Despite being frequented by actor Robert De Niro for its world-famous sake breweries, Sado Island is not all-that popular with foreign tourists.
Yet, one venture to the island will allow travelers to pack so much into one trip. That ranges from its natural beauty, including picturesque beach inlands to cascading rice paddies, as well as a rich gold-mining history, nihonshu (rice wine) and onsen (hot spring) culture.
Accessible by bullet train and ferry from Tokyo, the Niigata prefecture island’s joyous spirit may come from its brewed spirits. One place to sip some smooth booze is Hokusetsu Brewery (Map), which even has a music room that is designed to mellow the sake.
Ever wonder where all that rice wine comes from? Also on Sado are the iconic Iwakubi Shoryu rice paddies, part of what makes Niigata a “rice country.” The view throughout the year, changing from lush green to yellow, is a natural feast to the eye.
What to do on the island
Wasthtub boat ride
Sado Island is known for its clear waters and rocky shores. A convenient base to stay in Sado is the area around Lake Kado, the largest lake in Niigata. Also on the island, you can partake in the tradition of tarai-bune (washtub) boats. Steered by locals wearing traditional clothes and straw hats, the inexpensive ride is straight out of an anime scene.
Nature and beaches
At the very northern tip of the island is Futatsugame (Map), a beachy inland area said to resemble two turtles. Chill here for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing in the clearest water that is one of “Top 100 Sea-Bathing Spots” in Japan.
Sado Island also has some rare nature. In fact, it holds an ecological habitat for toki (crested ibis birds). These near-extinct birds can be admired from afar at Toki Forest Park (Map).
Dig deeper into Sado’s history with a visit to the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine (Map), as well as the Nishimikawa Gold park, where you can do gold panning.
Another hands-on activity is the taiko (drum) playing workshops at Sado Island Taiko Center. It is home to the drums made from zelkova logs and cowhide skin and located just one minute from the Kodo Village, where the world-renowned professional taiko ensemble is based. Every August, the island hosts a huge celebration featuring an explosive taiko performance called the Sado Island Earth Celebration.
For a lot to do and see in a compact and beautiful getaway, Sado’s got you covered.