The Sake Tasting Train That Runs Through Japan's Niigata Prefecture

Although it's one of Japan's smaller sake producers, the Niigata Prefecture is regarded as the source of the highest quality in the world, per Niigata Sake Selections. This is partly due to the prefecture's mountainous, snow-based terroir, which accumulates more than 30 feet of snowfall each year. The snow cleans the air, melts, and eventually runs off into the sake rice paddies below, creating what's considered the most pristine environment on the globe for sake growing. However, rather than capitalizing on the natural environment to produce sake in mass, sake houses in Niigata value quality over quantity, dedicating their expertise to handcrafting the highest caliber of sake you can possibly find.

In celebration of this, the East Japan Railway Company implemented the Koshino Shu*Kura line: A sake-themed train that connects to Niigata via the Nagaoka Station, running as far south as Jōetsumyōkō and as far east as Tōkamachi, with numerous stops along the way.

Koshino Shu*Kura

Koshino Shu*Kura is the train for sake lovers. Onboard, passengers take in the Niigata Prefecture's scenery as they travel along Japan's western coastline with views of the East Sea to the west and fields of rice paddies to the east. As the train passes through the dozens of city stations along its route, large windows offer a glimpse into local life. Seating options range from car to car, with boxed tables, paired observation seating options, and traditional aisle seating on the third (per JR Eastz: East Japan Railway Company). All of which is meant to be savored along with the selection of local sake served onboard.

While the Koshino Shu*Kura's first and third cars are specially designed for the passenger's comfort, the second car brings together the train's sake theme. As Carissa Loh explains to Japan Rail Times, "shu kura" translates to "sake warehouse" — and that's exactly what the event space is designed to look like. Standing tables resembling sake casks are arranged about the car, along with a Kuramori service counter offering a curated selection of local sake, snacks, and bento boxes. Train passengers can enjoy live music and sake tastings from whichever sake brewer is serving that day.

The event space is available to all ticketed passengers, but if you'd prefer a more relaxing atmosphere, seasonal sake-focused meal packages are available in the first car. All tickets can be purchased at JR East offices inside the major train stations.