Ponshukan – Sake Heaven

Highlight of Echigo Yuzawa Station

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

A highlight for entertainment in Echigo-Yuzawa in "Snow Country" is right at the train station. It is the Ponshukan, an unusual institution where you can combine sake tasting from mini sake vending machines and onsen bathing - in hotspring water enriched with sake of course - all the while you wait for your train back to Tokyo.

Echigo-Yuzawa station was re-developed in 2010 and it now has the best information facilities for foreign visitors in Yuzawa as well as a range of nice shops and restaurants. The first kaiten sushi (conveyer belt sushi) restaurant in Yuzawa was opened in the station!

The Ponshukan is a hall whose wall on one side is lined with sake dispensers that look like mini vending machines. Put a plastic token in the money slot and you will get a cup full of sake. For 500 yen you will get a sake cup and five tokens, which will buy you five cups of sake of your choice.

Take your pick from no less than 96 different brands, which are all produced in Niigata, the prefecture where Echigo-Yuzawa is located.

This is sake heaven indeed and very dangerous as all sake samples taste just as good. Members of staff are at hand and advise on different sake tastes and styles. I have found my preferred sake to be slightly sweeter and of a slightly pinkish color and I was told that this is some new style of sake for ladies. Usually I don’t drink sake much but here I was inclined to go for a second round as I wanted to sample more. One gets quickly addicted to putting in a token and filling the cup again with a different type of sake.

Once you have found your favorite sake at the Ponshukan, you may go next door to the sake shop where all 96 varieties are on offer. The shelves are filled with sake bottles up to the ceiling. In the shop you will also find some local foods that go well with the sake.

If the sake tasting has made you hungry, then try a bakudan onigiri, which is literally a "bomb" onigiri (rice ball). Why bomb? Because of its size and looks! The bakudan onigiri is much bigger than your average rice ball and it is round in shape with seaweed on the outside. It looks just like a bomb of the type that was used in the old days with metal cannons. Shot one down your stomach and you will be full for the whole day!

Once the sake has warmed you up a bit and the bakudan onigiri has filled your belly, make your way to the Ponshukan Onsen to round off your Echigo-Yuzawa Station adventure.

The hotspring water at this onsen contains sake which will get your circulation going for sure. With a full stomach and a bit tipsy in the head, don’t fall asleep in the hot element or you will miss your train!

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Founder of Kii Monogatari, my story and the story of the Kii Peninsula of Japan. Originally from East Germany, I came to Tokyo, via Berlin and London, in 2005. In summer 2011 I moved by choice to remote Kumano in the south of the Kii Peninsula where I live, work and play now, and explore every day.The whole of the Kii Peninsula is a Healing Hub for me with its abundance of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ocean, friendly rural communities and sacred places. This is where nature meets spirituality, and tradition meets sustainability, the new paradigm for travel post-pandemic. My deep interest is in Japanese nature & spirituality. I love being in nature, in the forest and in the mountains, and I love spending time at temples and shrines.  I am building my life and my work around these two passions. I am a Licensed Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy) Guide and a Licensed Kumano Kodo and Koyasan Guide. I am also a Licensed Retreat Facilitator and I am planning retreats on the Kii Peninsula. Last but not least, I have been the Japan Travel Partner for Wakayama and Yamagata since the conception of the platform in 2011! These two prefectures are close to my heart because they are the centers of Shugendo, a spiritual tradition of mountain ascetism. I am a Shugendo Practitioner for over ten years now and received Tokudo in 2016 at a Shugendo temple on Yoshinoyama. Please kindly connect via my Facebook Page Kii Monogatari. Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

Join the discussion

Alena Eckelmann Author 2 weeks ago
Have to get back there soon and have another round of tasting... pity that I can never manage to taste but a few...
Yoshimi Dan 2 weeks ago
Novia Mardasari a year ago
I don’t know if so many type of sake 😅
Geraldine Buergel a year ago
That's a really cool concept!
Chris 2 years ago
Perfect for Sake lovers!