Northern Sea of Japan Coast
The Sea of Japan is the marginal sea between the Japanese archipelago, Sakhalin, the Korean Peninsula, and the Russia mainland. The Japanese archipelago separates the sea from the Pacific Ocean. The Japan Sea has relatively small tides due to its nearly separation from the Pacific Ocean. Its isolation also its sea life and salinity, both of which are lower than in the open ocean. The Japan Sea has no large islands, bays or capes. Few rivers discharge into the sea and their total contribution to the water exchange is only around 1 percent. The sea’s water balance is mostly determined by the inflow and outflow through the straits connecting it to the neighboring seas and the Pacific Ocean. [Source: Wikipedia]

For centuries, the Japan Sea had protected Japan from land invasions, most notably by the China-based Mongols in the 13th century. It had long been used navigated by Asians and, from the 18th century, by European ships. Russian expeditions of 1733–1743 mapped Sakhalin and the Japanese islands. The seawater in the Japan Sea has high concentrations of dissolved oxygen that results in large fisheries.. Fishing has long been the dominant economic activity in the region. Squid fishing is particularly common today as evidence by the number of squid fishing boats you see when you fly over the sea at night. Several giant squid have been fished out of the Sea of Japan. One was captured alive off Shinonsen, Hyogo Prefecture.

The Sea of Japan was a landlocked sea when the land bridge between East Asia and Japan existed is the Early Miocene (23 million to 16 million years ago). During this time the Japanese Arc formed and Japan Sea started to open. Today, the sea has a carrot-like-shape and a surface area of about 978,000 square kilometers (378,000 square miles), a mean depth of 1,752 meters (5,748 feet) and a maximum depth of 3,742 meter (12,277 feet). Extending from north to south about 2,255 kilometers (1,401 miles, with a maximum width of about 1,070 kilometers (660 miles), the the Sea of Japan is bounded by the Russian mainland and Sakhalin island to the north, the Korean Peninsula to the west, and the Japanese islands of Hokkaido, Honshu and Kyushu to the east and south. It is connected to other seas by five straits: 1) the Strait of Tartary between the Asian mainland and Sakhalin; 2) La Pérouse Strait between the Sakhalin and Hokkaido; 3) the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu; 4) the Kanmon Straits between Honshu and Kyushu; and 5) the Korea Strait between the Korean Peninsula and Kyushu.

There are no large islands in the sea. Most of the smaller ones are near the eastern coast. The shorelines are relatively straight and are lacking large bays or capes; the coastal shapes are simplest for Sakhalin and are more winding in the Japanese islands. The largest bays in Japan Ishikari (Hokkaido), Toyama (Honshu), and Wakasa (Honshu). Prominent capes include Soya, Nosappu, Tappi, Nyuda, Rebun, Rishiri, Okushiri, Daso and Oki in Japan. As world sea level dropped during the advance of the last Ice Age, the exit straits of the Sea of Japan one by one dried and closed. The deepest, and thus the last to close, is the western channel of the Korea Strait.

Sea of Japan Coast

Sea of Japan Coast on the western side of Honshu is a region of historic cities, sand dunes, traditional fishing villages and restaurants that serve giant crabs in the winter time. The waves are bigger than those on the Inland Sea but not as big as those on the Pacific. In the winter the sea brings stormy weather and lots of snow to some places. Some coast villages erect bamboo sea walls for protection In the summer the seas are relatively calm and weather can be quite humid. Websites: Sea of Japan description Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Sea of Japan photos japan-photo

The Sea of Japan has historically served as a protective barrier between Japan and Asia. A long chain of mountains runs down the middle of Japan, dividing it into two halves, the "face," fronting on the Pacific Ocean, and the "back," toward the Sea of Japan. On the Sea of Japan side are plateaus and low mountain districts, with altitudes of 500 to 1,500 meters. The Echigo Plain borders the Sea of Japan. Most of Japan’s rivers are very short. The longest, the Shinano, which winds through Nagano Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture and flows into the Sea of Japan, is only 367 kilometers long Hokuriku, a "snow country" coastal strip on the Sea of Japan, is situated in northern central Japan. Japan’s fifth largest lake, Nakaumi and adjacent Shinjiko Lake, are on the Sea of Japan coast in central western Honshsu. They, are threatened by land reclamation projects.

The Sea of Japan coast is generally unindented, with few natural harbors. The central Noto Peninsula and Wakasa Bay serve as exceptions to long curves of flat shoreline. The Korean peninsula — across the Sea of Japan from Japan — is the closest point on the Asian mainland to Japan. The Korean Strait, approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) across, separates southwest Japan from South Korea and links the East China Sea to the Sea of Japan. The Soya Strait (La Perouse Strait) runs between northern Japan and Russia's Sakhalin Island; this strait links the Sea of Japan to the Sea of Okhotsk. Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido and Honshu Islands, linking the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean.

Japanese life has always been oriented toward the ocean. The currents that converge offshore create fertile and varied fishing grounds. The Tsushima Current, an offshoot of the Japan Current, transports warm water northward into the Sea of Japan. Two major ocean currents affect this climatic pattern: the warm Kuroshio Current (Black Current; also known as the Japan Current); and the cold Oyashio Current (Parent Current; also known as the Okhotsk Current). The Kuroshio Current flows northward on the Pacific side of Japan and warms areas as far north as Tokyo; a small branch, the Tsushima Current, flows up the Sea of Japan side. The Oyashio Current, which abounds in plankton beneficial to coldwater fish, flows southward along the northern Pacific, cooling adjacent coastal areas. The meeting point of these currents at 36 north latitude is a bountiful fishing ground.

Koreans believe the name of the sea between Japan and Korea should be called the East Sea rather than the Japan Sea, the name that appears on most maps. In the early 1990s both the U.N.'s conference on Geographical Names and the U.S. Board of Geographic names rejected suggestions by Koreans to the change the name of the body of water between Korea and Japan from the Sea of Japan to the East Sea. In August 2007, the ninth conference for the standardization of geographical names ruled that the Sea of Japan will remain the Sea of Japan. South Korea and North Korea wanted the name to be changed to the “East Sea” or the “Sea of Korea," names which they say have been used for more than 2,000 years. The chairman of the conference said, “I encourage the three countries involved to find a solution acceptable to all of them, taking into account any relevant solutions, or else agree to differ."

Snow County in Japan

Kenrokuen trees after a snow
The northern Sea of Japan Coast of Japan is often called “Snow Country” because of the heavy snows it receives in the winter time. Snow country refers to an area between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps. It is one of the snowiest regions in the world, with snow levels measured in meters rather than centimeters or inches. Precipitation-laden clouds coming in from the Sea of Japan bang up against the mountains and drop huge loads of snow. The town of Tsunan, which lies in the heart of snow country, was buried under seven meters of snow in 1945. Until these areas were regularly plowed starting in the 1960s, some places were virtually cut off from the rest of the world until the snow disappeared.

People in Snow Country use plow-like shovels which they push with two hands to remove snow from driveways, walkways and roofs. A resident in Tsunan told the New York Times, “It's a never-ending job!...After you've cleared the snow, the place is covered with snow again two days later.” Cars and houses are buried under snow. Towns became lumpy white blankets. Streets that are plowed are lined by walls of snow. Some people have to climb out of second-story widows onto three-meter-high walls of snow just to get out their house. Kids play jump rope by jumping over power lines.

Snow has to be cleared from roofs to keep them from collapsing. Typically the man of the house climbs a ladder to the roof to clear the snow while his wife waits below. These days many of the people who live in rural areas with lots of snow are people in their 70s and 80s. Many of them have gotten hurt or even died from falling off roofs or being knocked out or buried under falling snow. People have also died when heavy snow on roofs caused entire buildings to collapse. Some places with heavy snowfalls have sprinklers in the middle of the streets and electrical pumps that use mildly warm underground water to melt the snow. Some streets, especially those around the train stations, are heated. Large chunks of local budgets are spent on snow removal.

The heavy snows are caused by flow of cold air from Siberia and northern China that moves eastward across Japan and brings freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls to the central mountain ranges facing the Sea of Japan, but clear skies to areas fronting on the Pacific. In regions bordering the Sea of Japan the winter monsoon, laden with snow, can be destructive. Snowfall is generally heavy along the western coast where it covers the ground for almost four months. Particularly heavy snowfalls in coastal areas along the Sea of Japan are due cold air masses 5,500 meters above Honshu that is sweeping over the main island with a core temperature of minus 33 degrees. Landslides occur during the heavy rains that fall in the monsoon season from mid June to mid July.


The Chubu region in central Honshu faces both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. The climate varies greatly according to the area: while the Sea of Japan side is famous for heavy snowfall, the Pacific side generally enjoys a mild climate throughout the year. Some towns, located on plateaus, are very popular as summer retreats due to their cool climate. The Japan Alps, which has several lofty mountains and is thus called the Roof of Japan, extends from north to south in the Chubu region.

The Chubu region encompasses nine prefectures (ken): Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It is located directly between the Kantō region and the Kansai region and includes the major city of Nagoya The Chubu region has some of Japan’s longest rivers and one of the largest rice-producing areas, located along the Sea of Japan. It has three industrial areas: the Chukyo Industrial Zone, which is home to the Chubu Region main facility of Toyota Motors; the Tokai Industrial Region, where Yamaha is based; and the Hokuriku Industrial Region. In addition to rice, agricultural products include tea, mandarin oranges, strawberries, grapes, peaches, and apples. The most famous landmark of this largely mountainous region is Mount Fuji.

The Chūbu region covers a large and geographically diverse area of Honshū which leads to it generally being divided into three distinct subregions: Tōkai, Kōshin'etsu, and Hokuriku. There is also another subregion occasionally referred to in business circles called Chūkyō. The Tōkai region, mostly bordering the Pacific Ocean, is a narrow corridor interrupted in places by mountains that descend into the sea. The three Tōkai prefectures centered on Nagoya (Aichi, Gifu, and Mie) have particularly strong economic ties, and the parts of these prefectures that are closest to the city comprise the Chūkyō Metropolitan Area. This area boasts the third strongest economy in Japan and this influence can sometimes extend into the more remote parts of these prefectures that are farther away from Nagoya. Thus, these three prefectures are sometimes called the "Chūkyō region" in a business sense

Kōshin'etsu refers to Yamanashi, Nagano, and Niigata prefectures. It is an area of complex and high rugged mountains—often called the "roof of Japan"—that include the Japanese Alps. The population is chiefly concentrated in six elevated basins connected by narrow valleys. The Hokuriku region lies on the Sea of Japan coastline, northwest of the massive mountains that comprise Kōshin'etsu. Hokuriku includes the four prefectures of Ishikawa, Fukui, Niigata and Toyama, The district has very heavy snowfall (sometimes enough to block major roads) and strong winds in winter, and its turbulent rivers are the source of abundant hydroelectric power.



Niigata (on the Japan Sea) is an important port and industrial city with 440,000 people. It receives the world's only regular North Korean ferry as well as regular passenger-carrying ships from Vladivostok, Russia, which is almost due west of Niigita. To accommodate the Russian visitors road signs are written in Cryllic and one luxury hotel is adorned with Russian-style onion domes. The North Koreans have connections with Japanese Korean residents that are loyal to Pyongyang. A row of historic machiya houses is being restored in the Murakami district of Niigata.

Situated in west-central Honshu, Niigata lies on the estuary of the Shinano River, about 45 kilometers north of Nagaoka. Divided into two sections by the river, the city has an industrial side and a residential side which features shopping areas and Niigata University. Niigata was established by the Nagaoka clan as an outpost in 1616. It became the capital of Niigata Prefecture in 1870. The city has a population of over 800,000.

Niigata was struck by devastating earthquakes in 2004 and 2007. The two hour ride from Tokyo on the bullet train pass through 14-mile-long Daishimizu tunnel, one of the longest railroad tunnels in the world. Niigata Prefecture is known for producing Japan’s best rice and sake. Most of the people are old.

Niigata Prefecture covers 12,584 square kilometers (4,859 square miles), is home to about 2.3 million people and has a population density of 183 people per square kilometer. Niigata City is the capital and largest city. It is in Chubu in central Honshu island and has nine districts and 30 municipalities. Niigata is a jumping off point for Sado Island. The Yamakoshi area of Niigata is famous for its rice paddies., Many of the paddies damaged in the 2004 earthquake have been restored.

Tourist Information Center at the Bandai Exit of Niigata Station. Niigata Visitors and Convention Bureau Tel: (025) 223-8181; Websites:Niigata Prefecture site Enjoy Niigata Niigata City site ;Niigata Visitors and Convention Bureau Map: JR East Hotel Web Sites: Niigata Prefecture site Enjoy Niigata ; Niigata Visitors and Convention Bureau ; Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Niigata is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Tokyo (two hours) and Osaka (six hours) and other Japanese cities. There is a shinkansen line between Tokyo and Niigata. Niigata Station is two hours from Tokyo Station by Joetsu Shinkansen. By bus, it is five hours from Ikebukuro, Tokyo.Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Genbi Shikansen is a shinkansen line that goes to Niigata that has been called the “fastest museum” for the works of art in the cars. Reaching speeds of close to 210 km/h down Japan Railway’s Joetsu Shinkansen line, it allows the passengers to relax in an artclad environment during their 54 minute ride between EchigoYuzawa and Niigata stations. Eight contemporary artists were tapped to decorate the seven cars with their artwork, ranging from photography (Mika Ninagawa), paintings (Kentaro Kobuke), fabric (Nao Matsumoto), video work (Brian Alfred) and, perhaps most befittingly, a plastic train rail installation (Paramodel).. In addition, the train is equipped with a nursery for children, and a café that offers local Niigata snacks and coffee.

Manga and Anime in Niigata

Niigata has a reputation for being a manga-anime town. It hosts the Niigata Comic Market — better known as Gataket — a major event at which manga and anime fans to sell comic books they make themselves. Among the big name mangaka that have hailed from Niigata are Shinji Mizushima, Rumiko Takahashi and Mineo Maya. Fujio Akatsuka lived in the city during his teens.

Niigata Manga Animation Museum (near Niigata Station) opened in 2013. Visitors learn about expressions used in manga by playing with characters in a hands-on exhibition. Aiko Komai wrote in theYomiuri Shimbun: “In the fast-expanding field of manga and anime museums, an institution that opened in Niigata is aiming to take its exhibitions to a whole new level through a bonus element: interactivity. The city has produced many renowned manga and anime creators, and the museum hopes to make that a more visible part of the city’s identity, say those behind the founding of the new [Source: Aiko Komai, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013]

“There is a reason why the city has produced so many manga and anime artists, according to Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, president of Production I.G, an anime production company that has a studio in the city and has also helped organize the museum’s exhibitions. “The works of local artists impress me through their enduring visuals,” Ishikawa said. “The sheer number of artists might have something to do with the city’s heavy snowfall in winter.” The result of a joint public-private partnership, the museum was built by the Niigata municipal government at a cost of about 300 million yen. Its operation has been commissioned to a private-sector firm.

The museum is adopting an approach to programming that allows visitors to enjoy manga and anime through interactive experience. At an exhibit titled Manga Taiken Table (Interactive manga table), visitors can learn about key expressions used in manga by playing with characters created by Fujio Akatsuka. One example is Iyami from the comedy series Osomatsu-kun, who is best known for his flashiness and signature three large buckteeth. In an exhibit titled Let’s Become Voice Actors, visitors can try their hand at the profession by dubbing their own voices in scenes featuring characters created by anime production company Gainax Co. A special exhibition based on the theme of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is running until July 31.

Manga Street in Niigata draws manga fans with a more old school approach. Shin Usami wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Tetsugoro Iwata’s statue stands on Furumachi Manga Street, near the main street of Niigata that leads to the Bandaibashi bridge. Iwata is a character in the baseball manga Yakyukyo no Uta (A poem for baseball freaks) by veteran mangaka Shinji Mizushima, who is from the city. Despite his old age, Iwata plays on the field as a pitcher. But he’s not very effective, and batters easily hit his soft pitches. While frustrated whenever he gives up a hit, Iwata perseveres. He often announces his retirement, but takes his words back because he doesn't want to stop playing. This veteran pitcher must be an alter ego of the 73-year-old mangaka who continues to draw baseball manga. The street is adorned by seven statues of Mizushima’s characters, including Yasutake Kageura of Abusan and Taro Yamada of Dokaben.” [Source: Shin Usami, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2012]

Niigata Waterfront

Shin Usami wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “I visited the 143-meter-tall Toki Messe, the tallest building along Honshu’s Sea of Japan coastline. Standing on the top of the building, I looked down at the city and saw the former Niigata Customs House building across the Shinanogawa river. The building is a symbol of Niigata Port, which opened in the Meiji era (1868-1912) along with ports in Yokohama; Kobe; Nagasaki and Hakodate, Hokkaido. [Source: Shin Usami, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2012]

“The customhouse has traditional namako walls, which are distingishable due to their latticelike appearance, and a penthouse. The exterior evokes an air of the Meiji era. Builders must have created the house by mimicking Western-style architecture. West of the house is a district containing venerable wooden buildings, little alleys and tea houses. The area hints of the bustle of people who raked in money from maritime trade in decades past.”

Ferries depart for the Sado Island from Naoetsu and Niigata Port. Ryotsu Port on Sado Island is 2 hrs 30 minutes by ferry, 70 minutes by jetfoil from Niigata Port. Ogi Port on Sado is 100 minutes from Naoetsu Port.

Food in Niigata

Shin Usami wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “I visited a sushi restaurant run by chef Ataru Okubo. Originally from Tokyo, he moved to Niigata — his wife’s birthplace — to open the restaurant last year. He hopes his sushi enjoys the blessing of the Aganogawa river that runs across Niigata Prefecture’s north toward the Sea of Japan. He uses rice cultivated in Aga, a town east of Niigata, for his sushi. [Source: Shin Usami, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2012]

“The rice is cooked with spring water that gushes from Mt. Suganadake near the town. Salt is obtained by boiling seawater taken off the Sasagawa-Nagare coast at the prefecture’s northernmost city of Murakami. He buys soy sauce from a long-established manufacturer at the foot of Mt. Gozu. He uses local Kameda miso made from regionally grown soybeans, while the restaurant’s sake is brewed in Aga’s Tsugawa district. Cups and plates are crafted at the local Yasuda Pottery in Agano in the prefecture. I had sushi with some lightly boiled local sea bream, which was delicious. Okubo’s desire to use locally grown products undoubtedly pays off and leaves customers grateful for his dedication.

“Another must-visit destination on Furumachi street is the shop Mamehachi, which is famous for its Jiman-yaki pancakes (110 yen).. The confectionary shop grew from a street cart that was used to make imagawa-yaki (a round pancake filled with bean paste) more than 80 years ago. The shop’s Jiman-yaki dough is made from flour, baking powder and water, with red bean or green pea paste filling the soft, spongy pancake. The previous owner ate a manju steamed bun in Tokyo’s Asakusa and was so impressed that he couldn't forget its soft texture. So he created Jiman-yaki, using the manju texture as inspiration," Mamehachi’s owner Yoshio Yoneyama said. "I must faithfully follow what he created."”

Fuji Rock Festival

Fuji Rock Festival (at the Naeba Ski resort in Niigata) is a huge multi-day Japanese Woodstock held in late July or early August that attract around 60,000 people and top name acts from Japan and around the world. It was originally held at the foot of Mt. Fuji, hence the name.

Fuji Rock Festival is regarded as Japan’s number one music event. While the sheer number of amazing homegrown and overseas artists is more than enough to blow you away, it’s Fuji Rock’s atmosphere that keeps people coming back. Navigating between performances means negotiating deep forests decorated with otherworldly glowing orbs and trotting along woodland boardwalks. Dozens of food stalls tout highquality fare and there are countless activities for kids too, including a forest play area.

Oasis, Run DMC, Foo Fighters, the Chemical Brothers, Gomez, Primal Scream, Patti Smith, Tricky, Orbital, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ani DiFranco, Eminem, Brian Eno, Red Hot Chil Peppers, Neil Young, Prodigy, White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Gang, Elvis Costello, Underworld, Bjork, and Iggy Pop are among the artists that have performed.

The first Fuji Festival was in 1997 and was shortened due to a typhoon. Artists featured in 2007 included The Cure, Muse, Kings of Leon, Jarvis Cocker, Beastie Boys, Iggy and the Stooges, the Chemical Brothers, and Yo la Tengo. Artists featured in 2008 including Underworld, Grandmaster Flash, Bloc Party, Feeder, Primal Scream, Bootsy Collins, Travis and Tricky. One day passes are around US$200 and three day passes are around US$400. Location: Mikuni, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata Fuji Rock Festival Website:

Tokamachi and It Museums and Designs

Tokamachi (60 kilometers south of Niigata City) is also well worth exploring. It has multiple art museums showcasing everything from the most impressive prehistoric pottery collection in Japan to contemporary masterworks. It is home to healing hot spring waters and stunning scenes of nature, including virgin beech forests, stunning gorges, and some of the most beautiful terraced rice fields in all of Japan—and with car rental and sightseeing taxi services readily available, it is easy see it all. For supper, why not try the best rice in Japan and enjoy a sip of Niigata’s sublime sake. Located just over 2 hours from Tokyo by bullet and local trains, it’s an enchanting destination that’s surprisingly accessible.

House of Light (in Ueno, Tokamachi, 60 kilometers south of Niigata City) is a work of art and lodging combined in a way where East meets West. Artist James Turrell united skylights and fiber-optics with Japanese touches like shoji screens and outside porches to create an immersive experience meant to catalyze discussion and meditation amongst guests. The facility caters to both stayover guests and day-trippers seeking tours of this architectural gem, with reservations easily booked online in English. Location: 2891 Ueno-Ko, Tokamachi-shi, Niigata, Website:

Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art (in Tokamachi, 60 kilometers south of Niigata City) was designed by architect Hiroshi Hara, who also designed Kyoto Station and Sapporo Dome. He decided on pure geometric shapes, exposed concrete, and lavish use of glass to give the museum a quiet appearance. “Rooms are boxed inside each other, a traditional form in Japanese architecture found in sacred places such as temples and shrines,” explains Hara. “In summer, cultivate the fields – in winter, cultivate the mind” is an old Japanese saying and the leading theme for the museum. It organizes festivals and outdoor shows in summer, and enriches the exhibition programs inside with lectures during cold seasons. 200 permanent art works are scattered outdoors in the region. Location: Hon-cho, Tokamachi-shi, Niigata 948-0003 +81-25-761-7767

Carp Farming in Niigata

Nishikigoi null
are the ornamental colorful brocaded carp that attract admirers to Japan’s many garden ponds. They can be seen up close in the beautiful gardens of the Nishikigoi breeding center. Here, you can learn about the conditions needed to successfully raise koi (carp) while strolling the exquisite scenic grounds, where the carp are kept in large ponds. Come and witness colorful carp in a beautiful garden setting at the Nishikigoi center. Location: Ojiya Nishikigoi no Sato, 1-8-22 Jonai, Ojiya-shi, Niigata; Website:

Japan is regarded as the leader in carp breeding. Top quality fish sell for as much as $100,000 at the annual koi fair in held in Tokyo every January. Top breeders are treated like stars and go all over the world giving lectures on their techniques. Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefecture are also famous for carp breeding, Cheap koi are bred in China and Israel.

Yamakoshimura, a village of 2,300 in Niigata prefecture, is regarded as one of world's main decorated carp breeding towns. The nishikigoi bred here are raised in muddy ponds set among rice fields and transferred to showroom aquariums. People come from all over the world during the buying and selling season in October.

Yamakoshimura also had the distinction of being the place where breeding techniques originated. It said that in the early 19th century villagers began crossbreeding white carp with red carp to produce a new breed, a white koi with red spots on the belly and around the gills. A champion show koi (carp) was sold in 1982 for $165,000. There are stories of Japanese who hand-feed their fish with chopsticks.

Farmers of golden nishikigoi carp in the Niigata area suffered in the earthquake in 2007. More than 1.2 million ornamental carp were killed, nearly half the stock of 2.45 million fish held by 400 crap breeders. Landslides destroyed terraced ponds. Power outages stopped water filtration systems. The damage was estimated at ¥4 billion.

Sado Island

Sado Island (a one hour jet foil or 2½ hour ferry ride from Niigata port) lies in the Sea of Japan about 25 miles offshore of central Honshu in Niigata prefecture. The fifth largest Japanese island, it is famous for its gold mines, traditional dances, Kodo drumming colony, sweet persimmon sherbets and puddings, spectacular performance of Noh theater and the Sado Crested Ibis Conservation Center.

Sado Island lies just of the coast of Niigata. It is known for its harsh winter, self-contained local culture and as a disposal point for vagrants, criminals and Korean slave laborers. Gold and silver were discovered in the 16th century. Excavated holes in mountains and man-made crevasses remain as indicators of the mining that was done here. Over the years the island has served as a convenient place to exile disgraced military leaders, troublesome nobles and disruptive religious leaders such as Nichiren, the founder of an important Buddhist sect.

According to JNTO: Domestic travelers have likened setting foot on Sado to stepping into a time machine, and it’s not hard to see why. Its unspoiled natural beauty coupled with sights and sounds plucked straight out of a bygone era, offers visitors a rare glimpse into a Japan of yesteryear. The island that time forgot Sado Island sits off the west coast of Niigata and is the largest in the Sea of Japan. The island first came to prominence due to an unprecedented Edo period gold rush that played a significant role in supporting the finances of the ruling shogunate. With more than 300 temples and shrines, you will have fun finding your favorite places. Chokokuji, is particularly photogenic. Today it hosts the largest array of traditional arts events and festivals to be found throughout the Japanese archipelago.

Websites:Sado Tourism Association Visit Sado Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Wikitravel Wikitravel Map: Wikitravel Wikitravel Hotel Web Sites: Sado Tourism Association Visit Sado Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Sado Island is accessible by air and by regular ferry and hydrofoil from Niigata. Ferries depart for the Sado Island from Naoetsu and Niigata Port. Ryotsu Port on Sado Island is 2 hrs 30 minutes by ferry, 70 minutes by jetfoil from Niigata Port. Ogi Port on Sado is 100 minutes from Naoetsu Port. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Kodo, Taiko Drumming and Sado Island

The two most well-known taiko drum ensembles are Kodo, a group that lives on a rural commune on the island of Sado in rural Japan; and Ondekoza, another Sado-Island-based ensemble that requires its drummers to exercise hard everyday.

Ondekoza was founded on Sado Island in 1970. Its name means "demon drum." Members were required by their leader, Den Tagayasu, to run marathons to build up strength and stamina and abstain from tobacco, alcohol and sex so their energy could be channeled into their music. The group once participated in the Boston Marathon.

Kodo was formed in 1981 to study, preserve and spread taiko music. It evolved from Ondekoza after Tagayasu left the group. In 1988, Kodo built their own village in Ogi, on the southern part of Sado, where their members still live to day in an environment regarded as close to nature and spirits. Outsiders can join the community but have apply for a “two-year apprenticeship," which requires total physical, mental and spiritual commitment.

Kodo consists of 12 to 14 members (including a couple of women). They spend about a third of their touring Japan, a third touring the world and third practicing and composing on Sado Island. Each year during the Earth Celebration they host musicians from all over the world. Kodo means "children of the world."

Places on Sado Island

Ryotsu (Sado Island) is the main town and accommodation center of Sado Island. Sitting on the shores of Lake Kamo, it is reached from the sea by a narrow inlet and shadowed by the towering peaks of the Kimpoku Range.

Sights on Sado Island include the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine (closed in 1989 and now the home of a underground museum); Senkaku-wan Bay (with impressive rock formations); and a number of charming fishing towns. Perhaps the nicest thing to do is wander around the countryside.

The island is dominated by two parallel, but offset, mountain ranges. On the flat fertile land between the ranges small rice farms produce some of Japan's finest and most expensive rice. Yajima and Kyojima are a pair of small, rocky islets visited by tourists. Yajima (Arrow Island) is known fir its high-quality bamboo, used in the past for making arrows. Kyojima (Sutra Island) is associated with a legend about Nichiren, the founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. A lovely red, arch bridge connects the two islands.

Traveling on Sado Island

One traveler wrote: To get to Sado Island, “I jumped on a morning high-speed ferry from the Port of Niigata and arrived at Ryotsu on Sado’s eastern seaboard around an hour later. A gentle sea breeze welcomed me ashore, and the aura of the houses surrounding the harbor instantly gave me a sense of a long-lost Japan. After renting a car for my visit, I drove past Lake Kamo, known for its oyster farming, and off into the countryside to start my adventure. Seisuiji temple, tucked away amongst the ancient cedars at the heart of Sado Island, would be my first stop of the day. Upon reaching my destination I walked up the mossy stone approach to the main complex. It is said that the temple at Seisuiji is an imitation of the famed Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, and although it was small, old, and decaying, I was thrilled by its magnificent style and mysterious appearance. [Source: JNTO]

“Next, I traveled further south to the port of Ogi to experience a ride in one of Sado’s traditional ‘fishing tubs.’ These have been used by the locals for centuries to catch hauls of abalone and turban shellfish from the nearby coastal waters. I purchased a ticket from the Yajima Taiken Koryukan (Yajima Experience and Exchange Center) and went to board a tub boat in the adjacent harbor, which is noted for its charming red arch bridge that marks the way out to sea.

“Sado Island has many rice terraces that are often referred to as an original Japanese landscape. Watching the sunrise over the sea from the Iwakubi-shoryu rice terraces is not to be missed. In the Edo and Meiji periods, Ogi acted as a goods storage point for northern-bound merchant ships traversing the Sea of Japan. At the time, almost all the residents from the nearby village of Shukunegi were involved in the shipping industry. The village is distinguished by rows of crowded wooden workers’ houses that still stand to this day. Built out of ship planks, they have been designated as ‘Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings’ by the Japanese government, and three of the private residences are open to the public for a small fee.

“Shukunegi, the most fascinating townscape in Sado, retains an oldfashioned Japanese atmosphere. I advanced through the mazy streets of densely packed homes on route to the unmissable Seikuro, a splendid 180-year-old shipowner’s mansion and a testament to the sublime carpentry skills of the early 19th century shipbuilders who lived out on Sado. These master craftsmen were said to be able to erect houses with ease but saved their best efforts for the construction of the ‘Sengoku Bune’ cargo ships that were also built in the village. A replica is on show at the Ogi Folk Museum in Shukunegi. With nightfall approaching, I made my way up to Mano village, where I stayed at the Itouya Ryokan, a Japanese style inn, for the night.

“The next morning I was up before sunrise and drove east to the terraced rice fields of Iwakubi, the only place in Japan that is recognized as a World Agricultural Heritage site. The gold rush on Sado meant the island witnessed rapid population growth, and as the scale of settlements increased, so did the creation of the rice terraces in order to feed the island’s new inhabitants. Sadly as the gold mines fell into decline, the rice fields followed suit; however, after many years of neglect, they are slowly being restored to their former glory thanks to the efforts of the local population. As the sun rose and illuminated the rice paddies around me, I was reminded about all the hardships that Sado’s ancestors must have faced when cultivating such an unforgiving mountainous landscape.

“After leaving Iwakubi, I called in at the historic Sado Kinzan gold mine. It consists of almost 400 kilometers of claustrophobic dark tunnels and was in operation for 380 years. There are numerous routes you can take to investigate the mines, and I enjoyed the Soudayu-kou and Douyu-kou courses that allowed me to view the original handdug and industrialized Meiji-era sites. Each takes about 30 minutes to complete. With only a little time left before I had to return to Niigata, I made one final stop at Chokokuji temple on the way back to the port. I paused to say a little prayer in front of a small ‘jizo’ statue, and as I did so, “

Mines on Sado Island

The Mines on Sado Island were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Sado complex of heritage mines, primarily gold mines (hereinafter referred to as “the Sado Mines”), is located on the island of Sado in the sea between the Japanese archipelago and the Eurasian continent. Over the course of more than four hundred years, gold and silver mining techniques and methods were constantly being introduced here from both home and abroad and then further developed at the Sado Mines. This gave rise to the formation of a cultural tradition based on an evolving set of mining technologies and mine management system. This tradition, preserved in the form of archeological sites, historic structures, and mining towns and settlements, constitutes exceedingly rare physical evidence of human history that can no longer be found at other mines in the Asian region. [Source: Permanent Delegation of Japan to UNESCO]

“The history of gold and silver mining on Sado can be traced back to ancient times; placer mining at the Nishimikawa alluvial gold deposits is considered to be the oldest production method. Full-scale development began in the mid 16th century when the Tsurushi and Niibo mines were opened up using surface mining; with the discovery of the Aikawa gold and silver mine, Sado entered a golden age. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Edo shogunate assembled miners from throughout Japan, and these miners developed advanced technologies for surveying (furigane), mining (kôdôbori drilling method), and smelting (the haifuki cupellation method and the yakikin cementation method).. As a result, by the mid 17th century, the Aikawa mine, one of the few mines at the time to be based on kôdôbori, came to occupy an extremely important position as the largest gold and silver mine in Japan.

“What is particularly significant is the fact that a series of premodern mine management system and mining-related technologies ranging from mining to smelting—for example, methods for extracting gold from silver such as the haifuki cupellation method brought in from the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine (Shimane Prefecture) and the yakikin method as well as manufacturing-based operational formats such as the yoseseriba—were developed on Sado and took root here and that the Sado Mines served as a base from which these techniques and technical expertise were disseminated to other mines within Japan. Another important point is that at the Sado Mines a whole series of processes, not merely the mining and smelting of gold but ultimately the production of a gold coinage system, were carried out and brought to completion at a single mine.

“The nationalization of the Sado Mines after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 was accompanied by the vigorous introduction of Western mining technology; vertical shafts were dug and the oreconveyancing method was mechanized. Later the mines were sold to Mitsubishi Limited Partnership Company and came under private ownership. Changes and advances in technology proceeded during this period as well, and the mine continued to have a technological impact on the development of mining both in Japan and in the rest of Asia. In the early half of the 20th century, a modern flotation plant and smelting facilities were built that laid claim to being the largest in Asia; with these and other advances the mine was transformed into the most modern mining facility in Japan. Thus, the Sado Mines, which had evolved over a span of more than four hundred years through a series of mining-related technologies and mine management system primarily in the area of gold mining, formed an important underpinning for the socio-economic systems of both the Edo shogunate and the Meiji government. Moreover, because the gold produced at the Sado Mines also had a huge impact on the international economy, which was based on the gold standard, this complex of mining-related sites is also extremely important from the perspective of world history.

“At present, there still exist on Sado the landscapes formed by placer mining and surface mining around the Nishimikawa alluvial gold deposits and the Dôyû-no-warito outcrop as well as a group of modern mining sites represented by the ôtate shaft, the Kitazawa flotation plant and the port at ôma. These sites form an outstanding technological ensemble representing each stage in the introduction and development of mining technologies and mine management system from the early modern period to the modern period. The ongoing introduction and development of mining technology and technical expertise on Sado over the span of more than four hundred years has produced a cultural tradition based on a set of mining-related techniques and mine management system revolving around gold. This tradition is preserved in the archaeological sites, historic structures of the Sado Mines as well as in the mining towns and settlements that still exist. In this way, the Sado Mines, with their widely dispersed archeological sites, historic structures, and settlements related to the gold and silver mines that operated here for some four hundred years, are an outstanding example of Asian mining heritage, where it is possible to observe firsthand the changes in gold mining technologies and mine management system as well as the entire cultural tradition formed by them.”

Image Sources: 1) Japanese Guest Houses 2) 3) Sado Island site 4) 5) 6) Kanzawa City 7) NASA 8), 9) 10) Fukui Dinosaur Museum 11) 14) 16) Wikipedia 12) Japan National Parks, 13) 15) Matsue City 17) Wikitravel

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization),, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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