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Sado, the Island of Art and Music

An island with a colorful past has long attracted local and international creatives to its rocky shores. The collective soul of Sado’s residents strive to preserve and nurture the island’s art, music and a participatory culture.

About fifty kilometers west of Niigata sits a relatively nondescript island called Sado-ga-shima. Sado Island was once was the home—albeit involuntarily—to some famous residents including former Emperor Juntoku who was banished to Sado in 1221 and died there 22 years later. Nichiren Shonin, the founder of the Nichiren school of Japanese Buddhism, was also exiled to Sado in 1271 for a time and the famous Noh actor and playwright Zeami was sent to Sado in 1434.

In the twelfth century the island’s fortunes turned when gold was discovered, setting off a mining boom that attracted a rich variety of new residents from miners and engineers to merchants and fishermen. In the 70s, counter culture figures again arrived—this time by choice—as artists and musicians, making their way to the lush hills, rocky coastlines and quiet beaches of Sado.

The taiko (Japanese drumming) group Ondekoza, which formed in 1971, went on to become Kodo, the world-renowned taiko group based on Sado. Kodo has traveled to all corners of the world and have more than 4,000 performances under their fundoshi. Every August, people flock to Sado Island for Earth Celebration, the arts and music festival Kodo started in 1987.

Earth Celebration is, in a sense, Kodo’s annual homecoming after months on the road touring. The festival not only showcases their musical talents—and those of guest musicians—but also introduces the beauty of Sado. Arts, crafts and food are on display at the Harbor Market in Ogi and sake and food tastings can be found around the island. There are drumming workshops as well as various aquatic activities such as SUP, kayaking and even scuba diving.

While activities can be found throughout the 855-square-kilometer island, every evening of the three-day festival concludes at Ogi Town with a heart-thudding performance full of drums, dance and a diverse set of traditional Japanese instruments. 

Amidst growing tensions between Japan and South Korea, a guest taiko troupe from Korea, Kim Duk-Soo SamulNori, was a vital reminder of the peace and friendship many of the two countries’ inhabitants wish for. With Sado perched between the two nations, it acts as a bridge to bring people closer together. The performance sent out a beautiful message that teamwork and creativity see no harsh differences; that art brings communities from all over the world together.

Read on to discover more of Sado Island’s creative community.


Sado Island has three ports easily accessible from Niigata City. As access is difficult without a car on the island, Sado Kisen operates several car ferries and high-speed jetfoils throughout the day. As the Sea of Japan can get rough, especially during the winter and typhoon months, be sure to check ahead as ferries can get cancelled. 

From Niigata to Ryotsu: The car ferry takes just over two hours and costs about ¥2,510 while the high-speed jet foil takes one hour and costs ¥6,520. 

From Naoetsu to Ogi Port: Sado Kisen operates one to three car ferries per day to Ogi Port. The one-way journey takes just over two hours and costs ¥2,720. This ferry does not operate from late November to February. 

From Teradomari to Akadomari: Sado Kisen operates one to three high-speed boats to Akadomari. The one-way journey takes one hour and costs ¥2,960. This ferry does not operate from December to February.

Cover Photo: Earth Celebration

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