Friday, August 27, 2010

Trip to Sado Island - part 1

On 18th July, hubby and I visited Sado Island. The island lies just off the coast of Niigata prefecture and is shaped somewhat like an anvil. The island has long been a remote place of exile for political dissidents, like the deposed monarch Emperor Juntoku, the Buddhist monk Nichiren, and the founder of Noh, Zeami Motokiyo. Although the island is no longer a place of exile, the culture and religion that these prominent figures brought with them remain deeply embedded in the island today. Sado became a major source of revenue for Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period when gold was found at Aikawa. Although the island has been populated for millennia, a large area of Sado still remains uninhabited. Despite this unfavorable history of the island, presently Sado is a summer getaway of rocky coasts, green hills, and fishing ports. A visit to Sado provides the opportunity to explore the natural beauty untouched by modern development. The island is home to the endangered toki or Japanese crested ibis.

Travel by car ferry
As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I stayed at a hotel near Niigata railway station on 17th night. The next morning, we went to Niigata Port and caught a car ferry to Ryotsu Port in Sado Island. The ferry service is operated by a company called Sado Kisen Ferry. We had already done online reservation of the seats about two weeks prior to the trip, and so on reaching Niigata Port, we exchanged our reservation tickets with boarding tickets at the ticket counter. We took our car on the ferry as we wished to do sightseeing in Sado Island at our own pace without having to bother about the timings of the local buses. At 8.15 am, we parked our car in the queue of cars waiting to board the ferry. At about 8.45 am, a crew staff of the ferry directed the waiting queue of cars and hubby drove his car on to the ferry. I took a video of hubby driving his car onto the left side inside the ferry and parking at a spot indicated by the crew staff.

A compiled video of hubby driving his car onto the ferry

The car ferry started from Niigata Port at 9.25 am. We went to the deck and enjoyed seeing the ferry leave the port. Later we went to our seats and relaxed, and had snacks and cold drinks. When we approached Sado Island, hubby went to the deck and took a few photos of the place. It took about 2.5 hours to reach Ryotsu Port in Sado Island. At about 12 noon, the ferry docked at the port. At 12.15 pm, we could leave the ferry with our car. First, we decided to visit the Toki-Forest Park.
I am standing at the deck of the ferry

I am relaxing inside the car ferry

Beautiful view as we approached Sado Island

Toki-Forest Park
It took us about 15 minutes of car ride to reach the Toki-Forest Park (Toki-no-mori koen) from Ryotsu Port. The park is located in Niibo village, which is situated on the central plains of Sado Island. Niibo is an old agricultural village surrounded by beautiful nature and ancient culture, and is also the only lasting habitat of toki, or the Japanese crested ibis. The grounds of Toki-Forest Park cover 4 hectares.

Toki goes by the scientific name Nipponia nippon. The total length of this magnificent bird is about 76 cm, with its face and legs bright red, and its body and crest white with a pale pink tint, whilst its head, back, and upper wings become grayish-black during the breeding season. While flying, the underside of the flight-feathers glows orange-red due to the reflecting sunlight. This color was incorporated into the Japanese vocabulary as toki-iro or toki-color. Although toki was fairly common and well distributed all over Japan until late 19th century, toki began to greatly decrease in number around the turn of the century, mostly because of its excessive hunting and deforestation. Because of the danger of extinction, in 1934 toki was designated by the Japanese government as a natural monument, in 1952 as a special natural monument, and then in 1960 the International Council for Bird Protection ranked the endangered species toki as an internationally protected bird.

Sado is famous as the major breeding area for toki because the island retains the only environment best suited for the birds. The last known wild Japan-born toki died in captivity in 2003 on the island. Toki had long been considered to be extinct outside of Japan, but fortunately in China toki sightings were again reported in 1981. Since then every effort to save the dying species has been made, and the number of birds as of 2007 has successfully come up to about 1000 worldwide. In January 1999, China presented Japan with a pair of toki named ‘Yo-Yo’ and ‘Yang-Yang’, and since then they have been successfully giving birth to babies in a facility named Toki Conservation Center located in the park. Since 2008 many toki have been released into the wild, and as of October 2009, 28 toki are present in the wild.

After reaching the Toki-Forest Park, we parked our car and walked for about 3 minutes to reach Toki Exhibition Hall Museum (toki shiryo tenjikan). We bought tickets worth 200 Yen per person as admission fee for the Exhibition Hall. Inside the hall, there are displays of scientific facts, preserved specimens, and historical data about toki. Here we gathered a lot of information about toki. We saw a stuffed specimen of the very last native toki found in Japan. This toki, named Kin, was caught by Uji Kintaro in 1968 and brought to the Conservation Center for breeding. It was a female bird that died on 10th October 2003 at the age of 36. We also saw another stuffed specimen of a male toki named Midori. It was one of the five remaining native wild toki on Sado Island that were caught and brought to the Conservation Center in 1981. Paring was then attempted at the center as well as at Beijing Zoo in China but breeding was unsuccessful. Midori passed away in 1995. Inside the exhibition hall, we saw a live video of toki birds in the breeding cages at Toki Conservation Center which is located adjacent to the Exhibition Hall.
Hubby seeing the map of Toki-Forest Park

I am standing in front of a huge poster of toki birds

I am standing at the entrance of the Exhibition Hall

Inside Toki Exhibition Hall

Hubby reading about toki at the Exhibition Hall

Stuffed specimen of Kin

Hubby standing next to the stuffed specimen of Midori

Next, we walked through the Observation Corridor built next to the Exhibition Hall. We observed several toki in the breeding cages of the Conservation Center through the window of the Observation Corridor. We were very excited to see real live toki birds with our own eyes. We feel that our visit to the Toki-Forest Park was really worth.
A breeding cage of the Conservation Center as seen from the Observation Corridor

A few toki birds inside one of the cages

After this we came out into the open, and went to the Multipurpose Breeding Cage where black headed ibis, a different species of ibis from East Asia, are bred. We saw a few birds inside the cage.
Multipurpose Breeding Cage

A black headed ibis

Another black headed ibis

Hubby standing next to the Multipurpose Breeding Cage

After coming out of the Exhibition Hall premises, we took a stroll around the Toki-Forest Park. We saw a monument to commemorate the very last wild Japan-born toki named Kin that passed away in captivity in 2003.
I am standing next to a monument erected to commemorate Kin

We walked back to the car parking area and bought a few gift items at the gift shop located next to the parking area. After this we left the place and next visited Sado Gold Mine.

Sado Kinzan Gold Mine
Sado Kinzan Gold Mine is located in Aikawa which is about 23 kilometers to the west of Toki-Forest Park, and it took us about 50 minutes to reach there by our car. It is one of the must see attractions on Sado Island.

In the old days, Sado was known as a region where gold and silver could be found. On Sado Island, alluvial gold had been already discovered around the end of Heian period (12th century). After the discovery of the Aikawa gold and silver mine in 1601, the Aikawa Mine, which is commonly called the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine, became known throughout Japan. Full scale mining and the development of the gold mine began in 1601, and Sado Island was placed under the direct control of the Tokugawa shogunate. Both the mine and the island were managed by unique system called the Sado Magistrate’s Office until the end of the shogunate in 1868. The mine served as a major source of funding for the shogunate. Gold and silver production reached its peak in the early years of the mine (1615-1634). Following the Meiji restoration of 1868, this mine became a government owned mine in 1869. Production increased thanks to modern mining technology introduced by an English mining engineer named Erasmus Gower and other foreign engineers. Sado Gold Mine was transferred intact to the Mitsubishi Partnership in 1896 and remained in operation until its closure in 1989 due to the depletion of reserves. In the 388 years since its discovery, the mine had produced 78 tons of gold and 2,330 tons of silver.

The gold veins are spread over 3 kilometers in east and west, 600 meters in north and south, and 800 meters in depth. Total length of mining tunnels is approximately 400 kilometers. There are nine major veins in this mine. Black bands within the white quartz vein contained rich gold and silver. The western part of a vein named Aoban was mined as Sodayu-koh site in the Edo era. Aoban vein was one of the gold rich veins in this mine.

Today Sado Kinzan Gold Mine is open to the public where the main attractions are the two walking courses that lead through the mining tunnels. The first course goes through Sodayu-koh mining tunnels where life-sized puppet dolls recreate scenes of excavation from the Edo era with some of the actual machines that were used. The second walking course, recently opened in early 2008, goes through the newer mines, which were worked during the Meiji period and up until the end of mining operations.

As we neared Sado Gold Mine, we saw a wonderful looking open pit at Dohyu vein outcrop (Dohyu-no-wareto), which is believed to be the initial mining site in the Edo era and is the symbol of the mine. This open pit site was declared as national historic relic in 1967.
Open pit at Dohyu vein outcrop

A closer view of Dohyu-no-wareto

We opted to see the Sodayu-koh mining site course and bought tickets worth 800 Yen per person as admission fee. Sodayu tunnel is an old large-scaled tunnel developed in the early period of Edo era. It has many small-scaled tunnels, old pit mouth for exploring, ventilation holes passing through the ceiling, and typical tunnel entrance with old decorations. This tunnel was declared a national historical monument in 1994. Our tour started at the entrance near the ticket office. Underground tunnel length we walked was 280 meters.
Entrance of Sodayu underground tunnel

It was a very hot and humid day but on entering the underground tunnel, we felt very chilly. This is because the temperature inside the tunnel is about ten degrees Celsius throughout the year. Initially we walked for about ten minutes in the dark tunnel with no signs of mining, probably because we were still rather close to the entrance. We saw information about the mining site put up at a few locations inside the tunnel. Water seeped through the tunnel and hubby tried to feel the wetness of the walls of the tunnel.
Underground tunnel

Hubby getting a feel of the wetness of the tunnel walls

I am reading some information related to the history of the gold mine

Inside the tunnel

After about ten minutes of walking inside the tunnel, we started seeing the puppet dolls that explained and dramatized the tough existence of the miners and provided details about mining under very hard conditions in the Edo era. The first puppet dolls we saw explained about suishorin drainage pump. Drainage of gushing water was always the most serious problem in the mine. A new kind of drainage equipment called suishorin pump was introduced in the mine in 1653. This tool is an underground pump which is modeled on the Archimedean screw pump designed by Archimedes. As the mining operation went deeper underground, the amount of mine water increased and drainage became very important. Drainage pumping workers (toibiki-ninpu) operated suishorin and drainage workers (mizukae-ninsoku) were involved in raking out gushed water using a draw well bucket and a wooden pail.

Drainage pumping workers operating suishorin and drainage workers raking out gushed water. The entire process is shown in two photos as it could not be accommodated in a single photo.

Another view of the puppet dolls operating suishorin

Next, we saw puppet dolls of underground workers for timbering (yamadome-daiku) who were employed directly by the Office of the Sado Magistrate. When the roof was cracked by a fault or not firm enough, they had to protect the tunnel from cave-in with timbering.
Puppet dolls of underground workers for timbering

Adjacent to this was another scene where labor of children was depicted. Even children under 15 years old worked underground. These children carried oil for lighting, chisels, and ore.
Puppet doll exhibiting labor of children

Next, we saw an interesting depiction of the rest station. In comparison with the other underground workers, stope miners were given special treatment as specialized technicians. They took 4-hour shifts and were allowed to have meals and lying on the straw mat in the pit.
Rest station

Next, we saw the puppet dolls of unregistered people (musyukunin) working inside the tunnel. For about 90 years from 1778, the unregistered people in Edo (present day Tokyo), Osaka, and Nagasaki were captured by the government and sent to Sado Gold Mine as drainage workers. According to official historical records, 1874 people were said to have been brought to Sado Mine.
Puppet dolls of unregistered people working inside the tunnel

As we walked further into the tunnel, we saw puppet dolls of workers for ventilation (kazeokuri-horiko) operating Chinese bellows to supply fresh air to the working place deep underground in order to prevent workers from getting oxygen deficiency called ketae. There was also a trough (kakedoi) nearby. Gushed water in the underground was run out through such a trough in the plane level.
Puppet dolls of workers for ventilation

After walking for some more time, hubby posed for a photo inside the dark tunnel. Next, we saw puppet dolls of stope miners (kanahori-daiku) engaged in mining. The miners stoped ore with only a chisel and a hammer. Various operational methods of the stope miners, like mining horizontally (hittate-bori), upward (kanmuri-bori), and downward (dai-bori), were explained on an information board. Native gold and silver minerals were present within the quartz veins (tateai). Native gold of this mine contained 30-40% of silver.
Hubby walking through the underground tunnel

Puppet dolls of stope miners engaged in mining

Another view of puppet dolls of stope miners engaged in mining

Next, we saw a puppet doll of a mine worker collecting waste. In the late 18th century, as the gold production of the mine reduced, even the waste containing only a small portion of gold was collected and carried to a smelter.
Puppet doll of a mine worker collecting waste

After this we saw an enactment of Yawaragi, a traditional mine festival offered to the Mine God of Oyamazumi Shrine. The stripe on the back wall in the photo is a vein which contained a large amount of gold and silver. Whenever a vein was discovered, such a traditional Shinto ritual performance was held. They prayed for the safety of the workers and that the hard ore would become softer.
Yawaragi Mine Festival

After this, we came out of the Sodayu-koh mining tunnel. We walked for a minute and reached the Gold Mine Historical Exhibition Museum, which was included in the sightseeing course. The museum has two rooms. In the first exhibition room, we learnt about the history of the gold mine. In addition, various mining processes like ore processing, smelting, refining, and oval gold coin (koban) manufacturing during the Edo era were explained using miniature models.
First exhibition room of Gold Mine Historical Exhibition Museum

I am reading information about the tools used for mining during Edo era

Display of oval gold coins of Edo era

In the second exhibition room, we saw display of large-sized gold coins which were imitation coins made of pure gold. There was also a 12.5 kilograms pure gold ingot kept in a transparent box. We could touch and feel the ingot through a hole in the box. A visitor who could take out the ingot though the hole in the box was given presents. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in taking out the ingot. It was too heavy and the hole in the box was too small.
Display of large-sized gold coins in the second exhibition room

Large-sized gold coins

Hubby trying to pick up the gold ingot kept in a transparent box

Hubby posing with the gold ingot

From the exhibition room, we came out into the courtyard of the mine, where a tiny cafe sold coffee and soft cream topped with gold foil. Hubby bought a soft cream and ate it with relish.
Soft cream topped with gold foil

Hubby eating soft cream

After this we left the mine and went to see the Sado History Museum (Sado rekishi dentetsukan), Myosenji Temple, and the Meoto-iwa rocks about which I will write in the next post.


Laya's Blog said...

Hey Manisha,
Well written, very informative, but, I have a suggestion. You could have broken this post into two parts with the first part covering the fery ride and details and description of Toki and the second part covering the gold mines. One is not able to retain all the details as both are completely diverse subjects and you have mentioned details of both. Otherwise great post with lovely pics.

Keep up with the virtual travel, I love it.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for the comment Laya. Good to hear that you liked the post and pics.

Yeah, even I was initially thinking of breaking this post into two parts but then decided not to do so because I wish to write about the trip to Sado Island in two posts. Hubby and I visited five places in Sado, each one exciting but very different from the other. So I needed to make at least four posts for this particular trip to the island. And four posts for a one-day trip felt like too many..
Anyway, I will try to write on a single topic in a post, whenever possible. Thanks for your advice Laya.

வடுவூர் குமார் said...

Great written up and pics.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment Kumar. Nice to know that you liked the writeup and photos.