Did you know that there is an island within Niigata prefecture? And that the island is known for gold?!
Sadogashima (Sado Island / Sado), the fourth biggest island in Japan after Okinawa, is not as far from Tokyo as one might imagine. On the Joetsu Shinkansen, it will take you to Niigata in just two hours followed by an hour ride on a high speed jet ferry.
Historically, the island has been known for the gold and silver mine, which was operational for 400 years, starting in the Edo-period. The island was in direct control of the government with the commissioner's office located within the island, which shows that it was indeed an important location to bring income for the government at the time.
The island known for its gold mining facilities since the Edo period. (Kitazawa Floatation Plant) Photo by Norimasa Tochibayashi
The former commissioner's office from the Edo period is recreated and is open to public. Photo by Naoko Tochibayashi
The former mine, Sado Kinzan, which has recently been lobbying for UNESCO World Heritage, is one of the must-visit spots in Sado. The two tunnels in the former mine recreate the sceneries; one from the Edo period and the other, Meiji period. In the former tunnel, the real-size automated dolls bring out the scenes from the old days when the mine was dug almost manually, if not, with very limited machineries. In the tunnel that is dark and tightly secured (watched over) for the excavation of gold some may not have helped thinking “Gee I can’t wait to go outside, have some sake and see my beloved wife”, as the doll mumbles.
Gold mining was a crucial income for the government at the time, thus how Sado flourished. Photo by Naoko Tochibayashi
Towards the end of the second tunnel from the Meiji period, the visitor will come outdoors for the full view of the Doyu-no-Wareto, or the mountain that has a large crack from the top from the mine digging. The view of the mountain is peaceful today, but reminds us how much gold and silver were desperately dug at the time. Until the mine closed in 1989, 78 tons of gold and 2,330 tons of silver was dug; marking the mountains of the island the biggest gold/silver mine in the country. The tunnel dug throughout the mountains totals 400km, which is equal to the distance between Tokyo and Sado!
The miners from the Edo period are recreated by real-size dolls, which is not only entertaining but completely takes the visitors back in time! Photo by Naoko Tochibayashi
The mountain with the former mine still stands tall with a clear trace of desperation of the people to find gold! Photo by Naoko Tochibayashi
If you’re interested in finding gold yourself, visit the Gold Park, where you can enjoy finding tiny bits of gold within the sands. In 30 minutes, you may be able to find just enough to see a ray of twinkle from within the sands!
The visitors can take the sand-size-gold they find out of the sands! Photo by Naoko Tochibayashi
Another must-see, if not, must-do in Sado is the tub boat. Originally a way to catch seaweed, abalone and turban shell (delicacies of Sado), the tourists can also experience a ride on this tiny "tub" which is more stable and comfortable as it seems. They will even let the visitors hold on to the single ore to let someone take full control of the tub boat... if you can! As simple as it may look, it takes a bit of a technique to row or even simply get the boat move forward!
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The island is full of nature, as well. Its golden rice fields right before autumn is breathtaking and people are not the only ones who think so. Sado is also an island known as home to birds that are almost extinct: Japanese crested ibis (Nipponia Nippon or toki).
The Toki Center breeds and protects the species, and is open to the public. The visitors can see these beautiful birds at this center and find out more about this bird, which are protected by Japan and also China. If you are lucky, you may see toki in the rice fields on the island, as they are slowly growing in numbers and even do not hesitate coming close to humans, as long as they see that the humans are blending well in their natural habitat.
Sado is also known for producing high-quality rice! Photo by Norimasa Tochibayashi
Nipponia Nippon or Toki Photo by Norimasa Tochibayashi
The island has its unique way of life and people seem relaxed, following that. They are also extremely generous. So generous that they love pouring you with their hospitality in their proud cuisine: namely seafood and rice. Their tradition of hospitality being “must keep serving” seems to become parallel with people’s minds geared towards “mottainai” or should not waste. Yet, the amount they serve and the quality is beyond anyone’s imagination!
In Sado, the tradition is that they serve you until you’re over-served! Photo by Norimasa Tochibayashi
Sado is full of seafood. Photo by Norimasa Tochibayashi
Where there is good rice, there is great sake! Photo by Norimasa Tochibayashi
The island is full of nature and historic towns that a visitor can enjoy being a tourist with everything Sado has to offer.
Sado is where the best of old Japan still lives. (Shukunegi) Photo by Naoko Tochibayashi
Sado Bugyosho Site (Sado Commisioner's Office):
Opening Hours 8:30-17:00 [Closed at year-end and the New Year (29 December - 3 January)]
Admissions Adults: 500 JPY/ Elementary and Junior High School Students: 200 JPY
Sado Kinzan Gold Mine:
Opening Hours April - October: 8:00 - 17:30 / November - March: 8:30-17:00
Admission 900 JPY – 1,400 JPY (depending on the course)
Toki Forest Park:
Opening Hours: 8:30 - 17:00
Hours: March - November: open seven days a week / December - February: closed on Mondays (if Monday is a public holiday, it will be open but closed the following day.)
Admissions Adult: 400 JPY/ Child: 100 JPY
Opening Hours: 8:30 - 17:00 (Mar.-Apr. / Sep.-Nov.) / 8:30 - 17:30 (May-Aug.) / 9:00 - 16:30 (Dec-Feb.)
Admissions Adults: 800 JPY / Children: 700 JPY