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Ponshukan: The Place to Sample Niigata's best fare
Niigata is known primarily for three things: snow, rice, and sake. That makes sense, I guess: pure water from the snow melt contributes to delicious rice, and the combination of pure water and delicious rice contributes to Japan's best sake. The place to celebrate those great products is Ponshukan. There are two: one in Niigata station and one in Echigo Yuzawa station. The one I visited was in Echigo Yuzawa, but I hear there is not much difference between the two. In any case, Ponshukan features a wide range of products mostly centered on those two key Niigata gems--rice and sake--including lots of varieties of each plus a wide range of products derived from those things. For example, you can get a bottle of sake as well as sake yogurt and beauty products containing sake lees. For rice, you can buy a bag of rice, or a wide range of onigiri (rice balls), or various dessert options made with rice. Of course, Ponshukan sells other products as well, such as locally produced crafts and various other Niigata foods. Still, my favorite part of Ponshukan was the sale sampling area, where you can purchase tokens and fill your cup at any of the dozens of sake vending machines they have lined against the wall. It's a clever idea, really, because you can sample the different types of sake they sell in the Ponshukan to find your favorite to purchase. If you are heading to Echigo Yuzawa or Niigata station, it's worth about a 30 minute sojourn.