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Wasting the Day Away at Sake Vending Machines

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In my 7 years of travelling Japan, I’ve been fortunate to visit 40 of the country’s 47 prefectures, travelling from freezing Hokkaido to the turquoise seas that lap the shores of Okinawa. These are the memories, moments and experiences that I frequently find myself going back to; the ones that put a smile on a face that is typically riddled with cynicism and despair. Hopefully they’ll give you some fresh ideas and inspire you to go off the beaten path and experience Japan your own way. Memories travelling Japan is an ongoing series.

Wasting the Day Away at Sake Vending Machines | Niigata City, Niigata

“Sake vending machines.”
- Say it out loud.

It’s f*cking magical isn’t it?

Combine the delicate, refined taste of Sake, with the most convenient delivery device of all time, against the backdrop of a region famous for its rice and you’ve got the best of everything all in one place.

Now I won’t lie, the prefecture of Niigata is vast and for the most part, dull beyond words.
Having driven across its endless plain a dozen or so times, there’s no drive in Japan that fills me with as much dread as the Niigata stretch.

The rice fields are endless, the mountains too far away to enjoy, the sea is concealed by trees and concrete, and no matter how long you drive down the ruddy highway it never seems to end.

AND YET.

Thanks to those endless rice fields, Niigata is home to several hundred prominent Sake breweries and a genius in a room somehow came up with the idea of uniting every variety of sake under one roof in a department store, tucked around the back of Niigata station.

For just 500 yen, you’ll be awarded 5 tokens and a sake cup, with each token awarding you a single cup of Sake from the variety of your choosing. It’s as simple and as glorious as it sounds.

I’ve visited the Sake Vending machines of Niigata twice; the first time I spent about 2,000 yen on 20 cups over a 90 minute period and subsequently collapsed on a hotel bed shortly afterwards, giddy on the thrills of sake tasting - but mostly just giddy on the sake.

The second time I visited was during my 2,000km Journey Across Japan cycle, where thankfully the route conveniently passed through the city; although to be fair I’d deliberately taken a detour to be able to reward myself with sake after cycling 50km.

This time around I spent 1,000 yen and enjoyed 10 cups, but found myself getting caught up trying to lure a friendly Japanese stranger on camera to say the phrase “Journey Across Japan” as part of a dare.
- I partially succeeded.

So in the event you should ever find yourself driving across the tediously never-ending plains of Niigata, you too should reward yourself with a visit to the miracle that is the Sake Vending Machines. Hell it might even be worth a day trip from Tokyo on the bullet train.
And if you do make the journey, who knows, you might just run into my friend along the way!

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