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Find Off-the-Beaten Path Experiences on This Unique Japanese Island

by Ron Bernthal

May 9, 2023



Japan contains a number of unique experiences and lesser-known destinations, including the unique Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, one of Japan’s largest islands, is situated just off the western coast of central Japan, accessible by a two-hour ferry or jetfoil.

Known as “The Island of Gold and Silver,” from the beginning of the 17th century, Sado Island was one of the largest producers of precious metals. Although now non-operational, visitors can tour the 400-year-old mining tunnels and even pan for gold (but don’t expect to get wealthy from the experience).

© Golden Sado Inc.

Sado Island does have a rich art scene, however, from traditional theater to artisan crafts. Traditional theater art (classical Japanese performances mix acting, dance and song) is the oldest theater art still regularly practiced in the world, with strong roots in the Sado community. In the summer, a series of five nighttime shows are staged at Suwa Shrine in Shiizaki on a special outdoor stage, illuminated by wood-burning fires.

Another cultural touchstone is Niibo Museum of History and Folklore, dedicated to showcasing and preserving the art of Sado, including silk textiles, handmade Japanese dolls and numerous archaeological objects.


For one-of-a-kind Instagrammable moments, Sado offers a variety of natural wonders from which to choose. The port town of Shukunegi boasts special beaches created from cooled, multicolored volcanic lava, resulting in a stunning contrast with the ocean waters. In nearby Manjojiki, the lava has settled into a flat, mirror-like terrain, reflecting sunsets and starry skies with vivid clarity.

Erosion also created scenic caves along the coastline, such as Ryuodo, nicknamed “Sado’s Blue Grotto” for its similarities to the famous landmark in Capri. Connected by a red bridge, the small islands of Yajima and Kyojima offer glass-bottomed tub boat rides for a short coastal tour through clear, emerald-green waters.

Noh Theatre © JNTO

Sado participates in sustainable, environmentally friendly production in its Iwakubi Shoryu rice fields. These crops provide rice and sake to every restaurant on the island and beyond, as the rice has a nationally recognized flavor. For those interested in sake, special tasting rooms at Hokusetsu Sake Brewery, which features a music-filled atmosphere, is designed to gently mellow the rice-based alcohol.

One of the largest events on Sado Island is the Earth Celebration Festival in mid-August 2023, filled with exciting taiko performances from world-renowned group Kodo. The festival is held in the small town of Ogi. This music festival brings musicians from around the world to celebrate global culture alongside stalls selling local treats, homemade crafts and traditional clothing.


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