to follow instructions that allow even beginners to craft exquisite sushi. During the roughly 2.5-hour course, learn how to roll sushi into colorful shapes, hand mold traditional sushi, pound mochi, and even wear kimono! Thanks to the intimate setting and close interactions with Mami, the course is educational, immersive, and of course, lots of fun! Towards the end of the lesson, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor on a mini sushi conveyor belt with complimentary soy sauce, fresh wasabi, and soup.


Hegi Soba-Making Workshop

Hegi Soba-Making
Hegi Soba-Making (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Alongside ramen and udon, soba is one of Japan’s most iconic noodles. This buckwheat noodle is generally characterized by its slightly nutty flavor and has regional varieties throughout the country. In Niigata, hegi soba is a must try. This locally-loved noodle originated in Uonuma City and features funori, a type of seaweed, as a binding agent—differentiating it from typical soba. The slightly slippery and chewy noodles are plated on a wooden tray called hegi—the noodle’s namesake—and are generally served cold with a dipping sauce, green onions, and spicy mustard or wasabi. For a memorable hegi soba experience, try a soba-making workshop at Atema Kogen Resort Forum Center in Tokamachi, Niigata. The hands-on, easy-to-follow course is great for people of all ages and offers an interactive way to try this regional delicacy. After a brief explanation about hegi soba, the instructor guides you through the processes of forming, rolling, and cutting the dough. At the end of the workshop, the facility gives you your hand-sliced noodles as a souvenir and prepares a hegi soba meal for you to enjoy.

Private Japanese Sake Tasting Lecture

Private Japanese sake tasting
Private Japanese sake tasting (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Thanks to its blessed nature and fertile rice-growing environment, Niigata has long been renowned for its high quality sake. Gain a deeper understanding of this nationally-loved alcohol with a Private Japanese Sake Tasting Lecture hosted by an English speaking kikisake-shi, or sake sommelier. Hosted in Niigata City’s Chuo Ward, this roughly 1.5-hour experience pairs four types of Niigata sake with seasonal Japanese dishes. At the start, your host will explain the history, customs, culture, and popular food pairings of sake before quizzing you about the sake varieties. Then, it is time to drink! Carefully compare the flavors of the different sake to each other, as well as the food, and choose your favorite—aromatic, refreshing, aged, or rich. The activity’s knowledgeable and bubbly host, variety of sakes, and privateness, make it an excellent way to learn about this culturally significant beverage.

Taiko Drumming Experience

Taiko drumming
Taiko drumming (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Sado Island, located off Niigata’s western coast, is a small isle popular for its unspoilt nature and preserved traditions. One of the island’s most treasured customs is Onidaiko—an energetic performance in which people dress up in costumes with demonic masks and dance to the beat of taiko, a type of drum. The cultural dance has variations across the island’s communities and is a method of praying for bountiful harvests, successful fishing, and the safety, health, and happiness of Sado’s people. The island’s residents perform Onidaiko numerous times throughout the year during events, rituals, and festivals.

The aforementioned taiko is an integral part of the performance—acting as a guiding rhythm for the mesmerizing, yet chaotic dance. While there are no facilities that offer Onidaiko experiences, you can still try your hand at this powerful and culturally-influential instrument with a taiko experience at the Sado Island Taiko Centre (Tatakokan), located on Sado Island. During the roughly one hour course, a member of Kodo, a professional taiko group, will provide passionate performances and teach you how to play a variety of melodies and drums. As you strike the instrument, you will feel the strong reverberations through your body and soul.

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