If the islands that make up the Japanese Archipelago are arranged in order of area, we shall list up, in order, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa. But then, which one is the fifth largest one?
If you’re not a geography enthusiast, you might not be able to think of it.
The correct answer is Sado Island!
What is Sado Island like?
Located in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, Sado Island is also the largest island in the Sea of Japan, resembling the shape of tilted alphabet “Z”.
Despite its large area, its population density is low, so nature is rich, and you can still see the old-fashioned lives of people. It might be a recommended place for those who want to escape from everyday life.
Sado Island is a big island, so it will be difficult to get around in a day. Take a few nights to find some nice things to see and see.This time, I will introduce some of the charm of Sado!
Ogi and Shukunegi Area
First, let’s start from Ogi Port in the southernmost part of Sado Island.
Ogi Port is a ferry stop from Naoetsu Port in Niigata Prefecture, and the village of Shukunegi (宿根木) is nearby.
Yaneki has been selected as an important traditional building preservation area. This port town developed as a natural harbor that reached its heyday from the late Edo period to the early Meiji period (so, the middle part of the 19th century), and the town is now preserving the remnants of the time created by shipbuilders.
The buildings in this preservated district are mostly two-stories houses with an exterior wall roughly made of planks. The roofs of some houses are unique, as a stone-covered roof sit on top of the thinly divided board. Currently, two restored houses are open to the public, and the inside is very colorful.
In addition, in Ogi, a unique boat called “Tarai-bune” has been used for fishing and other means for a long time, and it can also be enjoyed as a tourist attraction now! You will be surprised at the transparency and color of the surrounding sea sit in a tub boat!
If you move a little north from Ogi, you will get to Mano Bay.
There are several temples and shrines scattered around this area, and we visited the only temple in Niigata Prefecture called Myosenji Temple, which boasts a five-stories pagoda.
It is said that this mimics the five-story pagoda of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
During our exploration in the are, we could surely feel the breath of a long and dense history. After all, Sado Island was the place where Nichiren became a monk, and that’s why Buddhism flourished very especially here.
There is also another temple called Kokubunji temple near Myononji Temple. Here the most impressive building was the Ruri-dō, an impressive treasure warehouse which dates back to 1666.
Further north on Sado Island, you will find Sado Kanayama, slightly inland from the western coast. Until the late Showa period, the main industrial income of Sado Island was gold, collected from Sado Gold Mine. Sado Kanayama boasts more than 400 years of history and is now a powerful candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Gold mining activities at Sado ended in 1989, and some of the mines are now available for tours.
We recommend to visit two of the explorable old Gold Mines, the Sōda Yu Mine and the Dōyū Mine. Both them are some exciting 70 minutes tours, with cool reproduction of the mining activities and the life of miners back at that time!
Another place worth a visit is the Kitazawa floating plant near Sado Gold Mine. As the name suggests, this is a place that sorted mineral resources mined from the mountains and was able to process more than 50,000 tons of ore in a month. At the time the Kitazawa floating mining site was in operation, it was touted as one of the most productive ones in Eastern Asia.
Now Kitazawa floating plant is no operational anymore, but the scenery of this place today reminds us of a lost civilization eaten up by vegetation, something you would not think to find in Japan!
Near the former mining area you can get to the beautiful Senkaku Bay Area.
The peculiar rocks jutting out of the sea and the towering cliffs create a magical atmosphere, making this marine locality something perfect for a pirate cove! The view from the boat was also wonderful with its different angles, as it can insinuate in narrower inlets.
The “Toki”, Japanese for the crested ibis (Nipponia nippon) is one of the symbols representing Niigata Prefecture, especially Sado Island, now a threatened specie. In Japan, toki used to live in Hokkaido, Honshu, and other parts of the country, such as Izu Islands, Sado Islands, Oki Islands, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Ryukyu islands.
However, it is on the verge of extinction now, and in order to preserve its population, several breeding experiments with the population living in China are being made. At the Toki-no-Mori park, you can meet these ibises who are then destined to be freed into Sado Island.
Talking with local people we met in Sado, many of them told us that in the past it was easy to spot these birds in the rice fields of the island. Symbol of good luck and prosperity, the toki is really loved by Sado people, and they truly hope to be able to save this beautiful bird.
There are also many nice goods and gadgets related to Toki here and there in Sado. For example, this funny post box, painted with the colors of Toki!
The northernmost point of Sado Island
At the northernmost point of Sado Island, you’ll find truly beautiful seascapes.We suggest to stop by two huge rocky formations:
These two mountains are located close each others, and combine the large sea and the sky with a magnificent panoramic landscape.
Access may be a little inconvenient, but in our opinion they are unmissable! If you can rent a car or a moped, no problem, just follow the coastal road.
Ryotsu is the main town of Sado Island, with accommodation, restaurants, souvenir shops and car rental shops. There is also a ferry from Niigata Port, so it will be a convenient base for your Sado trip.
Learn more about access here! (will be published soon)