Shonai, Yamagata

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Highlights of Ginza, the Heart of Tokyo

Highlights of Ginza, the Heart of Tokyo


I bet that Ginza will be in your tick list when you visit and revisit Tokyo! It was in my list too – check my blog on 15 things to see in Tokyo 🙂

Scroll down to explore the highlights of Ginza and to read about out stay at Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo!

Ginza origins go back to Edo period when this area was the heart of local downtown. Silver coins were minted in there since 1612, and eventually it brought the name to this site (in Japanese, Ginza means silver mint). Now it hosts luxury brand stores, restaurants and cafes, Kabuki za and is a perfect place to stroll around.

Moreover, now Ginza’s main street – Chuo Dori – is open only to pedestrians (Hokōsha Tengoku) on weekends –  just look how relaxing you day there can be!

GINZA CROSSING

Ginza Crossing is less busy than famous Shibuya crossing – but isn’t it actually a good thing? The surroundings will leave you jaw dropped, as you can see many iconic buildings of the area at the same time. This would be a perfect start to make you acquittance with Ginza.

GINZA SIX

Pop into the Ginza Six department store freshly opened in 2017 – you’ll find there everything from international brands to local skincare and fashion producers, cafes and a bookstore. But I suggest you to go downstairs to the foodcourt (and it applies to every huge Japanese department store) and to try all the cute and unknown food you can get!

For instance, there are several dozen citrus fruits that you can find in Japan – have you ever heard of amanatsu, iyokan, unshiu, haruka, or kiyomi? (just to name a few) They all are different in gradation of bitterness, sweetness and sourness. And you can try juice and jellies made from them and choose your favourite!

Other stores that might interest you are the Tokyu Plaza Ginza, the Mitsukoshi, Marronnier Gate and Matsuya department stores.

CAFÉ DIOR

Ginza is extremely rich in gourmand delights. However, I’d like to share with you something special… If you follow me for a long time, you probably know that Dior is one of my favourite brands. And of course I could not help visiting Café Dior by Pierre Hermé at Ginza Six.

Just enter it from the Dior shop and take an elevator to the cafe! It’s a lovely place all in pink and grey colours, tableware has small ‘Dior’ signs, fashion illustrations decorate the walls and books with photos from Dior catwalks are present too.

But at this point everything related to Dior ends. I tried breakfasts and desserts there: first one was too carbs loaded for me, but desserts were really good and looked fantastic.

UNIQLO FLAGSHIP STORE

There is no way you miss the UNIQLO Flagship Store right opposite to Ginza SIX – it’s huge and consists of 12 floors! Upon its opening in March 2012 it became the world’s Largest UNIQLO Store – so if you’d like to buy some stylish and comfy cloths of this Japanese brand, why not go ahead with it in Ginza?

If you happen to visit Ginzsa around Christmas, festive windows and installations will steel your heart!

WAKO BUILDING

Wako and its clock tower is one of the most recognisable symbols of Ginza – and, possibly, of the entire Tokyo. It was built in 1932 and survived the WWII without a scratch.

Pop in inside too – although the building is amazing (and filled me with Manhattan-like vibes), I was a bit disappointed with the range of shops inside. Maybe you’ll find it different for yourself 🙂

CULTURAL INSIGHT

However, Ginza is not limited to shopping and restaurants. You can also like to pop into the Police Museum. Pop into the Shiseido Gallery for the splash of art. But the main destination is Kabuki-za Theatre. Kabuki is one of the main theatre styles of Japan (it’s often described in opposition to Noh theatre) where drama is combined with dancing.

Originally it was performed by women, but with time going by only men became allowed to participate in this type of performance: female roles were given to younger men. It is traditionally believed the first performance took place in Kyoto in 1603. Now Kabuki is listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The most famous Kabuki theatre is located in Ginza district: it was originally built in 1889, then destroyed and rebuilt several times, and, finally, reopened to public once fully renovated in 2013. You can order tickets online in advance and collect them at the theatre at the day of performance. Don’t forget to take an audioguide! Otherwise it would be quite challenging to understand what is going on on stage.

HYATT CENTRIC GINZA TOKYO

The hotel looks incredibly stylish and modern – even the concept of reception is modernised. During our stay the walls there were covered with pieces of art: the thinest paper with koi drawings on it.

Just take a moment to see how cool our room looked too!

Breakfast area was elegant, and for breakfast you could take oriental or western dishes according to your taste.

Written by Anna / @purpurpurpur


Snow Time in Niigata

Snow Time in Niigata


This article originally appeared on Cheeserland.com

Growing up in our tropical climate, seeing and touching snow for the first time is always a memorable moment. Terribly exciting, in fact, that often we forget to wear gloves and freeze our hands off! My past encounters with snow have not always been intentional though; it happened by chance either too early or too late in the season to fully enjoy it.

This trip completely changed my perception of winter holidays and we hope, others too. With a little bit of planning and preparing, snow time can be so much fun in Japan even if it’s your first time. Perhaps especially so when it’s your first time! All these years, autumn has always been my favourite time to visit Japan but now I’m not so convinced anymore. Let us take you through our recent snow journey in different prefectures and discover the joy of winter in our favourite destination – Japan.

While Hokkaido and Tohoku are a sure bet for some winter fun given its location on Japan’s archipelago, those who are venturing Central Japan and are looking for some frosty pleasure may find just the right elements in the two prefectures we are exploring today too: Ishikawa & Niigata (with the latter also fondly nicknamed “Snow Country” by the nation).

Full-Week Itinerary: Myoko Kogen | 妙高

Niigata is your best bet to winter activities when it comes to prefectures sitting below Tohoku region. Why do you think it is dubbed the “Snow Country”?

Myoko in Niigata is known as one of the heaviest snowfall spots in Japan, especially in January where several days of continuous heavy snow is common. This sets the perfect base of fresh powder snow for winter activities all the way till March. There’s a handful of ski resorts here for single thrill-seekers, group explorers, or family vacationers. Some spend an entire week (or two!) in a single resort while others hop around several within Myoko Kogen. This trip, we had the chance to explore three of its most prominent ski resorts: Suginohara, Akakura, Lotte Arai.

Access to Myoko Kogen Station or Joetsu Myoko Station:

From Tokyo Station, take Hokuriku Shinkansen’s Kagayaki to Nagano Station for JPY8350 (Approx. 1.5 hours). There, head up the escalator and board the local train Shinano Railway Kita-shinano Line to Myoko Kogen Station for JPY850 (Approx. 45 mins). Alternatively, the Hakutaka heads directly from Tokyo Station to Joetsumyoko Station from JPY9940 (Approx. 2 hours). From both stations, there are bus services that access the ski resorts below.

Suginohara Ski Resort | 杉ノ原スキー場

With the longest ski run in Japan at 8.5km, Suginohara Ski Resort is great for beginner to advanced skiers as well as snowboarders. There are 15 ski lifts that can carry up to 16,000 people per hour which makes lines relatively shorter than others, if any. We’ve seen skiers waiting in extremely long lines at other places and that does not look fun.

As (good) luck would have it, the heavy snowfall followed us all the way here.

Being so used to rain, naturally I felt like I have to take cover from the snow as it falls. It’s a strange feeling when everyone else is just hanging out in the open like nothing’s falling from the skies. The key is to have proper winter wear! Not just thick coats or layers of thermal wear, but windproof or waterproof outerwear that are suitable for snow sports. Here at Suginohara Ski Resort, rentals are available for both ski and snowboard gears (ski, poles, snowboard, boots) as well as snow wear (jacket, pants).

We picked our preferred rental wear designs to fully enjoy winter without hesitation!

We had our own fun making snow angels and sledding down a gentle slopes!

By the way, while ski and snowboard are internationally-used terms, sled is referred to as sori here in Japan.

We also took this gondola up, which is always an experience in itself for the gorgeous views.

Upon reaching the top, we found out that it was -12°c!!

Visibility was low; there were people getting ready to ski or snowboard down but our untrained eyes could barely see past much so we promptly hopped into the next gondola down. Apparently on clear days, Mt Fuji is visible at the summit. Hope to catch that view one day!

Access: < Ski Season Only > From Joetsumyoko Station, take the Myokokogen Liner Bus for JPY1300 (Approx. 70 mins). Bus route and schedule here. From Myoko Kogen Station, there are limited buses in a day. You can take the Myoko Shuttle Bus for JPY500 (Approx. 30 mins) or the City Bus on Suginosawa Line for JPY480 (Approx. 25 mins). Bus route and schedule here and here.

Akakura Onsen Ski Resort | 赤倉温泉スキー場

While we only made a quick stop here for lunch, this hot spring village seems popular among many foreign visitors for winter activities. If that’s what you’re looking for, access ski resort facility information here.

It’s said that when you’re in Akakura Onsen, its signature red yakisoba is a must-try. This bright red dish was created by this humble eatery by the corner on the village’s main street and we went straight to the source.

Miyoshiya | みよしや

476 Akakura, Myoko, Niigata

Despite its striking appearances, it isn’t actually spicy – it’s colored red only by local vegetables like tomatoes and paprika. Even so, this red yakisoba packs a punch in the flavour department and reminds us of the our local delicacies back in Malaysia. Was it the spices? Sue Ann thinks it resembles Mi Goreng while Cheesie says it has a hint of Tandoori! We heard the ramen here is delicious too!

Access: < Ski Season Only > From Suginohara Ski Resort, take the Mt Myoko Shuttle Bus for JPY500 (Approx. 25 mins). Bus route and schedule here.  The restaurant is a short walk away upon arrival.

Stay: Lotte Arai Resort | ロッテアライリゾート

This resort is impressive. Even before stepping in, it felt like we’ve arrived at an European countryside resort and that feeling grew stronger as we toured the grounds.

Relatively new after its reopening by new ownership in 2017, Lotte Arai Resort is an upmarket resort with its classy yet cozy atmosphere and luxurious stays ranging from deluxe suites to presidential suites. It is immensely spacious (we got lost at one point!) and foreigner-friendly with English-speaking staff members. With heavy snowfall that continued on, unfortunately we didn’t get to spend much time outdoors but do access ski resort facility information here. It’s 1.5km zip line is popular among thrill-seekers too!

Here are something different for non-skiers to enjoy too: indoor playgrounds!

We did get to enjoy some of its indoor facilities like its indoor entertainment park where guests can work out a sweat bouncing on interconnected trampolines and bouldering walls of varied difficulties for JPY2000 an hour. Kids are welcome! This is a great spot to keep active when the weather gets too intense outside.

Lotte Arai’s in-house hot spring, Hoshizora Onsen, is highly recommended!

Official photo from Lotte Arai Resort.

This was such a treat for us; it has spacious outdoor baths which look absolutely breath-taking in the winter. It was snowing the night we went for a dip; the contrast of hot and cold was incredible. We enjoyed it so much that we woke up super early the next morning for another soak. No photography is allowed; but imagine this view with pure white snow. Takes onsen experiences to a whole new level!

Great news for inked guests like myself; Hoshizora Onsen is a tattoo-friendly hot spring!!

Dinner that night in Asahi Restaurant was particularly sumptuous.

By far one of the most indulgent hotel buffets I’ve enjoyed. Local Japanese food like assorted sashimi, sushi, grilled seafood, sukiyaki, nabe were freshly prepared right in front of its respective stations in small portions to ensure freshness. There were salads, stews, pickles, stuffed buns, grilled meats, and many more. Service was wonderfully attentive with staff clearing used plates almost immediately and offers of assistance with the smallest tasks; often in English.

Access: < Ski Season Only > From Akakura Onsen or Myoko Kogen Station, take the Lotte Arai Resort Shuttle for JPY1500 (Approx. 80 mins). Bus route and schedule here. There are also direct bus services from Tokyo Narita or Haneda Airport for JPY11500 (Approx. 6-7 hours). Bus route and schedule here.

Winter has come to an end for now but we hope this first chapter of our snow adventures in Niigata have stoked your interest in these underrated prefectures that offers plenty of winter excitement!


Snow Time in Ishikawa

Snow Time in Ishikawa


This article originally appeared on Cheeserland.com

Growing up in our tropical climate, seeing and touching snow for the first time is always a memorable moment. Terribly exciting, in fact, that often we forget to wear gloves and freeze our hands off! My past encounters with snow have not always been intentional though; it happened by chance either too early or too late in the season to fully enjoy it.

This trip completely changed my perception of winter holidays and we hope, others too. With a little bit of planning and preparing, snow time can be so much fun in Japan even if it’s your first time. Perhaps especially so when it’s your first time! All these years, autumn has always been my favourite time to visit Japan but now I’m not so convinced anymore. Let us take you through our recent snow journey in different prefectures and discover the joy of winter in our favourite destination – Japan.

While Hokkaido and Tohoku are a sure bet for some winter fun given its location on Japan’s archipelago, those who are venturing Central Japan and are looking for some frosty pleasure may find just the right elements in the two prefectures we are exploring today too: Ishikawa & Niigata (with the latter also fondly nicknamed “Snow Country” by the nation).

ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE Half-Day Itinerary: Kanazawa | 金沢

From Tokyo St to Kanazawa St by Hokuriku Shinkansen

For speed and convenience: Kagayaki JPY14380 (Approx. 2.5 hours)
For a leisurely journey: Hakutaka JPY14380 (Approx. 3 hours)

For a budget alternative, overnight buses are an economical option. With prices ranging from JPY5800, the journey from Tokyo to Kanazawa takes approximately 8.5 hours – saving tight wallets from a night’s stay too.

Omicho Market | 近江町市場

Fondly known by the locals as “Kanazawa’s Kitchen“, you can’t go wrong starting your day in this lively fresh food market! It’s home to almost 200 stores and restaurants offering the freshest seafood, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and even locally-produced sake.

Eat your way through the market at stalls offering quick bites of fresh oysters, grilled squid, fried croquettes, juicy strawberries, and more or stop by any one of the restaurants for a heaping bowl of kaisendon.

Access:
Walk about 15 minutes from Kanazawa Station or ride 5 minutes on the Kanazawa Loop Bus (JPY200). Personally, I’d go with the former to see more of the city. Plus, the light exercise will work up your appetite for a morning feast!

Kenroku-en Garden | 兼六園

Admission fee: JPY320

Now this isn’t our first time here at Kenroku-en but we’re just as enthralled as we were back in our initial visit! There’s magic in this garden’s atmosphere. I’d love to spend an hour or two here just soaking up the immaculately conserved landscape. It sure lives up to its reputation as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.

This time of the year, it’s supposed to be beautifully cloaked in pure white snow though sadly this year, snowfall throughout Japan is on a record low. In fact, it was non-existent in Kanazawa in early February. Still, we enjoyed the evergreen foliage of pine trees and striking green moss that made us feel as if it was already the beginning of spring.

Ever wonder what these bamboo “tents” set high above the trees are for? Known as yukitsuri (雪つり), these protect the trees from damage caused by the heavy snow. Trust Japan to make something functional yet aesthetically pleasing!

One of the most picturesque spots is on this bridge that crosses over Kasumigaike Pond.

Take a moment to note the distinctive design of the two-legged Kotojitoro Lantern; it is perhaps the most iconic feature of Kenroku-en and often the symbol of Kanazawa.

Ishiura Shrine | 石浦神社

Admission fee: Free

We stumbled upon this shrine by coincidence – or perhaps, serendipity? – just as we were exiting Kenroku-en to head towards Kanazawa Castle Park. Said to be the oldest shrine in Kanazawa, it was built about 1500 years ago and popularly known to bring good fortune in romance. That probably explains the pink polka dots on its omikuji, which lends a pretty charming effect when a great many are tied together to form a little tunnel.

Make a stop here to take a breather – or a few (respectful) snaps for the ‘gram if that’s what you’re looking for – it is pleasantly quiet despite being nestled the middle of the city’s many popular attractions.

Kanazawa Castle Park | 金沢城址公園

Admission fee: Free

Just across the road is the Kanazawa Castle Park , held by the Maeda family -one of the most powerful samurai families in Japan (in fact it’s so well-respected in Kanazawa that you will find figurines of the Maeda samurai all over the town).

Like me, you may notice that the structures look a little too well-maintained despite being in existence for more than 400 years. As it turn outs, the castle was actually burned down a few times over the centuries! What we see here are restored structures using labour-intensive traditional methods.

The reconstruction of the castle is done following traditional Japanese architectural techniques as closely as possible. Timbers, mostly sourced within Ishikawa prefecture, are perfectly interlocked without using nails or metal rods!

This would be a great time to stop for a break at Tsuru-no-Maru Rest House. Enjoy a panoramic view of the castle through its glass walls as you nibble on Japanese sweets at the cafe inside. Kanazawa’s famous treat, the luxurious gold leaf soft serve can also be enjoyed here!

Access to Kenroku-en Garden, Ishiura Shrine, and Kanazawa Castle Ruins Park:
From Omicho Market, walk about 15 minutes or hop on board the Kanazawa Loop Bus (JPY200). If you’re skipping the market, from Kanazawa Station take the same bus or Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus (weekdays  JPY200 | weekends JPY100) to any nearest stop and easily explore all three attractions on foot. Bus route map and time schedule here.

Tip: The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is located within the vicinity too if you have time to spend an entire day here!

Full-Day/Week Itinerary: Mt. Hakusan | 白山

While this trip was all about having fun in peak winter, sadly the lack of snowfall until then was a serious challenge for snow-related tourism activities. There were reports of ski resorts being forced to close down because there simply weren’t any snow but thankfully, things were about to take a turn.

After our visit to Kanazawa, the next day it started to snow just as we arrived at Ichirino Onsen Ski Resort!! Like many living most of our lives in year-long tropical climate, we got super excited and headed out to immerse ourselves in the experience!

Everything is so fairytale-like in the pure white snow, don’t you think so?

We were so blessed with freshly fallen fluff that we got to enjoy rare privileges such as setting the first foot prints in new snow of the day, fulfilling our snow angel dreams, etc.

Ichirino Onsen Ski Resort | 一里野温泉スキー場

If you’re coming to Ishikawa Prefecture in winter, it’ll be a waste not to go skiing or snowboarding! Ichirino Onsen Ski Resort offers high quality powder snow with peak elevation of 1050m and a variety of ski courses serviced by lift gondolas to suit both beginners and advanced skiers. There’s a ski school here that offers lessons for first-timers too.

Trust us, powder snow makes it sooo much easier to learn! Within a day of lessons and practice, speaking from personal experience, it’s totally possible to enjoy skiing on gentle, short slopes. You can easily spend up to a week here just enjoying the snow time!

Access: < Ski Season Only > From Kanazawa Station, take the limited service ski resort shuttle bus directly for JPY1320 (Approx. 80 mins). Bus route and schedule here – scroll down to where it says “白山一里野温泉スキー場”.

Alternatively, from Kanazawa Station, take the limo bus to Komatsu Airport for JPY1150 (Approx. 40 mins).
Bus route and schedule here.

From Komatsu Airport, the White Ring Shuttle Bus takes you directly to Ichirino Onsen Ski Resort for JPY1800 (Approx. 60 mins). Bus route and schedule here.

If you’re travelling in a small group from either Kanazawa Station or Komatsu Airport, perhaps consider sharing a taxi for about JPY10,000 (Approx. 60 mins).

Stay: Iwama Sanso Inn | 岩間山荘

High-end hotels and resorts are of course a real hard-earned reward for all we have worked for, but recently I find myself inclining to seek alternate comfort in the warmth and humility found in local lifestyles especially in remote villages well removed from banal urbanity.

The okamisan (女将, typically refers to female ryokan owner) greeted us with the sincerest welcome, saying that it was fate that we were all beckoned here despite the chaos that’s happening in the world right now (flights were being disrupted during the corona outbreak during our visit, etc).

It was believed that once you have crossed the sacred bridge into Mt Hakusan – one of the three holy mountains of Japan along with Mt Fuji and Mt Tateyama – you are invited by the holy Hakusan here as an honored guest and thus you are treated like a family member right here at Iwama Sanso.

This homely, family-run inn is located at the foot of Mt Hakusan, where its natural hot spring water that dates back to 1000 years ago flows continuously into its bath for 24 hours a day. It’s a short walk to Ichirino Onsen Ski Resort; so close that in peak season you can literally enjoy ski-in-ski-out luxury if you stay at this modest inn!

Now I’ve been to a few onsens in Japan and really, I’ve yet to experience hot spring water as silky as this! It’s almost like that slippery smooth feeling when you’re washing with soap. I can see why this hidden gem is said to be highly rated by onsen experts. Another thing that Iwama Sanso does right are the meals.

They are proud matagi hunters who live with deep respect for the mountain as they hunt for sustenance. In return, they protect the mountain. From wild meats like bears and boars to foraged mountain plants, each morsel is partaken with gratitude and shared with guests in local flavours distinctive to Mt Hakusan. Take a look at our dinner feast!

And it’s only JPY8500/night that includes two delicious meals?? What a deal!

When we expressed our surprise at the humble price for a night’s stay, the very kind okamisan told us that some of her customers are returning customers since 40 years ago when she first got married into this village, so to provide the ultimate hospitality while maintaining the price is her gratitude for her guests’ support all these years.

While Iwama Sanso isn’t the kind of stay that’s all glitz and glam, there’s so much love in this whole village I can’t even. I mean, I could only urge you to visit there yourself an experience this rare humanity found only in the rarest gems in Japan.


13 Things to do in Sado Island

13 Things to do in Sado Island


This article originally appeared on Cheeserland.com

Sado island is part of Niigata prefecture and is really well-known throughout Japan for its rich history and many stories benhind, but due to its remote location, this treasure trove of an island remains one of the best hidden gems in the country. I am so glad and honored to have the chance to visit this precious island not just once, but twice, creating lots of fond memories that will last a long time.

Sado is the largest island in the Sea of Japan, and just to give you perspective, the land area covers 855 square km so the island itself is larger than the whole of Singapore.

Sado’s symbol and mascot – Toki

Once you arrive at Sado, a giant bird with red face greets you with open arms wings. This is “toki” Japanese name for a crested ibis – a breed which once went extinct in Japan.

Allow me to tell just a little side story, in hope to help you understanding Sado better and when you see one next time, it’s your lucky day!

Toki feed on small creatures such as river snails that inhabit in rice paddies, however the number of birds drastically decreased mainly due to overhunting as well as also partly because of that the use of pesticides and other agriculture chemical was harmful to the birds. Conservation efforts were made but the remaining 10 wild ibises soon died one after another. The last bird died in 2003 and toki went extinct in Japan.

It was not until exactly 20 years ago that the first chick was successfully bred from the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center with artificial breeding using a pair of ibises on loan from China, and have been growing to around 426 birds flying freely in the wild as of Jan 2020.

Sado has vast rice fields and it’s not a rare sight to spot a colony of ibises around the fields. I have seen them a few times during my short stay in Sado. So if you see an ibis near by a farm, you know that you are back to pure nature that’s free of contamination. Every effort is made to not to use harmful chemicals in the paddy fields in order to provide the ibises with a safe habitat.

Many company brands in Sado picked Toki as their mascot or logo, as a symbol of pureness and health. One of the sake breweries I visited (Hokusetsu, you will read about it later) has photographs of beautiful ibis chilling at the rice fields framed in their hall, to show how proud they are of their good quality rice grown without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, even the ibises enjoy them happily. It was a good message sent across.

So, in a way ibises have made Sado island famous because of its rarity. The people in Sado believed that people might not have been so interested in Sado if they didn’t have the toki. They might have saved the birds from extinction but now the birds are saving them by bringing people into this hidden gem of an island…

T_____T.

Oh. Japan. My heart.

Access

I can’t believe I wrote over 500 words just for introduction. Anyway, let’s sort out the logistic! Here’s how you can get to Sado Island.

Well. Sado is the largest isolated island in Japan. So the only way you can venture into this mysterious island is through the sea at the moment although they are looking into restarting the airport operation (let’s hope so!). There are 2 options:

1. Sado Kisen Ferry – it takes about 2.5 hours and is relatively cheaper

2. Sado Jetfoil – it takes merely an hour but it’s a lot more expensive.

To be honest, I really love Sado I think it’s such a hidden gem I worried that the steep price of the transport would deter travelings from making the move, but I was told that there are several ways to make the best out of your Niigata trip!

You can look out for value tickets that give you great discount and benefits such as:

1. SADO GOLD PASSPORT

JPY5500, includes round-trip Kisen ferry, 3 days regular bus in Sado island as well as one day Niigata City Loop Bus. Just top up if you want to ride the jet foil instead (totally  recommended).

You can get it at “Yamazaki Shop”, 1st floor of Niigata Airport, General Information Counter on the 3rd floor of Sado Kisen Niigata Port Terminal as well as Nippon Travel Agency in front of JR Niigata Station.

Website: http://niigata-sado.co.jp/passport/guide-en/

2. Sado-Joetsu Pass or Sado-Niigata Pass

It’s a great value-pack for JR East Pass and JR-West Rail Pass or Hokuriku Arch Pass holders.

Sado-Joetsu Pass is JPY7000 for Echigo TOKImeki Railway Pass, return bus pass between joetsumyoko station and Naoetsu port, round trip Sado kisen ferry and Sado 3-day bus pass. (However do note that this pass is not usable in winter as there’s no operation of boats at Ogi port during winter period)

Sado-Niigata Pass is JPY4000 for Niigata Loop Bus return bus pass from Niigata Station to Niigata Port, round trip Sado Kisen ferry and Sado 3-day bus pass. (Note that this pass is JPY4000 till 31st March 2020. There will be a price increase from 1st April 2020 and will cost JPY5000.)

Website: https://sado-pass.visitsado.com/

After arriving the island, your best bet is a rental car. There’s no rail transport and while there’s bus network shuttling you between places, do try renting a car for your best comfort and flexibility. Cycling is another good way for short-distance sightseeing!

1. Taraibune ride into the anime world

The reason this attraction tops my list is that it was truly won the “Most Unique Sado Experience” for me. Found only exclusively in Sado, Taraibune is a wash-tub boat invented by local fishers in the days gone by to look for turban shells, seaweed and other kinds of seafood in the Ogi area.

Also another thing that I didn’t realize until my followers pointed it out – Hey that’s the Spirited Away boat!!

Remember this?

Exactly!!

Here are Sado, you can immerse yourself into an anime scene from your favorite Ghibli masterpiece and sail away in the crystal clear water. As blue as that in real life.

Yajima Taiken Koryukan 矢島体験交流館

You can find several places to ride Taraibune operated by local villagers. This one is run by several old ladies wearing a huge folded hat and their Taraibune has a glass panel in the middle of the boat so you can see right through the azure clear waters!

You also get a try at maneuvering the taraibune yourself, although it looks much easier than it actually is.

Hangiri Shukunegi Taraibune

There’s this other taraibune place just right across Shukunegi (see next attraction later), called Hangiri. The boats are operated by an old man instead and the bonus about this ride is…

Asti the police shepherd. Yeap. He jumps into the boat with you if you let him.

Your captain will also give you a handful of yummy treats so Asti can be entertained and stay right by you for photos.

I find his explanation a lot better and I steered much smoother this time around!

Fee: JPY500 – JPY2000, depending on the course and operator, recommended to go on a longer course, just to support the locals. They are really undercharging their customers. 🙂

Watch a video of me steering with Asti on board:

2. Peek into the past of a shipping village at Shukunegi 宿根木

Shukunegi flourished as a base for the shipping industry from Edo period to Meiji period using sengokubune – large wooden trading ships.

You can explore this charming town on foot and this is the most photogenic spot: Triangle House.

Sankakuya – lieterally triangle house, is made to fit this narrow corner lot and ended up uncannily resembling that of the bow of a ship. Coincidence? I’m not very sure!

I actually visited Shukunegi twice, in October and in November. Here’s a contrasting two shots during different season, different time of the day.

There are a few houses that’s actually open for public that you can visit, such as this Seikuro Open House.

Take the chance to peek into the lifestyle of one of the rich shipping agents in the yesteryears.

Website: http://shukunegi.com/en/

3. Ogi Folk Museum & Sengoku Ship Museum

The Ogi Folk Museum is actually housed in the former Shukunegi Elementary School, and upon entering a gigantic trading ship greets you. It has a cargo-capacity of 1000 “koku” (150 tons), and 1000 “koku” = “senkoku” (千石).

You will see all sorts of exhibition consist of folk materials assembled all over Sado. And they are all sort of just randomly arranged against each other, as if it was a storage from the past.

Bento boxes.

They also preserved a room from the school as it was.

4. Eat Burikatsu Don

Buri – Yellowtail is a Sado specialty, and while on the island you may want to try out its local food – Buri Katsudon – deep fried yellowtail cutlet, served with local Koshihikari rice!

5. Experience Taiko with world-famous Kodo

Well this is totally a #cheesiething, I am biased, yes, but if you have some time to spare on the island, this is a great chance for you to feel a small slice of what drove my passion for Taiko.

Reason?

Well, Sado is a huge island, which means there’s plenty of space for you to drum away without having to worry about a thing. The taiko studio I frequent is in Tokyo and it’s pretty small and confined. Imagine drumming in this warmth-exuding wooden hall that overlooks the lush nature of Sado!

My instructor, Sami, is an actual member of Kodo and she gives the funnest taiko lesson!

Watch a video of my giving a try drumming the 600 year old hollow Keiyaki (zelkova tree) log.

Fee: JPY2000 per adult for a 1-hour lesson

Website: https://www.visitsado.com/en/spot/detail0047/

6. Relaxing walk at Senkakuwan Bay 尖閣湾

This area belongs to part of Sado-Yahiko-Yoneyama Quasi National Park.

Me attempting to pose for one of those so-small-you-can’t-see-me scenery photos.

Another one of those photos captioned “I want to stay here forever”.

Interestingly, this spot is the filming location for the movie “Kimi No Na Wa”… unfortunately it wasn’t the one we know. But an older series with the same name that was popular in the 90s.

Over at Sankakuwan Bay you may also enjoy incredible undersea views from a glass-bottom boat.

7. Join a brewery tour

Manotsuru Obata Brewery 真野鶴酒造

There are a few breweries that welcome visitors in Sado island, and the first one I went to was Manotsuru, a brewery that produces award winning sake for over a century.

Just like I have mentioned in the beginning of this post, one of Manotsuru’s missions is to keep a beautiful and safe environment for the crested ibis, with their contracted rice farmers growing rice with methods that help to nurture living things.

And their sake is made with that method.

Manotsuru conducts brewery tour in English, so if you are looking for a visit, drop them an email!

Website: https://www.obata-shuzo.com/en/

Hokusestu Brewery 北雪酒造

Know the world-renown chain restaurant Nobu by its namesake chef and Robert De Niro? Well, their premium house brand sake is made right here, at Hokusetsu Brewery, Sado.

Taste aside, one distinctive difference that sets its sake apart was that… wait a minute, what was that music I hear?

Well, the sake here listens to music.

Ok I’ll say it again. There’s smoothing, classical music playing throughout the storage room, to help the sake mature. Wait, what? How? You might have heard about that for cattle and even vegetables, but… sake in a bottle??

Well, it is said that the ultrasound and vibration of the music would aid the maturing process of the sake, providing a better flavor in the long run.

Note also that Hokusetsu produces really, really good amazake (sweet non alcoholic rice wine).

And even better umeshu. The umeshu here, instead of mixing it with liquor, Japanese sake is added, providing a milder and less sweet, but definitely more flavorful accent to the plum wine. I loooove it!

Website: https://sake-hokusetsu.com/

8. Stuff your face on all-you-can-eat crab!

This place is so awesome I just had to add an exclamation mark behind.

I have a good news and a bad news.

The good news is, congratulations, you just discovered probably the most worth-your-money crab buffet in the whole of Japan.

The bad news is, well, if even one of you even successfully make it there, it’s quite a miracle.

The thing is, there isn’t really a signboard leading to the building. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what it was called. The official name for this building is “Akadomari Tourist Center” (赤泊観光センター), which is not written anywhere in the building (or at least can’t be clearly seen). There’s also no colorful signs like those see in Osaka’s Dotonbori shouting “CRAB BUFFET!!!”. Well, at least the purple banner says “eatery” and the red one says “in business”. That’s all you need to know.

Attaching this photo as proof, in case no one believes me haha.

The crab buffet is available from October to May each year, reservation needed. Do note that it’s not available in Jan and Feb as it is breeding period and they wanna avoid catching baby crabs.  It’s JPY2250 (about SGD28) for as much crab as you can stomach, and comes with 2 drinks.

It’s also a little sad to know but there was actually a port called the Akadomari port nearby for ferries to come in, along with Ogi Port and Ryotsu Port, which explains the need for a tourist center. However the port was closed due to decreased traffic, and how this tourist center still functions until today is a mystery to me.

Which is why I felt such a struggle eating the crab – I want to enjoy my best self but I don’t want them to run out of business – so should I eat less or eat more????

Haha. Anyway I was told that that’s really how much crab Sado produces so feast your heart out!

Website: https://www.visitsado.com/en/spot/detail0335/

Watch a timelapse video of me eating crab:

9. Visit the Sado Gold Mine

As a classic attraction in Sado, you can expect to understand how gold mining is done, with easy-to-understand robotic illustration and walk through parts of real gold tunnel from some 400 years ago!

In Sohdayu Mine, you may observe how miners work deep underground, digging and digging by hand.

Sado has the biggest gold and silver mine in Japan. There are many gold veins and the major eight large gold veins stretched 3km east to west, 600m north to south and 800m deep. The total length of the tunnels reach 400km long – as far as the journey from Sado to Tokyo!! Isn’t that crazy?

This is Dohyu No Wareto, look at the split mountaintop that caved-in after being mined by hand in pursuit of gold and silver. Our guide jokingly said, “humans are so greedy they can split mountains by hand”. I guess he was not wrong.

Even though the gold mining stopped in 1989 due to exhausted resources, it is believed that there are still gold inside the mountains and deep sea of Sado island, so perhaps one day, there will be a day of gold rush again in Sado.

10. Kitazawa Flotation Plant Ruins

The Kitazawa Flotation Plant Ruins is said to resemble another famed Ghibli production – Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

This is the remains of the processing facilities construction in 1938 to extract gold. Now it is no longer in use and is covered in lush green looking like the said floating castle, making a great Instagenic spot for artistic snapshots.

In night time, it is also lit up in multi-colored illumination, so even after sundown you are able to enjoy a piece of Sado’s goldrush.

11. Hunt for some real gold at Nishimikawa Gold Park 西三川ゴールドパーク

Other than Sado Gold Mine, Nishimikawa is your must-visit facility for a hands-on experience on… finding real gold dust!!

Being the oldest facility on the island, it has a comprehensive hall about the history and trivia about gold. For example, see the tiny bit of gold on the red tray? That tiny bit can produce a 3000 meter long gold thread (!?) that you see in the photo. It is to proof that gold is a soft and bendable material that could be easily stretched and flattened.

Trivia – Did you know? The Tokyo Olympics Gold Medals are made from recycled electronic. Over 47,000 tons of tech waste were gathered to create what the athletes will be hanging around their neck next year. Japanese citizens donated over five million cell phones to the effort. Oh Japan…

There’s also lots of real gold in the facility. I’m guessing Sado is too remote and peaceful as a break-in target hahaha.

Anyway, here’s the main highlight!! I just wanted to make sure that you don’t skip the information hall and jump straight to hunting for gold, as the very very friendly and kind guide of the facility told us with a sad face.

Here, you get to experience gold panning. Basically you will be given a sieve and you will scoop through the water and to the bottom of sand (the water temperature is adjusted to be warm during winter for the guests’ comfort. Oh Japan… T__T), and then slowly try to sift out the sand leaving only bits of gold dust behind. This technique is called gold panning.

With a little help, this is how much gold I have collected!!

You can then bring back the gold in the bottle or have it framed up in a keychain or as a pendant for a small fee. I had mine made into a necklace and I love it!!

Website: https://www.visitsado.com/en/spot/detail0009/

Fee: JPY800 (isn’t it too cheap?? For that much of real gold???)

12. Mumyoi Pottery Experience 無名異焼

Yeap, even I had problem pronouncing the name “Mumyoi”. I totally call it “mom-yoh-yee” but of course, it is Japanese, so it is called “mu-myo-i”. How important hyphens are. Haha.

The shop is called Gyokudo Kamamoto 玉堂窯元. While I don’t have much experience in pottery, I was impressed by how long the process takes just to create a mumyoi ware. What’s so unique about mumyoi ware is that it is a lot more solid and tougher than many ceramic ware, and although it is made clay, it actually produces a metallic sound when you flick it with your flinger.

Since olden days, the Mumyoi clay is thought to have medicinal properties to relieve palsy stomach and bowel disorders etc, so the people in Sado believe that there are health benefits by just consuming your drinks and food in a mumyoi ware.

You can try your hands on mumyoi pottery here, and choose from a selection of rice bowl and cups.

I never understood pottery, but after just one experience, I could understand why some people are so into it. Somehow it has a very soothing effect that lets you really concentrate and be in the moment. Give it a try!

Website: https://www.gyokudou.com/en/mumyoiyaki-en/

13. Meet the rabbit-loving monk at Rabbit Temple

Upon arrival you will see that… there’s nothing that tells you that it is a temple.

You will see instead, a giant rabbit statue.

Chokokuji Temple 長谷寺, despite its ultra cute nickname, is actually thought to have been found in year 807.

How this temple became the rabbit temple was rather straightforward, and I actually learnt it from Japanese TV program one day – the visitors to the temple has been decreasing and the monk, who kept a bunch of rabbits thought about building a giant rabbit statue to attract new visitors.

Do expect it to be a rather unusual temple – I spotted daikon with leaves. Lots and lots of leaves.

Also, there’s also another rather unusual experience for you – only if you dare! Enter a real coffin and listen to the chants of the monk, trying to feel a moment between life and death, and come out reborn.

Where to stay

Yahatakan 国際佐渡観光ホテル八幡館

Sado makes a great relaxing getaway so while you are here, an onsen ryokan sounds just about right.

“Enough of crab!!” Says no one ever.

Enjoy Sado’s freshest seafood in the comfort of your ryokan yukata.

The simplest dessert – frozen permission, just in season.

And dip in the therapeutic spring to get rid of all travel fatigue, ready for your next journey.

Website: http://yahatakan.com/english/index.html

That’s all for Sado this time. Till then, I’m sure I will have more of Niigata to come in the near future. 🙂

Written by Cheesie / @cheeserland