The car ferry to Sado Island (佐渡) runs along Route 350, a highway that passes over the ocean, through Sado Island, and back over the ocean again to mainland Japan. The two and a half hour boat ride can make you forget that Sado is still considered a city of Niigata Prefecture.
The island itself is the sixth largest in Japan, but a reliable bus system operates throughout the island so that even those without a car will be able to hit all the major sightseeing spots . A weekend trip isn’t nearly enough time to see everything, but it’s plenty to schedule a journey to two of the most popular spots on Sado: the gold mine Sado Kinzan and the crested ibis conservation center Toki Forest Park.
Sado Kinzan – An Island Gold Mine
A gold mine that opened in 1601 and continued operations for over 300 years, Sado Kinzan has a long, fascinating past. At the same time it was the pride of Japan, once under control of the Tokugawa Shogunate and providing gold to cast koban coins, it was also involved in such practices as shipping the nation’s homeless to work in the mines.
For those curious about the working conditions, Sohdayukoh, one of at least five Sado Kinzan mines open to the public, displays scenes from the daily lives of the miners, as acted out by robots. The robots may give the tour the vibe of a Disney attraction, but the course is packed with information about the day-to-day operations in the mines during the Edo period.
On exiting the Sohdayukoh mine, visitors can go to the gold mine museum to see historical exhibits detailing the koban (gold coin) casting process and displays with authentic Sado koban.
In addition, visitors are welcome to try picking up a very heavy bar of gold. Those who are able to pick up the gold bar and pull it out of the hole in its display win a gift card, which is small consolation for not being able to keep the bar of gold.
Just outside the gift shop, not too far from the museum, a food stall sells gold-flecked vanilla ice-cream and coffee, the perfect close to a tour of the gold mines.
Toki Forest Park – Saving the Japanese Crested Ibis
Possibly one of the most famous sightseeing spots on Sado, Toki Forest Park is a crested ibis conservation center just 20 minutes by bus from Ryotsu Port. Before even going to Toki Forest Park, you will undoubtedly see this ibis, red-headed with white or pink feathers, in murals and as the inspiration for souvenirs at both Niigata Port and Ryotsu Port.
All Japanese crested ibises born in Japan officially went extinct in 2003, but thanks to the efforts of the Toki Forest Park’s Sado Japanese Ibis Conservation Center and the crested ibises sent from China, these beautiful birds are gradually being released again into the wild on Sado. Japanese crested ibises, called toki (朱鷺) in Japanese, often make national news when an egg hatches or when one flies to mainland Japan.
The Toki Forest Park gives the public the chance to learn about the history of crested ibis conservation and, of course, view the rare crested ibis up close. Several varieties of ibises are kept at the park, with a crested ibis family housed in a large, grassy enclosure being the main attraction. When the ibises are feeling brave, they will walk mere centimeters away from the windows on their enclosure, much to the delight of the visitors.
Sado is an island of sprawling rice fields, uncrowded beaches, and sightseeing spots that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. From the gold mines to the ibis conservation center, Sado offers experiences unlike any others in Japan. Have you had the chance to visit Sado?
Directions to and around Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture
The easiest way from Tokyo to Sado is to take the MAX Toki Shinkansen (bullet train) to Niigata Station. From Niigata Station, take a bus to Niigata Port. From Niigata port, you can take a high-speed jet foil boat (about 12000 yen roundtrip) or a low-speed car ferry (about 5000 yen roundtrip in second class) to Ryotsu Port on Sado Island.
The main mode of transportation on Sado is car, but the island also has a reliable bus system (with cheap day passes) and bicycles for rental.
See the Sado Tourism Association’s website for more details about access and transportation.
Sado Kinzan (Gold Mine)
Ride Niigata Kotsu Sado’s Honsen Line bus (“Main” line, yellow) from Ryotsu Port Terminal to the Aikawa stop. From Aikawa, take a taxi (5 minutes) to Sado Kinzan or switch to the Nanaura Kaigan Line (“Nanaura Coast” line, blue) and then get off at the Sado Kinzan stop. The trip takes about 1 hour from Ryotsu Port to Sado Kinzan by bus.
See website for car access details.
Sado Kinzan Official Website
Toki Forest Park (Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center)
See website for bus and car access details.
Toki Forest Park Official Website