Today Sado is known for its award winning sake, its sustainable and environmentally friendly rice, restful hot springs, the Noh history and theatres, protecting the Toki (Japanese Crested Ibis) and the world renown Kodo Taiko (Japanese drums) groups who hosts the acclaimed Earth celebration.
DISCOVER THE HISTORICAL TOWN OF SHUKUNEGI & ITS TARAIBUNE TUB BOATS
The volcanic rock masses that formed in front of the Shukunegi coastline resulted in the larger ships having difficulty arriving directly into port with its precious cargo from the North and South; so the locals derived a transportation system by cutting in half large wooden Oke (traditionally used to store miso) to create the taraibune (tub-boats) which were used to ferry the goods from the boat back to the mainland. It also allowed them to fish the abundance of sea life that flourished within the inlet, particularly sazae and wakame. One can enjoy a taraibune experience at Shukunegi Tarai, where the best time is at sunset with its golden skies across the ocean horizon.
VISITING OBATA SHUZO & GAKKOGURA - THE TEACHERS OF SAKE
2010 saw a local elementary school on Sado Island close its doors due to the declining population. Determined to find a way to help revitalise the island and preserve this community building, Obata Shuzo acquired the property, turning it into their second sake brewery Gakkogura. After extensive renovation, Gakkogura opened its doors in 2014, and has begun to brew sake every summer when Obata Shuzo closes after winter. Traditionally sake is only brewed in the winter months, however due to Gakkogura possessing a modern interior and climate controls, it is able to brew in summer. For one week, Gakkogura allows four individuals to come work, stay, and learn about the sake making process. An application process is required (available via their website). You are also welcome to visit for a sake brewery tour and tasting.
A selection of sake
PROTECTING & EMPOWERING THE TOKI TO ONCE MORE TAKE FLIGHT
Sado Island fields
The unique geographical topography of Sado with its two mountains Oosado (big Sado) and Kosado (small Sado) bordering the Kuninaka (the middle flat plains) were naturally conducive to creating the optimal conditions for rice cultivation to flourish where the many insects and frogs feeding within were ideal prey for the Toki. However similar to the Kounotori of Hyogo Prefecture, the culmination of World War Two saw the widespread use of pesticides in modern farming, subsequently the Toki population was decimated due to the pesticide poisons affecting their food chain. The last five wild Toki were captured, with two donated from China in order to facilitate a captive breeding environment whilst work began to restore their natural habitat so that eventually wild Toki would once again roam the skies.
Local farmers began nurturing the landscape by curbing the use of pesticides, creating fishways to connect rice paddies, water sources and irrigating the rice fields during winter. The Aida family also discovered that oyster shells were effective not only in water purification, sterilisation but fertilisation too and use that in their particular farming. Rice grown in these organic matters is sold as Toki Brand Rice.
The hard work bore fruit when in 2012, a Toki chick was born in the wild for the first time in thirty-six years.
Oyster shells for farming
MEETING THE KATAGAMI ONIDAIKO OF SADO ISLAND
Five different Onidaiko styles can be found (often with Shishimai - chinese lions joining), each characterised by variations of dance, costume, drum rhythms and props. The most popular dance-style is the group of Katagami whose Suriashi (sliding steps) movements have been influenced by Noh’s presence on the island.
The Oni masks are carved by hand from Paulownia wood (kiri in Japanese), with the long locks of the Oni’s hair coming from a horse’s mane, rice straw or even buffalo hair. Each group’s masks hold different variations in design, with nowadays group members carving their own since many shokunin craftsmen are advanced in age.
The leader of the Katagami Onidaiko style is Tadaaki Aida, the current head of the Aida family (responsible for the oyster-filtration rice field system). Fun fact, his family’s rice is used by Obata Shuzo for their sake brewing.
RELAX IN A 150 YEAR OLD KOMINKA AMIDST THE RICE FIELD
Hailing from Nagoya (Akiko-san) and Gifu Prefectures (Tosei-san), they visited Sado Island and fell in love with the gorgeous rural landscape and the kominka that would become Hananoki. Subsequently after moving the property, they decided to open it to overnight guests so others may appreciate the beauty of the Japanese countryside and meet individuals from all around the world.
Five cottages are available separate to the main building which has two guest rooms. Simple minimalist Japanese decor awaits you in the cottages, think traditional tatami, fluffy futons and sliding window doors that offer breathtaking views of the neighbouring rice fields with stunning vibrant sunsets.
If you choose to stay for a night or two, definitely include your meals, because the home cooking of Akiko-san; resplendent with delicious local seafood, vegetables, local sake and Niigata’s famed koshikari rice is one you will love.
Akiko-san Check out some of Lia's recommendations for boutique overnight stays in Kyoto here! Follow Lia as she explores more areas of Japan intimately, over on her IG @ryokanwanderings or have a read of her blog: Ryokan Wanderings for even more stories and adventures.
Lia is an Aussie based in Tokyo, Japan with a passion for exploring the lesser known, and learning people’s life stories. She loves to seek out ryokan traditional accomodation with private onsen hot spring baths (which she shares on Ryokan Wanderings), discovering hidden sushi omakase gems or curled up in her Totoro bed with a good book. If not travelling in Japan or abroad, her days are spent in her studio, Tokyo Kaleidoscope, reconstructing vintage Japanese silk kimonos into bespoke pieces for herself and others.