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The Dark History of Sadoshima

Although Sadoshima today is a beautiful place filled with friendly people and beautiful nature, this has not always been the case. For hundreds of years, being sent to this island was a punishment second only to the death penalty.

  • For a large portion throughout the history of Japan, Sadoshima was a place of exile where few people ventured to out of free will. Many of those sent here could never expect to set foot on the mainland again, but rather to spend the remainder of their lives locked up behind bars or working in miserable conditions. Sadoshima is often thought of by many people as a dark place of banishment and exile, due to the fact that it was used in this way for about one millennia. Throughout the centuries, countless people have been sent here by force.

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    During the several hundred years after the discovery of gold on the island, many unfortunate people from the mainland ended up as forced laborers taking care of some of the most physically demanding tasks in the mine.

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The mine is today a museum, and as one is walking through the narrow, dimly lit tunnels with moisture constantly dripping from the roof, you can come to understand why being sent to work here was considered a sentence so harsh that it was only next to the death penalty.

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    Another place where you can experience how it might have felt to be a prisoner on this island is at the old detention center in Aikawa. The facilities remained in use until 1972 but have since been left intact and well preserved.

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The inside of the detention center, including most of the cells, are free for anyone to visit. It is mostly unstaffed but open to visitors anyway, just open the gate and the door and go inside.

    The history of Sado as a place of banishment is believed to have started as early as back in the first millennia and lasted for about one thousand years. Throughout its history, this island became the home for various people from all over Japan that the central government deemed unsuitable to stay on the mainland. Some might have been dangerous criminals, but some were just artists, dissidents, or other kinds of freethinkers. One such notable example is the poet Hozumi no Asomi Oyu who was sent to the island back in 722 due to his critical opinions of the emperor.

    Emperor Juntoku, the 84th emperor of Japan who ruled the country from 1210 to 1221 eventually suffered the same fate. After participating in an unsuccessful attempt to displace the Kamakura Shogunate, in an incident known as the Jokyu War, he escaped to Sado and stayed there until his death more than 20 years later. A mausoleum was erected at the place of his cremation mound, and he is enshrined at the nearby Manogu Shrine. These sites are located in the outskirts of Mano and are free for anyone to visit.

    Other noteworthy persons that ended up having to spend their days on Sado Island are the Buddhist monk Nichiren as well as the Noh dramatist Zeami Motokiyo. Motokiyo’s banishment to Sado in 1434 is often cited as one of the reasons why this place became so prominent in the cultivation of this traditional Japanese theatre, a culture that is still very much alive on the island.

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    The Dark History of Sadoshima

    If you want to learn more about the history of Sado, we recommend that you pay a visit to the Sado History Museum or the Ogi Folk Museum, where many historical artefacts, some of which are related to the island's dark past can be seen.

    佐渡島
    Address
    新潟県佐渡市
    Phone
    Manogu
    Address
    Nigata Pref. Sadoshi Mano 657
    Phone
    0259552063
    Sado Island’s Ogi Folk Museum, Sengokubune Exhibition Hall
    Address
    Nigata Pref. Sadoshi Shukunegi 270-2
    Phone
    0259862604
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