Explore Northern Honshu
Sado’s central plain is the most heavily populated part of the island and home to a number of impressive temples, some dating back to the eighth century. Two routes cross this plain linking Ryōtsu to towns on the west coast: the main highway cuts southwest from Kamo-ko to Sado airport and on to Sawata, served by buses on the Hon-sen route (line 1), while the quieter, southerly route takes you through Niibo (新穂), Hatano (畑野) and Mano (真野) along the Minami-sen bus route (line 2). The majority of historical sites lie scattered across this southern district – for many of them you’ll need your own transport or be prepared to walk a fair distance. One solution is to rent a bike.
Sado’s most accessible and important temple, Kompon-ji (根本寺), is located a few kilometres south of Niibo village; buses from Ryōtsu run here fairly regularly during the day. Kompon-ji marks the spot where the exiled Nichiren lived in 1271, though the temple itself was founded some years later. If you can get there before the coach parties, it’s a pleasant stroll round the mossy garden with its thatched temple buildings filled with elaborate gilded canopies, presided over by a statue of Nichiren in his characteristic monk’s robes.
On the eastern outskirts of MANO (真野), Myōsen-ji (妙宣寺) was founded by one of Nichiren’s first disciples and includes a graceful five-storey pagoda. Nearby Kokubun-ji (国分寺) dates from 741 AD, though the temple’s present buildings were erected in the late seventeenth century. If you follow this side road south, skirting round the back of Mano town, you come to a simple shrine dedicated to Emperor Juntoku. He’s actually buried about 800m further up the valley, but the next-door Sado Rekishi-Densetsukan (佐渡歴史伝説館) is more interesting. This museum is similar in style to Ryōtsu’s Sado Nō-gaku-no-sato, though in this case the robots and holograms represent Juntoku, Nichiren and other characters from local history or folk tales. The museum lies about thirty minutes’ walk southeast from central Mano and about ten minutes from the nearest bus stop, Mano goryō-iriguchi, on the route from Sawata south to Ogi (line 4).
A few kilometres north along the coast from Mano, SAWATA (佐和田) serves as Sado’s main administrative centre. Sawata is not the most alluring of places, but if you happen to be passing through around lunchtime, pop along to the Silver Village resort, on the town’s northern outskirts, to catch the fifteen-minute display of bun’ya, a form of seventeenth-century puppetry performed by a couple of master puppeteers.