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Sado Island Japan Guide | Escape Tokyo For Tradition, Taiko, Tubs + Temples


by Alexa Childress



Sado Island, located off the coast of Niigata prefecture in Japan, is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of tradition, nature, and cultural experiences. Known for its rich history and natural beauty, Sado Island is a perfect getaway from the bustling city life of Tokyo. From stunning landscapes to traditional cultural performances, this island has something to offer for everyone.


Getting to Sado Island is relatively easy. Visitors can take a ferry ride from Niigata Port, which takes about two and a half hours. Alternatively, there are also flights available from Tokyo to Sado Airport. Whichever mode of transportation you choose, the journey itself is an adventure, as you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Sea of Japan.


Once you arrive on the island, you’ll be transported to a world steeped in tradition. Sado Island is famous for preserving its rich cultural heritage, including traditional farming practices and performing arts. The island’s history dates back to ancient times, and there’s a sense of timelessness that envelops you as you explore its narrow streets and historical sites.


One of the highlights of Sado Island is the taiko drumming performances. Taiko, which means “big drum” in Japanese, is a powerful and energetic art form that originated in ancient Japan. You can witness mesmerizing taiko performances by renowned groups like Kodo, who have their training center on the island. The thunderous beats of the drums resonate through your entire being, creating an unforgettable experience.


After immersing yourself in the rhythm of the drums, it’s time to relax and unwind in one of the island’s hot springs. Sado Island is blessed with natural hot springs, known as onsen, which have healing properties and provide a rejuvenating experience. Soaking in the soothing waters while surrounded by picturesque scenery is a blissful way to unwind after a day of exploring.


For those seeking spiritual solace, Sado Island is home to several temples and shrines. One of the most famous is the Sado Kokubunji Temple, which dates back to the 8th century. This temple complex is a designated national historical site and features beautiful gardens, traditional architecture, and important Buddhist artifacts.


No trip to Sado Island is complete without indulging in the local cuisine. The island is known for its fresh seafood, particularly delicious Sado-gyu beef, and regional specialties like shoyu ramen and Sado-style sushi. Enjoying a traditional meal made with locally sourced ingredients is a culinary delight.


Aside from immersing yourself in the cultural and culinary offerings, Sado Island is also a paradise for nature lovers. The island is home to lush forests, pristine beaches, and mountains that offer stunning panoramic views. Exploring the natural beauty of the island through hiking, cycling, or even sea kayaking is a must-do for adventurers.


With its blend of tradition, taiko drumming, hot springs, temples, and nature, Sado Island is a destination that will captivate your senses and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. Escape the bustling streets of Tokyo and embark on a journey to discover the unique charm of Sado Island.


Getting to Sado Island

Getting to Sado Island is an adventure in itself. Situated off the coast of Niigata prefecture in Japan, this picturesque island is accessible by both ferry and plane.


For those looking for a scenic journey, the ferry ride from Niigata Port to Sado Island is a popular choice. The ferry operates daily and takes approximately two and a half hours. During the journey, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Sea of Japan, with glimpses of dolphins and other marine life if you’re lucky. The ferry ride is a great opportunity to relax and soak in the natural beauty that surrounds you.


If you prefer a quicker and more convenient option, Sado Island is also accessible by plane. There are regular flights from Tokyo to Sado Airport, with a flight duration of about 45 minutes. This is a great choice for those who want to maximize their time on the island and minimize travel time.


Once you arrive on Sado Island, there are various modes of transportation available to explore the island. The most convenient option is to rent a car at the airport or ferry terminal. Having a car allows you to have the freedom to explore the island at your own pace and venture off the beaten path to discover hidden gems.


If you prefer not to drive, there are also public transportation options available on the island. The local bus network operates regularly and covers major tourist destinations. This is a budget-friendly option that allows you to sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery as you make your way around the island.


For those who enjoy a more active and adventurous mode of transportation, Sado Island offers rental bicycles. Cycling around the island is a great way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and experience the island at a leisurely pace. There are various cycling routes available, ranging from easy coastal rides to challenging mountain routes.


Whether you choose to arrive by ferry or plane, and whether you decide to drive, take public transportation, or explore by bicycle, getting to Sado Island is a seamless and enjoyable experience. No matter which route you choose, the journey itself is part of the allure of visiting this enchanting island.


Exploring the Traditional Culture

Sado Island is renowned for its preservation of traditional Japanese culture. From traditional farming practices to ancient performing arts, the island offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Japan’s rich cultural heritage.


One of the best ways to experience the island’s traditional culture is by visiting a Sado-style farm. These farms are deeply ingrained in the island’s history and have been passed down through generations. Here, you can learn about traditional farming techniques and get hands-on experience in activities like rice planting, harvesting, and vegetable cultivation. It’s a fascinating insight into the island’s agricultural traditions and the importance of sustainability.


In addition to farming, Sado Island is also known for its performing arts. The island is home to the prestigious Kodo Drummers, a world-renowned taiko drumming group. Taiko, meaning “big drum” in Japanese, is a powerful art form that combines music, dance, and culture. Attending a taiko performance by Kodo is a mesmerizing experience that will leave you in awe of the energy and skill of the drummers.


Another traditional art form found on Sado Island is Noh theater. Noh is an ancient form of classical Japanese theater that dates back to the 14th century. Performances are characterized by slow, deliberate movements, elaborate costumes, and poetic dialogue. Watching a Noh performance is a unique cultural experience that allows you to glimpse into Japan’s historical artistic traditions.


For those interested in traditional craftsmanship, Sado Island is home to skilled artisans who specialize in various crafts. You can visit workshops and studios to witness the meticulous process of creating pottery, lacquerware, and weaving. These artisans take great pride in their work and often incorporate traditional motifs and techniques into their pieces, giving them a distinct Sado Island touch.


Exploring the traditional culture of Sado Island is not limited to the performing arts and crafts. The island also hosts various festivals throughout the year, where you can witness ancient rituals and customs. One of the most famous festivals is the Sado Lion Dance, which has been designated as an intangible cultural property of Japan. This dynamic dance performance, accompanied by lively drumming and music, brings good luck and prosperity to the island.


Immersing yourself in the traditional culture of Sado Island will transport you back in time and allow you to appreciate the rich heritage of Japan. From experiencing the vibrant energy of taiko drumming to witnessing the grace of Noh theater, the island offers a truly unique cultural experience that will leave a lasting impression.


Enjoying Taiko Performances

When visiting Sado Island, one cannot miss the opportunity to witness the electrifying and captivating taiko drumming performances. Taiko, meaning “big drum” in Japanese, is a traditional musical art form that has deep roots in Japan’s history and culture.


Sado Island is home to the renowned taiko drumming group, Kodo, whose performances have gained international acclaim. Kodo has established a training center on the island, making it an ideal destination for experiencing the authentic power and intensity of taiko drumming.


Attending a taiko performance by Kodo is a sensory feast that leaves a lasting impression. From the moment the drumming ensemble takes the stage, you are engulfed in a whirlwind of energy and rhythm. The synchronized beats of the drums are both thunderous and melodic, creating a hypnotic atmosphere that reverberates through your entire being.


One of the remarkable aspects of a taiko performance is the combination of percussion and choreography. The drummers move dynamically, not only playing the drums but also incorporating synchronized movements, jumps, and spins. The synergy between the performers creates a visually captivating spectacle that adds an extra dimension to the overall experience.


What sets taiko drumming apart is its ability to transcend language and connect with audiences on an emotional level. The powerful vibrations of the drums resonate deep within, stirring a primal energy and evoking a range of emotions. It is a truly immersive experience that speaks to the universal language of rhythm and music.


While attending a Kodo performance is undoubtedly a highlight, there are also opportunities to participate in taiko workshops on the island. These workshops allow visitors to learn the basics of taiko drumming and experience the joy of playing the drums firsthand. Under the guidance of experienced instructors, you can unleash your inner drummer and create your own rhythms in a group setting.


The taiko performances on Sado Island are not limited to formal stages and auditoriums. You may also come across impromptu drumming sessions at local festivals, community events, or even on the streets. These spontaneous performances showcase the vibrant spirit of the island and provide a glimpse into the integral role taiko drumming plays in the local culture.


Whether you are an avid music enthusiast or simply looking for a unique cultural experience, attending a taiko performance on Sado Island is a must. The thunderous beats of the drums, combined with the dynamic choreography, create an immersive and unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe and inspire a newfound appreciation for this ancient art form.


Relaxing in Hot Springs Tubs

Sado Island is not only known for its cultural heritage and natural beauty, but also for its soothing and therapeutic hot springs. On the island, you can find a variety of hot springs, locally known as “onsen,” that offer a blissful retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation.


Immersing yourself in the healing waters of the Sado Island hot springs is a perfect way to unwind and recharge after a day of exploration. The island is blessed with numerous hot spring resorts and public bathhouses that cater to both tourists and locals.


The hot springs on Sado Island boast mineral-rich waters that are believed to have various health benefits. These minerals, such as sulfur, calcium, and sodium, are known to soothe muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote overall well-being. Soaking in the warm baths can help alleviate stress, ease fatigue, and leave you feeling refreshed.


One of the popular hot spring resorts on the island is the Ogi-Kogen Onsen, located in the picturesque Ogi Peninsula. This resort offers a range of indoor and outdoor baths with stunning views of the sea and surrounding nature. Relaxing in the open-air baths while taking in the scenic beauty is a serene experience that allows you to truly connect with the tranquility of the island.


For a more rustic and authentic hot spring experience, visit the smaller, local bathhouses scattered throughout the island. These public baths, known as “sento,” offer a glimpse into the daily life of the locals and provide an opportunity to interact with the community. The simplicity and charm of these bathhouses add to the unique experience of soaking in the hot springs.


In addition to the traditional hot springs, Sado Island is also known for its unique sand baths. At certain beaches on the island, you can bury yourself in warm volcanic sand, which is believed to have therapeutic properties. The sand molds to the contours of your body, creating a gentle pressure that helps relax the muscles and promote blood circulation.


After a relaxing soak in the hot springs or a rejuvenating sand bath, it is common to enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or a light meal at the onsen facilities. This allows you to extend the relaxation and savor the moment while enjoying the peaceful ambiance.


Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the mineral-rich waters of a resort or take a unique sand bath at the beach, the hot springs of Sado Island provide a sanctuary of tranquility. Take some time to indulge in the healing power of these natural wonders and let the stress of daily life melt away.


Visiting Temples and Shrines

Sado Island is home to a rich religious history, with various temples and shrines scattered throughout the island. These sacred sites offer a glimpse into the island’s spiritual heritage and provide a serene atmosphere for reflection and contemplation.


One of the most significant temples on Sado Island is the Sado Kokubunji Temple. Established in the 8th century, this temple is a designated national historical site and holds immense cultural and architectural importance. As you approach the temple, you’ll be greeted by stunning gardens adorned with cherry blossoms in the spring and vibrant foliage in the autumn. The main hall showcases intricate woodwork and beautifully painted sliding doors, offering a glimpse into the craftsmanship of the past.


Another notable temple is the Myosenji Temple, which is renowned for its unique architecture. The temple’s main hall, built in the Edo period, features a distinctive thatched roof and wooden beams that create a warm and rustic atmosphere. Exploring the temple grounds allows you to appreciate the peaceful surroundings and experience a sense of tranquility.


Aside from temples, Sado Island is also home to several shrines that hold great cultural and historical significance. The Sado Kodo Shrine, located in the Ogi area, is dedicated to the island’s guardian deity, Kodenokanayago-no-Mikoto. The serene atmosphere of this shrine, surrounded by towering cedar trees, invites visitors to take a moment to reflect and pay their respects.


For those seeking a unique spiritual experience, a visit to the Mano Sekibutsu Buddha is a must. Located in Mano, this historical site features over 1,000 stone Buddhist statues carved into the cliffs. The intricate details and serene expressions of these statues create a mesmerizing sight and evoke a sense of reverence.


During your visit to temples and shrines on Sado Island, it is customary to follow certain etiquette. Before entering the main hall or inner sanctum, it is customary to purify your hands and mouth at the temizuya (water pavilion). Additionally, observing silence and respecting the sacredness of the space is greatly appreciated.


Visiting temples and shrines on Sado Island is not only an opportunity to explore the island’s religious traditions but also a chance to connect with the spiritual essence of Japan. These sacred sites offer serenity and a sense of peace that can provide a meaningful and introspective experience during your time on the island.


Trying Local Cuisine

Sado Island is not only a haven for nature and culture enthusiasts but also a paradise for food lovers. The island’s local cuisine showcases the abundance of fresh seafood, unique regional specialties, and traditional culinary techniques that have been preserved for generations.


One of the standout dishes on Sado Island is Sado-gyu beef. This premium wagyu beef comes from local cattle raised on the island’s lush pastures. Known for its marbling, tenderness, and rich flavor, Sado-gyu is a must-try for meat lovers. Whether you indulge in a perfectly grilled steak or savor thinly sliced beef in a hot pot, the melt-in-your-mouth texture and savory taste will leave you craving for more.


For noodle lovers, Sado Island offers its own style of ramen known as Sado shoyu ramen. This delicious variation features a soy-based broth that is simmered for hours to develop a deep umami flavor. Topped with succulent slices of Sado-gyu beef, springy noodles, and various toppings like green onions and nori seaweed, it’s a bowl of comfort and satisfaction.


Sado Island is also known for its unique sushi style called “Sado-style sushi.” This local specialty showcases the island’s abundant seafood, including fresh catches from the Sea of Japan. The sushi is typically served on a bed of vinegared rice and topped with a variety of ingredients like sea urchin, squid, scallops, and local fish. Each bite of Sado-style sushi offers a burst of flavors and textures that highlight the island’s coastal bounty.


Seafood lovers will rejoice in the abundance of fresh seafood options on the island. From succulent crab and sweet shrimp to flavorful shellfish and delicately braised fish, Sado Island offers a wide array of oceanic delights. Visit local seafood markets or dine at seaside restaurants to indulge in the freshest catches of the day.


Aside from the main dishes, Sado Island also offers a delightful variety of side dishes and traditional snacks. Try “sasa-dango,” a type of mochi rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves, or “sado no minazuki,” a traditional wagashi sweet made with sweetened adzuki bean paste and rice cake. These traditional treats are often enjoyed with a cup of green tea, adding to the authentic experience.


When visiting Sado Island, be sure to pair your meals with locally brewed sake. The island’s microbreweries produce high-quality sake with distinct flavors and aromas. Sip on a glass of Sado sake to complement the flavors of the local cuisine and enhance your dining experience.


Exploring the local cuisine of Sado Island is as much a cultural experience as it is a culinary one. By trying the island’s unique dishes and savoring the flavors of the region, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the island’s culinary traditions and the bounty of its land and sea.


Experiencing Nature

Sado Island is a paradise for nature lovers, offering a diverse range of landscapes and outdoor activities that allow you to immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty. Whether you’re a hiker, cyclist, or simply enjoy exploring the great outdoors, Sado Island has something for everyone.


One of the highlights of the island is its lush forests and scenic mountains. The Oyama Senmaida Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers breathtaking views of terraced rice fields against a backdrop of forested hills. Embark on a hiking trail that leads you through the terraces, immersing yourself in the tranquility and serenity of the landscape.


For those seeking a more challenging hike, Mt. Kinpoku is a popular destination. Rising to a height of 1,172 meters, this mountain offers panoramic views of the island and the surrounding Sea of Japan. The hiking trail takes you through dense forests, glistening streams, and pristine alpine meadows, providing a rewarding and invigorating experience.


Cyclists will delight in the array of cycling routes available on Sado Island. From leisurely coastal rides to more challenging mountain routes, there’s a cycling path for every skill level. Breathe in the fresh sea air as you pedal along the picturesque coastline, passing through charming fishing villages and rolling hills.


Beach lovers will find solace in the island’s beautiful coastline. Sado Island boasts several stunning beaches where you can relax, soak up the sun, and take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters. Mano Bay Beach and Senkaku Bay Beach are popular choices, offering sandy shores, gentle waves, and idyllic surroundings.


For a unique and magical experience, consider taking a sea kayaking tour around the coastal waters of the island. Paddle through hidden coves, explore sea caves, and marvel at the abundance of marine life. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, this adventure allows you to connect with nature and witness Sado Island from a different perspective.


Wildlife enthusiasts will also find joy in Sado Island’s natural wonders. The island is a haven for birdwatchers, with various bird species making it their home or stopping by during migration seasons. Take a leisurely stroll through wetland areas or visit the island’s bird observatories to observe colorful migratory birds in their natural habitat.


Whether you choose to hike, cycle, relax on the beach, embark on a kayaking adventure, or indulge in birdwatching, Sado Island offers an abundance of opportunities to experience the beauty of nature. As you explore the island’s natural wonders, you’ll be captivated by its tranquility, charm, and the sense of freedom that only nature can provide.



Sado Island, with its blend of tradition, culture, natural beauty, and culinary delights, offers a memorable and immersive experience for travelers seeking an escape from the bustling city life of Tokyo. From taiko drumming performances that will reverberate through your soul to the soothing hot springs that will melt away your worries, every aspect of Sado Island invites you to connect with the unique charm of the island.


Exploring the traditional culture of Sado Island allows you to witness the island’s agricultural heritage, experience the vibrant energy of taiko drumming, and admire the craftsmanship of local artisans. Visiting temples and shrines provides a serene and introspective experience, connecting you with the island’s spiritual traditions.


Indulging in the island’s local cuisine is a culinary delight, from savoring the succulent Sado-gyu beef and enjoying Sado-style sushi to relishing the regional specialties and seafood fresh from the sea. The blend of flavors and unique dishes will tantalize your taste buds and leave you wanting more.


Embracing the beauty of nature on Sado Island offers an escape into tranquil forests, awe-inspiring mountains, pristine beaches, and captivating coastal waters. Whether you choose to hike, cycle, relax on the beach, or explore the wildlife, the island’s natural wonders will leave you in awe and create lasting memories.


In conclusion, Sado Island is a true hidden gem that offers a diverse range of experiences for every traveler. Its rich cultural heritage, traditional performing arts, therapeutic hot springs, exquisite cuisine, and breathtaking nature make it a destination that captivates the senses and rejuvenates the soul. So, escape from the city and embark on an unforgettable journey to Sado Island – a place where tradition, nature, and the essence of Japan blend harmoniously.