Japan is famous for its astounding variety of vending machines selling almost everything under the sun, including dashi cooking stock, specialty goods from rural areas and such esoteric items as ema prayer plaques to hang in Shinto shrines, as you can see here, or even bicycles. But when it comes to sake, vending machine offerings are often limited to just one or two varieties at most. Not exactly a happy solution for the sake connoisseur.

However, if you want the convenience of sake dispensed on demand but also seek to enjoy numerous varieties of sake, there is a paradise waiting for you in Niigata Prefecture, less than 90 minutes away by shinkansen train!

Ponshukan is a unique store concept with two locations in Niigata Prefecture, one in Niigata Station and the other in Echigo Yuzawa Station, where you can experience kikizake, or sake sampling.

@EXCEL, a Twitter user and illustrator for the doujin circle Gewalt, couldn't hide his excitement when he visited the Niigata Station Ponshukan: "For 500 yen, you get 5 coins, and with each coin you insert, sake is poured into your sake cup. This system is like a dream come true!"

Ponshukan specializes in the sakes of Niigata Prefecture and over 100 sakes are available at the touch of a button.

For example, this is the map of the breweries providing sakes for the Echigo Yuzawa shop

Source: Ponshukan

In addition to sake, you can sample local treats such as rice crackers, pickles and unique sweets imbued with sake at the souvenir shops in both locations. Ponshukan is the perfect stop on your trip to Niigata Prefecture.

And if you want to try kikizake from vending machines in the Tokyo area, you can try Tokyo Shoten in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo for a similar, albeit smaller-scale version of the experience.

If you go, just be sure to drink in moderation, or you'll end up like this guy here.

Grape Japan

By - Ben K.