Sado Island is located off the coast of Niigata. The island is big yet sparsely populated and offers plenty of interesting things to do from hiking through spectacular scenery to taking part in interesting cultural activities such as taiko drumming and Noh performances.
Sado Island has a rich and turbulent history. Archeological evidence suggests that people lived on the island as early as the Jomon period (14000-800 BC). For a long time, the island was a place where people were sent as a punishment for various crimes. Being sent to Sado was regarded as a harsh punishment indeed, second only to the death sentence. Due to its remoteness, those banished to the island were not expected to ever get a chance to return to the mainland. The practice of exiling people to Sado lasted for about 1,000 years with the last known case taking place in 1700.
In 1601, gold was found on Sado and a big gold mine was opened near Aikawa in the western part of the island. At its peak, around 400 kg of gold was produced here annually. The gold mine contributed to a surge of the population on the island. At most, around 125,000 people lived on Sado Island. Since then, the area has seen a decline in its population and today it is less than half of what it was at its peak. Currently, the figure sits at 60,000 people, of which about one third is over 65 years old.
Due to the somewhat dark history of Sado, it is still considered a “bad place” to some. According to a representative of the tourism association it’s not uncommon for them to receive phone calls inquiring about whether it is safe to visit the island today.
But from our own experience, Sado isn’t only a very safe place, it is also one that we definitely think is worth visiting. The island is breathtakingly beautiful at places, particularly its barren coastline deserves a special mention. It is also a place with a rich history and has a plethora of interesting cultural experiences that any visitor easily can enjoy. The island is known for its many “noh” theater stages, with several performances taking place during the summer months.
Overseas, Sado is perhaps most well-known thanks to Kodo, a taiko drumming group that was formed in 1981. Though based in Sado, the group regularly tour the rest of the country as well as sometimes making worldwide tours. Kodo has gathered a strong following of international fans over the years and organize an annual festival called “Earth Celebration” which takes place over three days in August. This is one of the biggest annual events on the island, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Sado Island is connected by ferries to the Japanese mainland, with lines servicing Niigata City as well as Teradomari and Naoetsu, two smaller cities also located in Niigata Prefecture.