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For centuries, Sado was an island of exile, where politicians, artists, monks, and even emperors who incurred wrath were sent to be kept safely out of trouble. And while Sado retains its wild, remote feel, these days it is a place to which people come willingly to detox from the fast-paced lifestyle of the metropolis.

After stepping off the ferry from Niigata at either Ryotsu or Ogi Ports, pick up a rental car or, like the Knights in White Lycra, hop on your bike and take off to seek adventure along the coastal roads.

Sado has long held a certain cachet among cycling enthu­­siasts, who visit the butterfly-shaped island to zip along the coastline dotted with fishing villages, rice fields, and stretches of open beach. The yearly Sado Long Ride 210, held in mid-May, is known for the bragging rights that go to those who complete the full 210-kilometer loop around the island.

But you don’t need to be a speed demon to appreciate Sado’s laid-back charm and hidden gems. The island offers a lot to explore, and the two ports are a good place to start your journey.

One of the most easily accessible spots from Ryotsu Port is Aikawa. Quite literally the treasure trove of the island, it is home to the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine—once the secret to the Tokugawa shogunate’s economic power. Intricate animatronic figures still toil in the tunnels, showing what life was like for miners during the Edo Period (1603–1867). Pick up a gold-flecked ice cream on your way out, or explore nearby Kyomachi Street, which is lined with well-preserved wooden houses, some of which have been transformed into cafés.

The Ogi area boasts a pleasant shopping street with a retro vibe and several cute dining options, such as Hiyoriyama, where you can grab lunch and a cup of coffee. Be sure to stop by the iconic red bridge across the rocks at Yajima Island on your way to the twisty streets of tiny Shukunegi, a photogenic fishing village with homes made from the dark wooden hulls of ships.

If you are looking to escape from civili­zation altogether, Mount Donden, the flower-lined cliffside of Onogame, and the terraced rice fields in Iwakubi are pleasant spots for stretching your legs on short hikes.

In summer, you can take a dip at Futatsugame Beach and swim out to the tiny island or relax on the golden shores of Sobama, one of Sado’s few sandy beaches. The mountains at the center of the island shelter Chokokuji Temple, also known as the “rabbit temple” for the friendly critters who greet visitors and trim the temple’s lawn, benevolently watched by a huge statue of the disconcerting Rabbit Kannon.

While exploring the island, keep an eye out for Sado’s five sake breweries. Along the route between Ogi and Aikawa is the Obata Brewery, where you can taste sake that has won accolades at the International Wine Challenge.

A 20-minute drive from Ogi is the Hokusetsu Brewery, which supplies sake for Nobu restaurants worldwide. Be sure to try the special variety that is aged in chambers to the sound of waves and a Sado folk song, a process that is said to create a smoother taste. The Kato, Tenryohai, and Henmi Breweries offer truly local tipples that bring out the fresh flavors of the locally caught seafood. So popular are these that most bottles don’t even make it off the island.

To get the most out of Sado, stay over­night and take a quiet morning stroll along the coast or through the rice fields. A few favorite accommodations are the Hananoki Inn, which is run by a potter, the Hotel Azuma along the coast, and Andante, a new retreat run by a wine-loving couple.

Sold on Sado? Just jump on the bullet train to Niigata, then catch one of the regular car ferries or quick jetfoils to the island.

For three days in August, Sado reverberates with song, dance, and the sounds of taiko drums at Japan’s longest-running music festival. Welcome to Earth Celebration, where the beats seem to rise through the soles of your feet!

Hosted by the globe-trotting taiko ensemble Kodo, this huge drum festival has brought music lovers from across Japan and the world to the butterfly-shaped island for 33 years. Visitors flock to the evening concerts to hear the “children of the drum” play their huge taiko up close and personal, and to explore the island by kayak, bike, car, and on foot.

But Earth Celebration goes beyond taiko. Each year, Kodo invites musicians from around the world to perform at the Harbour Market stage, bringing together artists and festival-goers through the power of music. For the 2020 edition, which runs August 21–23, the Kodo drummers will be collaborating with the Voices of South Africa acapella group.

Be sure to book your tickets quickly. Spots for the high-energy performances sell out fast!