12 Reasons To Visit Sado Island, One of Japan’s Mystical Islands

Sado Island, the largest island in Japan, lies about 45 Kilometers West of Niigata with a population of over 50,000. Its old streets, traditional culture, and ancient landscapes, remain to this day to give visitors a feel of the atmosphere of Japan from years gone by.

Sado Islands

While it is not much of an urbanized city, its rich history and relaxed rural atmosphere has made it one of the major tourist destinations in Niigata Prefecture. The island has several temples, many small local traditional festivals, historical ruins and offers possibilities for various outdoor activities, as well as fresh local food. It has been described as a rugged land of rock, rice terraces, and rich history.

To reach Sado Island from Tokyo, you’ll need to board a Shinkansen train to Niigata Prefecture, around a two-hour journey before boarding a jet-foil, or a slower ferry over to the island. Thinking about a vacation? This beautiful blend of modern-day on a traditional canvas complements the hustle and bustle of any metropolis.

1. Taiko Drumming

Taiko Drumming

The hands-on activity at the Sado Island Taiko Experience Exchange Center, also called Tatakokan, is run by Kodo Cultural Foundation. Taiko is a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments built with wood for the body and cowhide for the surface.

The centre was built from local Sado Island timber and has a large hall, traditional cooking classroom, exhibition and meeting rooms. When they are not inside, visitors have the luxury of viewing the Mano Bay and the Osado Mountain range from very large balconies.  Tatakokan houses two huge Taiko drums that were hand-carved from an enormous 600-year old Keyaki (Japanese zelkova) log by members of Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble, Kodo. These drums are available to be played by visitors to the Center.

2. Senkakuwan Bay

A beauty partly formed from volcanic activity, the Senkakukuwan Bay has been rumoured to be a mini Hawaii because of its beautifully rugged coastline and lush green vegetation on the ocean.

Areas that were affected by volcanic activity have compressed rocks of various shapes and sizes rising out of the ocean to give it its fjord-like look. There are rocky outposts that are linked together by a white bridge, and the rising rocks have caves in them which can be accessed by boats. On the bay, is a visitor centre with a bar and an aquarium by the bridge which requires an entry fee for access.

3. Tarai-bune

The Tub Boats (known as Tarai) date back to the 19th Century, during the Meiji period when these round shaped boats became popular because of their stability and easier to control on water due to their shape.

Nowadays, they are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Niigata Prefecture, and you can enjoy rides in them for a couple of people. Staying around Lake Kado allows visitors to conveniently partake in the tradition of Tarai-bune (washtub boats) trip. The boats are steered by locals dressed in traditional clothes and straw hats.

4. Sado Island Gold Mine

In nearly 400 years of gold mining, 78 tons of gold and 2300 tons of silver have been produced. The Sado Kinzan gold mine is the largest in Japan. The gold mine has mining tunnels and tunnel course routes that visitors can visit and learn about the Island’s mining culture and history.

The Sodayu Tunnel Course has life-sized dolls and robots that show what life was like in the mine, the Doyu Tunnel course shows visitors various artefacts left behind during the industrialization process. The Sado Nishimkwa Gold Park allows visitors to pan some gold by sieving for tiny gold nuggets. In the Gold Museum, an overview of the history of the gold industry and trading routes are shown in English animated videos which are projected on  3D  tables and walls,  depicting water floods,  gold flying and mountains terrain.

5. Sado Island Temples

 Sado Island, Pagoda Temple

Typical of Japan, the Island has temples on it.  The Myōsen-Ji temple, a five-storied Pagoda, is a few kilometres East of Mano.  The Pagoda was built by two generations of carpenters and took 30 years to complete. The Seisui-Ji temple has a rocky staircase lined with towering trees frame at the entrance, while the Chokoku-Ji temple – a temple of flowers especially the peony, is also known as the Rabbit temple because of the 20-feet Rabbit Kannon statue outside and the bunnies bouncing freely in the gardens. The Rabbit Kannon statue has the eleven-faced goddess of Mercy on its belly. Within the grounds, are three spiritual Japanese cedar trees and umbrella-pine trees.

6. The Sado Akadomari Folklore Museum

The museum hosts an extensive collection of articles and exhibits which tells a story of the lives of common people and their struggles. The Ogi Folk Museum has a collection of over 30,000 folk artefacts that documents the lives of the people during the Showa times.

The Museum displays an abandoned school, fishery, shipbuilding artefacts and a wooden ship that was restored based on drawings of a sengo kubune, the wooden freight ship that would have taken gold off the Island in 1858. Each year, for a special festival, it is wheeled outside and the mast is raised.

7. Shukunegi Village

Shukunegi Village

For a more hands-on of Sado Island history, Shukunegi Village, which you’d be forgiven for thinking is part of the museum, is the perfect place to visit. The tiny narrow streets of this community are framed by wooden buildings, dating back hundreds of years. It is a very peaceful and quiet village that depicts how life used to be and how it still is on the island. Many modern things like a coffee vending machine are a sign that it is comfortable for those living in it.

8. Noh Theatre

Near the Daizen shrine in the east of Mano is a traditional wooden Noh Theatre which was built in the 19th century. Noh Theatre shows the historical and traditional art forms in Japan, giving a mix of drama and music and entertaining people on Sado Island for hundreds of years. In spring and summer, tourists can enjoy traditional performances on outside stages which are fitly decorated.

9. The Toki

A tour on Sado Island allows visitors to see the crested Ibis which is an endangered bird in Japan. The breeding programme on the island has been able to sustain these beautiful birds and protect them from the elements in their large homes. These birds are occasionally released on the empty rice terraces to catch visitors’ eyes.

10. Sado Island Delicacies

Sado Ten-nen Burikatsu-don, a bowl of rice served with a cutlet of yellowtail fish

Local restaurants and eateries offer the freshest catch of seafood. The rice terraces are a source of the rice bowls that accompany fresh seaweed soups and any seafood of choice. A popular meal is Sado Ten-nen Burikatsu-don, a bowl of rice served with a cutlet of yellowtail fish. The ingredients are locally produced and sourced on the island. The award-winning Sake Obata Brewery, set in a converted school, serves the local Manotsuru Sake. The island also has a rare and tasty variety of fruits that are also seasons-dependent.

11. The Highlands

The Onogame rock located at the Northern tip of Sado and the Mt. Donden satisfies the visitors’ adventure hunger. They are a beautiful array of wildflowers and various plants.

12. The Japanese Onsen

Onsen is the Japanese name for a hot spring. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all of its major islands.

The hot spring bath, whether indoor or outdoor, is very rejuvenating during the spring. These baths can be found in lodgings as well as in public bathhouses.

So start making travel plans. it would be an amazing experience.

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