Sado-ga-shima, where out-of-favour intellectuals were banished, is Japan’s sixth-largest island. Persimmons are everywhere, and hoshi-gaki (dried winter persimmon) is a common food, even appearing in the traditional yōkan (bean jelly) sweets – some flecked with real gold. The island is a very popular destination because of its natural beauty and atmospheric hiking (the southern and northern mountain ranges are connected by a vast, fertile plain), as well as for the eccentric reminders of its rich, evocative history.
Among those banished here were Emperor Juntoku, nō master Ze-Ami, and Nichiren, the founder of one of Japan’s most influential Buddhist sects. When gold was discovered near Aikawa in 1601, there was a sudden influx of gold-diggers, who were often vagrants press-ganged from the mainland and made to work like slaves.
Sado is famous for the Earth Celebration, with okesa (folk dances), onidaiko (demon drum dances) and tsuburosashi (a phallic dance with two goddesses).
The best time to visit is between late April and mid-October; during winter, not only will the weather be foul, but much of the accommodation will be closed and transport will be slashed to a bare minimum.
The island is well furnished with guesthouses, youth hostels and camping, but you must book accommodation well in advance in the hectic summer months. Ask the tourist information offices for help if necessary, as only a few of the many options are listed here.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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