Sado's Dramatic Sotokaifu Coastline

Find natural beauty and solitude in this remote region

By Amber Mezbourian    - 4 min read

Just getting to Sado Island is an adventure in itself. As the ferry heads away from the coast of mainland Niigata and towards the island’s rugged silhouette roughly 45km away, seagulls swirl above and will swoop down to take food from your outstretched hand. Stand on the top deck and the wind will make your eyes stream as you inhale the salty air.

Sado’s main port is Ryotsu, but there’s not a lot to keep visitors for long. It’s a good place to pick up a rental car, though. Having your own transport is the easiest way to see the island. It’s possible to do it without one, but relying on buses will leave you tied to a restrictive and inconvenient schedule.

For dramatic scenery and isolation, head to the northern Sotokaifu coast: a wild stretch of jagged cliffs, steep drops and hairpin bends that will leave you with your heart in your mouth. It’s no understatement to say that the views along here are breathtaking – and there’s not a 7-Eleven in sight.

You’ll know you’re truly in the middle of nowhere when you reach Iwayaguchi, a tiny wind-battered fishing hamlet. Population: around 40, give or take. Somehow, this cluster of ramshackle wooden houses clinging together right at the water’s edge only serves to enhance the remoteness of the surrounding area.

Forest-covered mountains rise up sharply from the shoreline and tower imposingly above this small pocket of civilisation. The inhabitants here have attempted to tame the land around them, carving asymmetric rice fields into the hillsides and building a long seawall to defend their homes from the tide’s endless assault.

Visit in early May and you’ll catch the rice fields as they’re flooded in preparation for planting. Clumps of jellylike frogspawn glisten in the muddy water, whilst overhead large birds of prey drift on thermals. All around, nature reawakens after the cold winter. There might even be a few pink bursts of sakura – spring comes late to this part of Japan.

Despite the low population density, space is at a premium here with most of the flat land used for farming. The one main road, which connects the village to Ryotsu, cuts right through the fields. Cars are relatively infrequent along this stretch, and you’re more likely to end up behind a slow-chugging tractor or a truck piled with bright green young rice plants.

If you’re tempted by the solitude of Iwayaguchi, you can stay overnight at the Sotokaifu Youth Hostel, which has an open fire and comfortable, clean rooms. Its friendly owner, Hisae Yabe, provides home-cooked food for her guests. She fills the Japanese bath with fragrant herbs collected in the nearby mountains, and taking a hot soak is the perfect end to a blustery day of exploring.

There’s not much to do around here, but that’s the whole point. It’s one of the remotest parts of an already remote island – a world away from the bustle and bright lights of Tokyo. This is the perfect destination if you’re looking to escape and unwind for a few days, so book yourself onto the ferry and don’t forget to bring some snacks to feed the seagulls.

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Amber Mezbourian

Amber Mezbourian @amber.mezbourian

I spent three years living in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET Programme, not knowing what to expect but with images of Tokyo, geisha and Mount Fuji in my mind. I was placed in Yamagata prefecture in a small rural town that I couldn't find in any guidebook. I learnt to snowboard, climbed mountains, tried my hand at ikebana and kyuudo and koto, dressed up as a samurai, karaoked til the early hours, become obsessed with onsen, and had countless other adventures and experiences. For a relatively small country, Japan has so much to offer, and I love nothing better than exploring - particularly heading off the beaten track and into the beautiful countryside. I set myself a personal challenge to visit each of the 47 prefectures, which gave me a great excuse to do a lot of travelling. Although I've now ticked them all off, there's still so much I want to see. Japan will always be my second home and and I'm looking forward to discovering and learning more for a long time to come.

Join the discussion

Kim B a year ago
I love the remoteness - it looks like the perfect place to get away to when you just want to escape it all for a while!
Chris Barnes 4 years ago
Beautiful :) reminds me a little of the Shakotan coastline in Hokkaido.
Chris Barnes 4 years ago
Beautiful :) reminds me a little of the Shakotan coastline in Hokkaido.
Jeradyne Cheong 5 years ago
Looks so sunny and pretty! I especially like the last picture with the seagulls =)
Amber Mezbourian Author 4 years ago
The seagulls were amazing to watch and I really enjoyed feeding them from on the deck of the ferry - it was a fun way to end my trip to Sado!