The island of Sado in Niigata Prefecture features some stunning sights of natural beauty. From a boat cruise along the crystal blue sea, to beautiful sandy beaches. Take a walk through a mystical forest of cedar trees, or explore the vast expanses of rice fields, there is plenty of nature to enjoy in Sado. Here are the top five places:
Yajima Taiken Koryukan
In the port town of Ogi at the southern end of Sado Island, you can try sailing in tarai bune which first originated in the area. On the tarai bune of the Yajima Taiken Koryukan, you can enjoy the rich natural scenery of an inlet with gentle waves, a vermilion arched bridge and the islands of Yajima and Kyojima. The slowly moving tubs are small but very stable, and the strangeness of sailing in such boats is oddly pleasant. It’s a short cruise at 10 minutes but with the simple and comforting Sado folk songs playing in the background, you can have an elegant time sailing in the bay while enjoying a chat with the women steering the tarai bune. On good weather days, the expansive crystal-clear sea can be seen right to the bottom where you can fully appreciate its beauty from the proximity that is only possible in such a small boat. If you ask the boatmen, you can also try your hand at steering the tub so why not make the request?
The tarai bune are small boats derived from tubs, and there is a story behind them. Due to the Sado-Ogi earthquake which occurred in 1802 in the latter half of the Edo Era, the entire topography of the area underwent a huge change. Numerous reefs and inlets were born resulting in an increasing abundance of shellfish such as abalone and turban shell along with a rich source of seaweed. But the old boats could no longer enter the changed topography and fishing became more difficult. Due to that reason, washtubs were refitted so that the tarai bune with their oars were born. The boats which boast a capacity of 500kg are very maneuverable and stable.
You can take a stroll on the vermilion bridge and the small islands that can be seen from the tarai bune. From the nature trail that surrounds the bay, you can enjoy a scenic walk as you look out at the open ocean of the Sea of Japan and the mainland, and the red bridge that links the nature-filled Yajima and Kyojima which has been called a miniature garden.
Admission: Adult ¥ 500 / Child ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Yajima Taiken Koryukan
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Yajima Taiken Koryukan
- Tours of Yajima Taiken Koryukan
Ogura Senmaida (Terraced Rice Fields)
Making use of the many hours of sunlight, the temperature variance between day and night, and only natural water from a storage of rainwater, rice is grown on a slope between 350m and 400m above sea level. The return of the tanada (terraced rice paddies) which utilizes old-fashioned farming methods harkens back to the old landscape of Sado Island and the paddies have been selected as one of the Top 100 Landscapes of Sado. Also in 2011, they were praised for their initiative in farming in harmony with the natural environment and were selected as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System, famous as a symbolic landscape for the island.
In 1650 during the Edo Era, there was a huge increase in the population on Sado Island due to a gold rush there which also resulted in a lack of food, thereby sparking a gradual reclamation of land to create the senmaida rice terraces. However at the end of the rush with farming methods focusing on mechanization and productivity as the norm, there was a rise in fallow fields and abandoned fields for reasons such as agricultural equipment not being able to be used on the uniquely shaped paddies and the intensive labor on the slope; this resulted in the disappearance of the tranquil environment of the paddies. But since 2008, there has been a growing tendency towards natural farming methods and a return of the senmaida, and with the introduction of a system bringing together owners of rice paddies from all over Japan, the terraced rice paddy system was revived. With the support of the nation’s rice paddy owners and the people of Sado, the scenery of lush rice paddies in consideration of the environment has returned. This landscape is now treasured as a valuable nostalgic scene to be passed down to future generations.
Ogura Senmaida is easily accessible by car. Not only can the paddies be enjoyed during the summer when they are a lush green, but their beauty can also be admired at any time during the year when the rice turns a golden color in mid-September and during planting season in May. Next to the paddies, there is a parking lot which anyone can use.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ogura Senmaida (Terraced Rice Fields)
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ogura Senmaida (Terraced Rice Fields)
- Tours of Ogura Senmaida (Terraced Rice Fields)
Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Forest
managed by the shogunate to secure firewood for use in the refining of gold from the many gold mines that flourished during the Edo Era. However, those trees which became bent from strong winds and heavy snow unique to Sado were left alone. Over many years, the Sado cedar forest formed from nature finally became a distinct part of the island and has come to be protected. In 2011, a walking trail was completed for a part of the natural forest. The trail has become popular for a stroll through the forest, and from the observation point near the exit, a grand view can be enjoyed.
On the nature trail that can be navigated in about 1 hour, there are cedars which are estimated to be 300 years old among which there are 5 symbolic trees as the major highlights.
Take the Kenyurin Sagyodo Iriguchi (Prefectural Forest Strip Road Entrance) from the parking lot at the 830m altitude point to head for the entrance to the nature trail. (Toilets are only located at the parking lot.) From the strip road entrance to the trail entrance will take 15 minutes via a long sloping path. The nature trail is easy to traverse with name plates denoting the five major cedar trees.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Forest
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Forest
- Tours of Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Forest
Onogame is a massive rock that boasts an incredible size on the northern shores of Sado Island. The rock which resembles a mountain is included as one of the three great rocks in Japan and has a height of 167m. Onogame derived its name from its resemblance to a gigantic coiled-up turtle, but the Japanese word of kame is also similar to kami, or god, and has the meaning of a sacred island; the stone lantern at the top of the rock is enshrined as a dragon god to preserve the safety for sailing. Onogame was born from volcanic activity which occurred an estimated 100 million years ago. Afterwards, changes in the earth’s crust starting from 3 million years ago led to a bulge from the ocean bottom which rose up approximately 200m. The portion that was laid bare on the earth’s surface was eroded through strong precipitation so that it is believed it is how the mountain-like giant rock was formed.
There is a nature trail on Onogame where you can enjoy the beautiful sea by the shore and the dynamic view of the rock. There is a large torii gate by the entrance to the trail which provides one highlight bringing together religion and natural scenery. Also, the seaside landscape on the northern shores of Sado Island which includes Onogame has earned 2 stars in the Michelin Green Guide so that the uniquely pretty view of the extremely clear ocean and the giant rock has gotten high praise around the world.
Between late May and mid-June, a form of day lily known as Hemerocallis dumortieri blooms on Onogame. Numbering between 500,000 and 1 million blossoms, during its peak time when the flowers all bloom at once, vivid yellow flowers cover the entire area. The Kanzo Festival is held every year on the 2nd Sunday of June during which the traditional entertainment of Sado including folk songs and drumming is featured against the beautiful backdrop of Onogame.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Onogame
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Onogame
- Tours of Onogame
The two large rocks atop the ocean resemble a couple of turtles which gave rise to the name of Futatsugame (Two Turtles). If you cross the sandy beach path which connects the shore with the rocks at low tide, you will be able to experience the strange sensation of waves rushing in from either side of the path. Also during high tide, this path once again sinks underwater so that the beautiful rocks can be seen popping up from the water with the beach being enjoyed for its changing appearance over time. This area of scenic beauty consisting of large rocks at the northern shore of Sado Island, including Futatsugame, was formed 100 million years ago as the oldest feature on the island. Afterwards, the ocean bottom protruded upwards gradually due to changes in the earth’s crust to create the current structure. The beautifully blue clarity of the sea in this area has been recognized as being one of the top 100 swimming areas in Japan and has been given 2 stars in the Michelin Green Guide. You will want to enjoy the superb sights of the beautiful colors only to be found at Futatsugame such as the delicate changes in color of the ocean due to the season and weather, the blue sky and the brilliant green rocky peaks covered in grass.
Many people come and visit during the summer to enjoy swimming. In the surrounding vicinity, there is a 4-kilometer nature trail connecting Futatsugame and Onogame which takes about 1 hour to cover on foot. The path which goes along the shore up to Onogame continues by the distinctive sheer cliffs of Sotokaifu so that you can look forward to an air of wilderness and the epic sight of the sea. Along the way, you will also be able to see the mystical Sai-no-Kawara cave where countless numbers of jizo statues are placed and small residential communities along the shore.