|On Sado Island, home to indigenous culture characteristic of its isolation and abundant nature surrounded by mountains and ocean, spring ushers in the tourist season. The island presents an opportunity to enjoy an abundance of unique charms — its status as a geopark with both land and ocean elements, the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine which is one of Japan’s most prominent industrial heritage sites, and locally-produced gourmet cuisine.|
Voyage to an island with a rich history evident in the everyday life of the island dwellers
Sado Island lies an approximately two-and-a-half-hour ferry journey away from the Port of Niigata. As the ferry approaches the island, the striking 1,000-meter-odd mountain range rises up out of the water to greet visitors. Steeped in history and culture, Sado Island is home to more than 400 cultural assets including Kokubunji Temple, which numbers amongst Japan’s oldest temples, and Seisuiji Temple which dates back more than 1,200 years and features a Kyomizu wooden stage (Guze-den or Salvation Hall) similar to that of Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto. We also recommend making your way to Abutsubo Myosenji Temple. The five-story pagoda on the grounds was constructed more than 200 years ago by a father-and-son temple building team who poured 30 years of their lives into the project, and it is now a designated Important Cultural Property of Japan. It is said to be incomplete due to a lack of funds, but no doubt visitors will be able to get a sense of the essence of traditional skills and techniques of the time.
Don’t miss Sado Island’s spring charms — Ondeko (deity mask dance) and cherry blossoms
If you are visiting the island for the first time, we want you to enjoy the kind of vast, untrammeled nature and local cultural and performing arts traditions that can only be experienced between spring and fall. In Japan, spring is the season of sakura or cherry blossoms. On Sado Island the sakura reach their best in mid-April. Of all the sakura viewing spots, Mano Park numbers amongst the loveliest on the island and gives island dwellers a feeling of connection with the sakura. Within the grounds are buildings of interest like the Manogu Shrine, connected to the exiled emperor, and the Sado Rekishi Densetsukan which tells the tale of the island’s history and legends. Visitors to the park will be able to enjoy the sakura with the locals and also get a sense of the island’s history.
Another sakura-viewing spot on Sado Island that is not to be missed is the area around the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine. Here visitors can view a gold mine that once financed the Edo Shogunate with world-class yields while also taking in the stunning scenes created by the blossoming sakura. Spring on Sado offers sightseeing attractions other than sakura too. One of these is Ondeko, the traditional performance art that represents a prayer for rich harvests, large hauls, and family contentment and is performed in approximately 120 villages the island over. Ondeko, which can be roughly classified into three main regional styles, is a festival where a male-female devil pair beats on a taiko drum with drumsticks while dancing alongside lions. With no two ways of dancing or drumming the same, and rich variety in the devil masks and costumes, you are sure to enjoy discovering the differences from village to village. However, do remember that Ondeko is a religious ritual dedicated to the gods. Please practice good manners and take care not to cut in front of the dancers or trespass on private property.
Experience nature’s grand vistas on Sado Island
In 2013, Sado Island was designated a Japan geopark, and the island offers activities that let guests become one with the stunning scenery painted by nature. To enjoy the superb ocean vistas, take the ride on a washtub boat. Enjoy bobbing on the ocean with a boatwoman in a straw hat at Ogi Port or around the islets of Yajima and Kyojima. Costumes can also be rented, giving visitors the fun of getting into character and playing the part of a boatwoman. If it is the magnificent mountain scenery you want to enjoy, we recommend trekking in the Osado area. On Sado Island the 38th parallel north, a latitude line that delineates the boundary of the warm-temperate and cold-temperate vegetation zones, passes through the middle of the island, making for a diverse range of wild plants. In spring the slopes are decorated with flowers such as the Japanese wood poppy and Primula modesta (a species of primrose found in parts of Asia), and in fall the mountainsides are cloaked in crimson foliage. If the weather is right between late April and late May, visitors will see the ridges blanketed in the flowers of the Asian fawn lily, making it the perfect season to enjoy the natural charms of Sado Island. If you inquire at the Sado Tourism Association, they will be happy to recommend the best courses for each season, with options for everyone from beginners to advanced hikers to enjoy. Sado Island also has a wide range of other attractions. Watch the sake brewing process at one of the five sake breweries, and be sure to visit the Cote Bistrot at La Barque de Dionysos where visitors can enjoy local produce. This facility is run by a vintner and a chef who emigrated from France. No doubt visitors will be able to chat with them about the island while sipping the natural wine. To enjoy all of the diverse regional and seasonal charms of Sado Island, we recommend staying for several days and making a visit in each season, as this is a place where you will always discover something new. That is the magic of Sado Island lying isolated in the Japan Sea.
Sado Tourism Association