Niigata 2019

Visit four top breweries in Niigata, home to Japan’s revered tanrei karakuchi (light, dry and refreshing) style sake. On Sado Island—once home to exiled court nobles, now populated by Japanese crested ibis—try your hand at Kodo drumming. Plus a refined Niigata dinner and geisha performance, rice grower visits on snow-covered plains, and explorations of the prefecture’s rich salmon and tea cultures.

DatesSun Feb 24th – Fri Mar 1st, 2019
Maximum Participants14



Learn about sake from the world’s leading expert, John Gauntner, in an intimate class setting. Maximum group size is limited to fourteen 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 Italian 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.

Sado Island

Visit the rugged, remote island of Sado off of Sea of Japan coast. Feel the distinctly different cultural heritage and taste sake style that breaks away from the mainland.

Explore maze like shafts of the Sado goldmine. Visit the old port town of Shukunegi. Pick up sticks and try your hand at Kodo drumming. On the last night on the island, soak in open-air onsen hot springs by the sea.


Feb. 24, 2019 (Sunday) Tokyo

Arrive in Tokyo and check-in at Villa Fontaine Shiodome. Enjoy exploring Tokyo on your own. There’s no group activity today.

Hotel: Villa Fontaine Shiodome
Meals: none

Feb. 25, 2019 (Monday) Shibata, Niigata

We will begin our sake journey with a sake lecture by John Gaunter in Tokyo. 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, 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: ANA Crowne Plaza Niigata
Meals: Lunch; banquet-style dinner with sake and Geisha performance

Feb. 26, 2019 (Tuesday) Murakami, Niigata

Travel to northern Niigata prefecture, Murakami, for culinary culture found only in this town. Murakami was known as a salmon center in the 11th 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: ANA Crowne Plaza Niigata
Meals: Breakfast; lunch;

Feb. 27, 2019 (Wednesday) Niigata, Niigata

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. In the afternoon, a sake rice grower and organic farmer who supplies rice to Imayo Tsukasa 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 Italian cuisine and sake.

Hotel: ANA Crowne Plaza Niigata
Meals: Breakfast; lunch; Italian and sake pairing dinner

Feb. 28, 2019 (Thursday) 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. Some of the sake from their brewery is matured deep in the shafts of this eerie mine. 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 a dinner of sumptuous local catch from the sea with local sake.

Hotel:Yawata-kan Japanese style inn and onsen hot springs
Meals: Breakfast; lunch; dinner with sake

March 1, 2019 (Friday) 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.

Meal: Breakfast


Sunday Feb 24th – Friday March 1st 2019


Twin 380,000 JPY

Single +30,000 JPY


  • Sake lecture by sake expert, John Gauntner in Tokyo.
  • Four special tours and tastings at sake breweries.
  • Accommodation for 5 nights based on double occupancy: 1 night at Villa Fontaine Shiodome in Tokyo, 3 nights at ANA Crowne Plaza and 1 night at ryokan Japanese style inn with hot springs.
  • 5 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 24th through March 1st. Travel to your next destination from Niigata Station on March 1st is not included.
  • Qualified tour leaders who are Advanced Sake Professionals provide translation and informative commentary throughout the trip.



Your tour begins at Villa Fontaine Shiodome in Tokyo and it ends at Niigata Station on March 1st. Shinkansen bullet train from Niigata station to your next destination is not included in the tour cost.

For your convenience, we can of course coordinate your domestic transportation for you.

For those planning to use JR Pass for more extended travel, please contact us for details regarding Shinkansen return travel from Niigata.


Additional domestic travel arrangements and consulting are available. Please contact us at for more information.




  • Sake lecture by John Gauntner in Tokyo
  • All transportation during the tour
  • 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 3 dinners
  • One qualified tour leader / Advanced Sake Professional
  • Private Geisha performance
  • Sado gold mine
  • JR Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Niigata on February 19
  • 5 nights accommodation
  • Sake (you won't be thirsty)
  • Four special tours and tastings at sake breweries
  • Kodo drum experience

Not Included

  • Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo from JR Niigata on February23
  • Other meals not listed in the itinerary
  • Entrance to any sites or transportations for your own exploration
  • International flights
  • Drinks other than sake during meals
  • Travel Insurance