Top Things to Do on Sado Island
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 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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
The island is full of nature and historic towns that a visitor can enjoy being a tourist with everything Sado has to offer.
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)
Admission: Adults 500 yen / Elementary and Junior High School Students 200 yen
Sado Kinzan Gold Mine:
Opening Hours: April–October: 8:00–17:30 / November–March: 8:30–17:00
Admission: between 900 and 1,400 yen (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.)
Admission: Adults 400 yen / Children 100 yen
Opening Hours: 8:30–17:00 March–April and September–November; 8:30–17:30 May–August; 9:00–16:30 December–February
Admission: Adults 800 yen / Children 700 yen