This is Part II continuation of my trip to Niigata.

I was surprised how cheap the ferry was – only ¥4,500 for the round-trip journey. You can purchase the ticket at the terminal, by a ticket window or automated kiosk. I chose the automated kiosk. It was only in Japanese, but still pretty easy to use. The ticket allows you to use it anytime, with the return leg within seven days.

The ferry terminal is right next to the Toki Messe. An easy walk from anywhere in the city, and the part from Toki Messe is an enclosed overhead walk.

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It is a fairly large vessel and looks like a cruise ship when you enter. The photo above shows the entry lobby where they sell pillows and blankets for second class passengers. I chose the second class service which is actually quite nice for the short journey, and anyway I like to spend most of my time outside on the deck. The first class option is quite plush, with large reclining seats and a closed-off area from the rest of the passengers.

I hardly spent any time inside, as there were ample decks to run around and observe the progress across the Sea Of Japan.

If you are in a hurry, there is a jetfoil option that is a lot quicker and a lot more expensive, but with views like this, who needs to be in a hurry?

When you arrive at Ryotsu port (in the center of the concave part on the top), there are views of the mountains on both sides.

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The whole island is very mountainous, with the thin valley in the center where most of the population points are.

Arrival at Ryotsu port. Most of the passengers on my journey seemed to be local commuters. Not many tourists this time of the year.

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I walked around the city a bit. I had booked a hotel at the information desk at the ferry terminal before leaving Niigata. It was a very old style onsen resort with walking distance from Ryotsu port. Did not look good on the outside, on the inside was quite nice. Mine was the one in the left brochure: “Tennogawa”. The picture on the right is another resort that was featured in Ryotsu – as you can see the outside looked pretty bad, but I’m sure it is much better inside.

As with these traditional places, there is no private bath, but the shared one. It was very nice!

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My cozy room was very comfortable and for only ¥4,800, but did not include meals.

It was getting late, and since it was raining and the offseason, just about everything was closed. I did find a convenience store, got a cupnoodle and ice cream for dinner.

The next morning, its off to see Kinzan (金山 or “Gold Mountain”)- the former gold mining operations that were a significant contributor to the economy. The Sado mine is the remains of a once flourishing large gold and silver mine. The mine was worked from 1601 until 1974, and closed in 1989.

While the Shogun Ieyasu led the development of Japan during the Edo, it is believed that the Sado Mine had a major role in financing the Edo government for 300 years because of the rich amounts of gold and silver mined there. There was a second phase of development during the Meiji era, where some of the best technology was adopted from the West, as well as new extractive and smelting processes that were at the time were some of the most advanced in the world.

Currently, it is not operational anymore but has been preserved for its industrial heritage

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To get there, you must travel to the opposite end of it island. It’s not too hard – there is a public bus that leaves on an hourly basis from Ryotsu port to Aikawa. The ride is about an hour long and stops by the major cities on the island. It’s a very local feeling, and was fairly expensive at ¥810 for the entire ride.  During the peak season, there are buses that will go from Aikawa to Kinzan, but it is not really necessary. The walk is about 30 minutes and was actually one of the highlights of the trip.

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On the walk to Kinzan, you will come across I think is one of the most fascinating places in Sado. This site at Kitazawa is a flotation plant used for silver and gold extraction from the ore. During WW11, the pant was significantly modernized and was considered one of the most modern in Asia.

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You can’t enter any of the ruins, but from the outside, it was very impressive. There are a number of signs in both Japanese and English that give good detailed explanations. Given the dirty, noisy and dangerous nature of this type of activity, it was not hard to imagine how bustling these facilities must have been during their heyday.

It was a beautiful, clear day in January and I was literally the only one there at this amazing site. I really felt so lucky to experience this.

Continuing along the winding road to the Kinzan, there was so much to see.

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At the side of the road, I came across a sign leading to a memorial to the 無宿人, or mushukunin – “Homeless People”. I was not sure who these people were, so I did some research

Inscribed with birthplace, posthumous Buddhist names, names and ages of twenty-eight mushukuknin, who worked as drainage laborers and died in the mines in 1853. In the Edo Period, to secure labor at the mine, around 1,800 mushukunin from Edo (present-day Tokyo), and Osaka and Nagasaki were forced to work in the mines. Mushukunin are people who do not have fixed address arrested under the Shogunate’s public security measures. Due to the hard labour, mushukunin lived a short and miserable lives.

Back on the road, approaching the Kinsan mines, you can see many more ruins.

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I arrived at the tourist facility. It was a very large, designed to handle thousands of tourists daily, but I was literally the only one there!

There are two choices of mine tours to see, one was the older part of the mine used during the Edo period, and a new one used during the Meiji period. You can visit one or both, but I chose the Meiji course simply because I’m fascinated with the technology of that era.

The mine is very well preserved, you can’t help but feel that you have entered an active mine. The only thing missing is the heat and noise of the operations.

A depiction of the operations, plus another tribute to the mushukunin who died there.

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Once you get out of the main mine, you enter into a very large open area, and can see many things, like the original open-pit mine and the operations support facilities.

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This is the original open-pit mine. From a distance, you can see that the mountain peak was split in two. Note that all this digging was before mechanization and done with human power.


There is an excellent museum of artifacts in an old workshed. I’m fascinated with the role that Mitsubishi played in the operations. Some additional research is necessary.

After spending about two hours at the mines (this was actually a Cook’s Tour – I could have spent all day – I found a path that leads from the mushukunin memorial. I walked down it, and it turned out to be one of the original roads that connected to a small village and served the mining area. It parallels the main road but was not listed on the map. This walk turned out to be the highlight of the trip!

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This road twisted through many old houses, of which many were abandoned, but others had obvious signs of life.

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This was really a fascinating time-warp!

So, I got back down to Aikawa, had a cup of coffee before taking the bus back to Ryotsu for my ferry ride back to Niigata.

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I enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the trip back, and many seagulls came to the ship in search of food.

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Bye-bye Sado! It was an awesome trip. I really want to visit again this summer!