December 13, 2009

Niigata Day 3: Sado

My commissioned trip took me and my companions across the Sea of Japan to Sado Island today.

Sado is an island not too far from Niigata city, and famed for its gold mines. That's where we spent most of the day, but first we stopped at the Crested Ibis preserve in the Toki Forest Park [map] [ja website].

From Niigata Trip

This is a stuffed one; the live ones were a bit removed to protect their endangered nervous hearts, but I got some video and binocular views of them. The thing about ibises (of the nipponia nippon variety, called 朱鷺 [toki] in Japanese) is that they are very rare these days. So this place, the Toki Museum, is one of the few places you can see them.

From Niigata Trip

We had a brief lunch at a small soba shop called tontonsaka (とんとん坂 [map]). It had kamosoba, which is a kind of soba which you mix the boiled noodle water with the sauce after you eat the noodles. The cool thing about the owners is that they are farmers who grow most of their ingredients themselves. Speaking of farms, most of Sado--which is a considerably large and densely populated island--looks a lot like normal inaka (countryside) in Japan, but the houses seem bigger and older. Sado has a long rich history after all. And when I say rich, I can't help but think of gold. More on that later, but first was Myosenji (妙宣寺) [map].

From Niigata Trip

This is the gate to Myosenji . There are many pieces of paper adhered to it. They act as both a sort of "dudes, I totally helped build this" marker, as well as a purifier of the heart. Don't question it! Demons out in the name of Taro Construction inc.!

From Niigata Trip

This is a view from inside the grounds. There is a five story pagoda and a former castle/current temple in this huge area too, but I dug the straw-roofed structure the most. The inside was blackened from years of soot.

From Niigata Trip

Kodomo-tencho (子供店長) visited the straw-roofed place too, as these photos attest. You can see plenty of him on YouTube if you search.


From Niigata Trip

Our next stop was the 金山 (kinzan, gold mines) [map] [website]. See that cleft in the mountains?

From Niigata Trip

It's quite an interesting collection of 廃墟 (haikyo, ruins) and tunnels, only unlike regular haikyo, you can legally explore some parts.

From Niigata Trip

This veinly-looking thing is an old map of the mines, which started in the 1600s and were once among the top mines in the world. In total, they produced about 78 metric tons, or one short tour guide's height cubed, but the gold is just too deep to be dug nowadays.

From Niigata Trip

They held masked Shinto ceremonies whenever a new vein of gold was found. I confirmed that there is a relation between these masks an Hakata masks in Kyushu. No word if one of these priests became the first tokusatsu hero.

From Niigata Trip

If a mine tour didn't end with a yuzu (a citrus) and gold-laced, hot drink, I would be outraged. Luckily, they anticipated my need to line the toilet bowl with gold flakes.