I’m going to let you into a secret – you can keep a secret right? Good.
Forget the treasures of Tokyo: the stylish shops, the stupendous sushi and the mind-blowing urban overload… and head to stunning Sado, a beautiful island just two hours on the bullet train away. It’s shaped like a butterfly, and is just as pretty and intriguing. It’s also a time capsule… a world away from modern Japan, a journey to a very different past.
From the Tokyo bullet, when the train tracks run out, the final leg of your journey will be by ferry or hydrofoil. When you land in Sado – you’ve stepped back in time – from pristine beaches to cascading rice paddies, as well as a rich gold-mining history. Ancient temples and villages practice onsen (hot spring) culture.
Sado has a humid subtropical climate with potentially hot, humid summers and cold winters, so if you are heading there, make sure you pick a time that suits your preference.
Here’s our Top 5 things to do when visiting
Gold made this island wealthy, and gold fever and history are baked into the island’s past and present. There are a few different places you can take in the history of Gold on Sado Island.
Sado Kinzan Gold Mine and Nishimikawa Gold Park are both located on the island’s western coast.
The Gold Mine is a collection of historical relics which date back over 400 years. Here, you’ll be able to visit the mining tunnels and venture around different tunnel routes to learn more about the island’s mining culture and history.
And why not get in on the action yourself? Head to Sado Nishimikawa Gold Park, where visitors can roll up their sleeves and pan for gold.
2. Beaches & Coastline
You can’t have an island vacation without spending time at the beach– and Sado’s offerings are picture-perfect paradise.
The stretch of Maehama Coast has a beautiful, gently curving coastline. Strange rock formations are a big draw around here, geology fans! Akagameiwa is a big, red stone of iron quartz, which can be seen from a bathing beach in Akagame Kazashima Nagisa Park. The rock has a hollow in the middle, and the shape resembles to parent and child nestling up together (Red Turtle Rock).
At the very northern tip of the island is Futatsugame, a beachy inland area perfect for an afternoon of swimming and sun-bathing.
Onogame is a giant rock which visitors can scale for impressive views of the coast At 167 metres high, Onogame also towers over grassy fields. During May, lots of yellow wild-flowers frame this monolith, and the walks around the area are breath-taking.
3. TUB BOATS
The tradition of tarai-bune (washtub) boats is popular with tourists. Steered by locals wearing traditional clothes and straw hats, these Tarai date back to the 19th Century and became popular because of their stability and are easy to control due to their shape.
You can do this all year-round in Ogi Port, but for a more scenic setting, in the summer months head to Ya Island, just a little further around the coast.
Sado Island is a protected ecological habitat for toki (crested ibis birds). These near-extinct birds can be admired from afar at Toki Forest Park.
The Toki (Crested Ibis) went extinct in Japan, but here on Sado Island, thanks to preservation efforts, this bird is back as an endangered species.
Nearby the port you can visit the Ibis Park where there is also a breeding programme for these beautiful birds. Even more special though is occasionally, you may spot one of these birds in the wild. Keep an eye out on the empty rice terraces to try and spot one.
5. FOOD & AWARD-WINNING SAKE
Since Sado Island is in the Sea of Japan.
That makes it a seafood lovers paradise – from famous red pepper shrimp caught off the coasts of Niigata to red snow crab. Or try the area’s speciality – deep-fried amberjack. Sado is a conservation zone in other areas: the iconic Iwakubi Shoryu rice paddies, part of what makes Niigata a ‘rice country’, are protected just like historical monuments.
And this beautiful, artisan rice goes on to greatness.
You can try the local Daiginjo MAHO sake, which won the GOLD MEDAL at the largest and most respected Sake competition in Japan “the National New Sake Awards” in 2018! It’s been cultivated with Niigata’s special sake rice, “Koshitanrei” and “Gohyakumangoku” One place to sip some smooth booze is Hokusetsu Brewery, which even has a music room that is designed to mellow the sake.
And there are many others, where you can sample this delicious drink.
The cultural preservation of Sado has made it a very special place in the Japanese psyche, and it’s many charms are waiting for you to discover too. But remember – it’s our little secret right?