Sado Island – A Peaceful Spot Where You Can Escape
Have you ever felt like it’s no longer enough for you to just travel around checking the most famous spots off a long list of must-see tourist attractions? I used to think that was the way traveling was supposed to work–rushing through all the well-known places recommended in guidebooks. However, even while admiring the beauty of wonderful historical sites, I would often get frustrated feeling a sense of duty to follow the imaginary norm and longing for something completely different at the same time.
Peace and Quiet
If you have ever felt like that, you might be in the right place. Or maybe you have visited most famous cities and mountains across Japan and are now wondering what else is there to do. Or do you happen to be a nature lover? Someone who could spend hours enjoying the tranquillity of lush green hills covered in mysterious patches of fog or looking at the vastness of the deep blue sea?
Either way, if you haven’t yet done so, considering Sado as a potential destination may be a choice for a lifetime.
Where is Sado and How Do I Get There?
Sado is a peaceful island situated off the coast of Niigata Prefecture. It is accessible by ferries running every hour or so between Niigata and Ryotsu Ports. If you are not worried about missing the only ferry of the day, you can also jump on in Naoetsu and get off in the little town of Ogi.
What About Transportation?
While there are taxis and different bus routes including a regular sightseeing bus, if you prefer flexibility, adventure and freedom, it may be a good idea to rent a car or be prepared to walk rather long distances.
What is Sado Famous For?
With a population of about 56,000 people, Sado is a wonderful choice for anyone who feels like escaping from busy cities and spending some quiet time surrounded by nature.
For centuries it was known for its gold production with a mine operating between 1601-1989 and being one of the current candidates to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The island also has a history of serving as a place of political exile and a long tradition of the Japanese Noh theatre with ongoing open-air performances up to this day. What’s more, thanks to Kodo, a musical group, taiko drumming has been popularized and the group’s centre is open to anyone who wishes to participate in drumming sessions.
Some other key words that may come to mind when talking about plants and wildlife are the slightly funny-sounding toki and kaki. Toki, or crested ibis, is one of the most representative symbols of Japan. Although it went extinct in 2003, with Sado being its last natural habitat in the country, thanks to its reintroduction from China, it is still possible to catch sight of these red-headed birds flying around. Kaki, a word meaning both oyster (牡蠣) and persimmon (柿) may lead us to experience the cuisine of the island in greater depth. Oyster dishes have a good reputation and frozen persimmons are often sold as a dessert that can help you cool down during the summer months.
Sado is an ideal place to admire a number of intriguing rock formations in peace and quiet. For example, the impressive Meoto Iwa or Wedded Rocks (夫婦岩), reminiscent of a couple facing each other, are within easy reach, just off the road right next to Hotel Meoto.
Another interesting natural work of art, Benkei no Hasami Iwa, is more challenging to spot. It is in a road curve by the sea and I personally would have missed it, had the car in front of me not made an unexpected maneuver. Its name refers to the rock’s peculiar position being stuck between two other large rocks. It is attributed to Benkei, a strong mountain ascetic hermit mentioned in legends.
A great place to enjoy a peaceful walk in is the coastal area surrounding Onogame (大野亀), a giant turtle-shaped formation with an unforgettable scenery. In June you can also admire the blooming hydrangeas around the area.
Kizaki Shrine (樹崎神社), a tiny sanctuary located at one of the tips of a peninsula, is a hidden gem. It can be accessed through a narrow forest path making the driving experience feel like a mystical journey portrayed in a Ghibli animation. It only adds to the magical atmosphere that the peninsula is surrounded by Lake Kamo, a place known both for oyster farming and for being the largest lake in Niigata Prefecture.
Another hidden spot is Haguro Shrine (羽黒神社) with a path taking the curious visitor uphill and downhill on steep stone steps up to the shrine building. As you reach a valley halfway through just before getting ready to climb another fleet of steps, you will come across a red bridge standing out against the greenery of the woods.
Note : Be careful as there are more shrines on the island with this name.
Where Else to Go?
I would recommend stopping anywhere along the coast where you can get a view of the sea, the rice paddies or any mist-coated mountains. In areas further away from the ports, you will be likely to go unnoticed and undisturbed, free to enjoy your solace in nature.
Traveling can be a peaceful and quiet experience. You don’t need to go to downtown Tokyo and ride overcrowded trains through Shibuya. That is, unless you want to.