Nagaoka / NiigataExperience Rural Japan Deep in the Countryside of Nagaoka, Niigata


Niigata is located in central Japan with a coast on the Sea of Japan. Boasting rich agricultural land, multiple sake breweries, and top-notch ski resorts, the prefecture is home to diverse attractions and spectacular scenery. Its second-largest city, Nagaoka, sits on the fertile Echigo Plain, its outer limits reaching into the hills.

Approximately 20 minutes from Nagaoka Station, tucked away in those hills, is the hamlet of Ichinokai. It is here that you can dive into rural Japan for a truly local, authentically Japanese experience. Your guide for the journey is UNEHAUS, an Ichinokai-based organization that combines accommodation with organized experiences.

Cultural Exchange and Community Connections at UNEHAUS

Through its many activities, UNEHAUS aims to create an inclusive, sustainable society.

UNE was founded in 2011 to provide support to people with disabilities. It has since grown into a diverse community, and become a meeting place for the people of Ichinokai. Recently, it has also begun hosting travelers and organizing activities that allow visitors to experience rural Japanese culture.

Your introduction to Ichinokai begins with lunch.

The highlight for international travelers is the opportunity UNEHAUS provides to connect with the community. Locals may not speak English, but with the right amount of enthusiasm and help from a smartphone, the language barrier disappears, allowing you to touch a side of Japan few have the chance to experience.

UNE-gohan is like a big family meal, and buzzes with friendly conversation.

It all begins with UNE-gohan, the lunch UNEHAUS serves on weekdays for employees and anyone else looking for good food and social connection. Have a seat and tuck in: Heartfelt smiles and amiable conversation will have you feeling at home in no time!

Savor the textures and flavors of country home cooking prepared by members of the community.

The menu changes daily, with simmered vegetables and konnyaku, fish, tofu and tempura making regular appearances. A warm welcome is served every day.

Discover Japanese Homebrew

UNEHAUS brews doburoku with both steamed rice—the traditional method—and rice flour.

As rice is the primary ingredient of sake, it’s no surprise that Niigata, a major rice-growing region, is home to numerous sake breweries. The most basic of Japanese sake is a homebrew called doburoku, but don’t expect to find it in many liquor cabinets: laws regulating its brewing are so strict, very few people can acquire a license.

Try your hand at stirring the very-stiff mixture of rice flour, koji mold, yeast, and water.

UNEHAUS is licensed—and award-winning, having received an award of excellence at the 13th National Doburoku Contest in 2019 for its Settsuchu Ichinokai (steamed rice) brand. It offers visitors the rare chance to learn about the process and sample several varieties.

Sample both pasteurized and nama (unpasteurized) versions of Settsuchu Ichinokai doburoku.

Doburoku is unfiltered, and an unshaken bottle is two-toned: white sediment at the bottom, clear alcohol at the top. Enjoy a taste of the clear doburoku before comparing it to the shaken brew. You’ll find slight differences in sweetness and texture.

Comfortable Accommodation, a Surprise Tea Experience and Breakfast Alfresco

KS☆HAUS, located in nearby Kitanigoro, can host groups of up to 15 people.

After a soak in a local hot spring and a home-cooked supper at UNEHAUS, it’s time to retire to your lodgings for the night. UNEHAUS has room for small groups at its main Ichinokai house, but larger groups stay at KS☆HAUS, located approximately four kilometers away.

Bedrooms are Japanese style, with futons prepared on tatami flooring.

KS☆HAUS is equipped with a kitchen and a living room area complete with Laserdisc player and massage chair. A short walk away, towering conifers and ancient stone statues line a cobbled path up to the mossy temple grounds of Sogenji Temple.

Unscheduled activities are an occasional bonus feature of staying in a small community.

One of the great joys of spending time in tight-knit communities is the chance for the unexpected. Perhaps you’ll be treated to a matcha tasting; perhaps you’ll be gifted wild fruit from the bush—you never know what might happen at UNEHAUS.

Breakfast combines rustic charm with delicious food.

The breakfast option at UNEHAUS and KS☆HAUS involves a trip into the hills. Enjoy a meal of local specialties served alongside views of terraced fields and endless forest.

Introduction to Kuro-moji Tea

After a brief lesson on how to identify kuro-moji, you’ll be ready to snip stems.

A relaxing herbal brew, kuro-moji tea can be made with both the fresh and dried leaves and twigs of kuro-moji (Lindera umbellata). The shrub grows in the forested areas around UNEHAUS’s rice paddies, and a morning spent foraging in the bush is a rewarding way to enjoy the countryside’s abundant nature.

Enjoy the mellow flavor of your hand-picked kuro-moji tea in the great outdoors.

As you snip thin branches, you’ll notice a slightly medicinal aroma wafting from the cuttings. The same scent is produced when the leaves and stems are brewed as tea. Not surprisingly given its fragrant nature, kuro-moji can also be made into an aromatherapy spray, which UNEHAUS produces and sells.

Visit a Local Home for Tea and Conversation

The experience of chatting with a village elder in her home is sure to become a treasured memory.

Rare is the tour that sees you welcomed into a private home, but that’s exactly what UNEHAUS is able to offer thanks to its deep community ties. Enjoy the feel of a traditional house while soaking up the chatter between long-time village friends. The stories told provide an extraordinary window into rural life in Japan.

Sample Sake at Ponshu:kan

Close to 100 Niigata-brewed sake varieties are available to taste.

After bidding farewell to UNEHAUS and the villagers of Ichinokai, it’s time to head back to Nagaoka Station for a final bit of fun: sampling sake at Ponshu:kan. The tasting room, part of a larger shop selling local specialties, is located on the second floor of the Nagaoka Station building.

Basic information for each brew is provided in English, and Nagaoka brewers are well represented.

Simply purchase tokens and serve yourself samples from the sake selections. Most varieties cost a single token, though premium selections cost more.

Access information

Getting to Nagaoka, Niigata:

It takes less than two hours to reach Nagaoka from Tokyo by Joetsu Shinkansen. If traveling from Niigata Airport, it takes approximately 1 hour by car and 1.5 hours by a combination of bus and train to reach Nagaoka. UNEHAUS is located approximately 20 minutes from Nagaoka Station in Ichinokai, and free pick-up and drop off is available.

Article provided by: JTB Communication Design, Inc.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change. Unless stated otherwise, prices do not include tax.
*Unauthorized reproduction of material in this article is strictly prohibited.

About “Countryside Stay Japan“

If you’re looking for a new way to experience Japan, sign up for a farm-stay experience through the Countryside Stay Japan program and participate in traditional rural-lifestyle activities in recommended countryside locations.


Search by Photo