和文は英文の下にございます。/The Japanese translation is below the English text.

Myosenji Temple and Daizen Shrine, Sado

Table of contents

1. The sixth largest island
2. Temples and Shrines
3. Myosenji Temple
4. Daizen Jinja Shrine
5. Noh Stages

1. The Sixth largest island

A map of Sado Island and a part of Honshu Island
[Click on any photo to enlarge / どの写真もクリックすると拡大します] A map of Sado and a part of Honshu Island / 佐渡と本州の一部

Sado Island (Sado-ga-shima, a.k.a. Sado-shima) is an interesting travel destination.

Japan is an archipelago and the largest islands in the country are called Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. The residents of the rest of the islands call the big four “the mainland”.

Of “the rest”, the largest is the main island of Okinawa, Okinawa Prefecture, and the second largest is Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture.

Sado Island has a shape like the character “エ (eh)”, of which the northern part has mountains, while the southern part has hills formed almost parallel to the mountains. 

An image of a poster showing Sado and other Japanese islands by comparative size
Japanese islands and their sizes with Sado as No. 1. Mainland of Okinawa is not included. / 沖縄本島を除いて佐渡島を最大とした日本各島の面積比較

Between them is a cultivated plain. On the coast, people have developed terraced towns and fields of rice, vegetables, and orchards. The views of nature and cultivated land are both beautiful.

On the opposite side of the strait, the rest of Niigata on the mainland is known for heavy snowfalls, but on Sado Island it does not snow much. The temperature doesn’t often go below freezing either. They owe the mild climate to the warm sea current from the south, and so they can grow any kind of fruit produced anywhere in Japan.

Maybe because of the mild climate, Sado has been inhabited since ancient times. Even “Kojiki (712 A.D.)” and “Nihon-Shoki (720 A.D.)”, the oldest books compiled in Japan, mention it as one official province of the then young country.

Today, Sado Island is a popular destination for those interested in sightseeing, hiking, alpine plants, geology, sports, Japanese history and culture. 

A poster of 2023 Triathlon Competition held in Sado.
Many sports events are held on Sado. / 多くのスポーツイベントが佐渡で開かれる

Boats and flights connect it to the mainland. For example, it takes about an hour by jetfoil, a super-rapid boat, from Niigata Port to Ryotsu Port on Sado. Shinkansen takes you to Niigata from Tokyo in about two hours, so some even plan a day trip from Tokyo area.

2. Temples and Shrines

The current population of Sado is less than fifty thousand, but there are more than 250 Buddhist temples on the island. A temple is often standing in the vicinity of a Shinto shrine as if they were close friends.

It is because in Sado, temples and shrines have specific roles to play in people’s lives: Temples hold funeral and memorial services, and maintain the graveyard. Shrines practice rites to pray for happiness and good luck for people and good economy for businesses. Shrines also celebrate various festivals, and they are the starting point for the procession of the famous “ondeko” drums to visit people’s homes to fend off evils. 

We visited one of those pairs: Myosenji (Myosin Temple) and Daizen Jinja (Daizen Shrine). 

3. Myosenji Temple

an image of the five-tier tower, Myosenji Temple, Sado
Five-Tier Tower, Senmyoji / 妙宣寺五重塔

Myosenji Temple was opened in 1278. 

Nichiren, one of Japan’s most influential priests, was banished to Sado in 1271. A local called Tametomo ENDO was assigned to take care of him in banishment. As Tametomo lived with Nichiren, he was so impressed that he and his wife both converted to Buddhism. They even turned their residence into a temple, which was the origin of this temple.

Located on its grounds is the grave of Suketomo HINO.

Suketomo was an aristocrat who served Emperor Godaigo in the early 14th Century. He and other followers of Godaigo were suspected of taking part in a plot to overthrow the Kamakura government and in 1324 he was banished to Sado. He died eight years later.

An image of Suketomo HINO
Suketomo HINO / 日野資朝
[Source: public domain, https://commons.wiki

Some records describe Suketomo’s character. He was so smart and well-versed in Song-period neo-Confucianism that he became a close aid to Emperor Godaigo. Also, he was outspoken and blunt; he would say bad things about such people as revered old priests and handicapped homeless people.

Myosenji Temple is also famous for its five-tier tower, the only one in Niigata Prefecture. You often see beautiful five-tier towers in Kansai region, but not in Hokuriku and Tohoku regions. Two generations of carpenters directed the construction for 90 years and completed it in 1825. It is amazing that it is still standing after almost two hundred years in a country frequented by earthquakes.

4. Daizen Jinja Shrine

Before 1945, in Japan, Kumawakamaru was a young embodiment of loyalty and devotion to his parents. 戦前の日本では、阿新丸は忠孝のお手本とされた [source: Kosho.or.jp]

Suketomo NIHO mentioned earlier had a son named Kumawaka-maru. When he was twelve years old, Kumawaka-maru, against his mother’s opposition, bravely pushed through and traveled alone from Kyoto to Sado to meet his banished father. However, Suketomo had been executed by the time he arrived.

Kumawaka-maru considered the acting military governor who made the decision of the execution and the executioner to be his father’s murderers and enemies. He attacked them on a stormy night, managed to kill the executioner and ran away. Later he served a couple of Emperors in the Southern court. 

After the Meiji Restoration (1867), Kumawaka-maru’s adventures were a favorite subject in moral class in elementary schools for his loyalty to the emperors and his devotion to his father.

Right after Kumawaka-maru avenged his father’s death, he was desperately looking for a way to shake off his pursuers. A Buddhist priest named Daizen-bo sympathized with his situation and helped him escape from Sado. Later, the Kamakura government executed the priest for this action.

Daizen Jinja Shrine / 大膳神社

Several years later, the government raised a fund to build a shrine to appease the spirit of Daizen-bo, and they named the shrine after him. They also enshrined Suketomo HINO here.

An aristocratic son took his father’s revenge at age twelve (in the preceding Heian Era, aristocrats hated to see blood, let along shedding it). The priest had such courage that he helped another at the risk of his own life. The government ruthlessly executed a monk who had abandoned the world. Kamakura era (1192-1333) was a wild time.

5. Noh Stages

an image of the Noh stage at Danzen Jinja Shrine
The Noh stage at Daizen Jinja / 大膳神社能舞台

Daizen Jinja Shrine is also famous for its Noh theater stage.

Noh is a classical Japanese opera, consisting of acting, dance, singing, and instrumental music. In Noh, performers speak and sing in old language, and so we need to read the story in advance.

There are about thirty Noh stages on Sado, and the one at Daizen Jinja is the oldest active one. This is also the only stage bare to the elements, so you can see the scene panel from the yard.

From the Middle Ages, Noh was considered to be the cultural refinement of the samurai class. Therefore, in the late Edo era, samurais used the old Noh language to discuss the future of Japan with their counterparts in other provinces. 

However, in Sado, commoners such as peasants enjoyed Noh. At one point, there were as many as two hundred Noh stages there. A “haiku” tells us the surprise of a poet who travelled there in around 1914:

Uguisu ya jukko no mura nimo Noh-butai (It is spring; a warbler is singing. Even in a hamlet of only ten houses, there is a Noh stage!)

-Omachi Keigetsu
An image of Takigi Noh / 薪能のイメージ [source: ac-photo]

The story behind this is: In 1603, when the Tokugawas established the shogunate, the new magistrate from Edo brought a Noh performer to Sado. The magistrate dedicated Noh performances at various shrines across Sado, allowing commoners to see and enjoy them. One of them loved it so much that he went to Edo to learn Noh. Eventually he returned and spread it among the people of Sado.

Today, Sado is the place in Japan where they perform Noh most often. There are fewer performers, but they still play various pieces every year from spring to fall. Sado’s style is the dreamy “Takigi Noh”; they perform only at night by the fire of torches.

Please continue reading: => A Trip to Yahiko Shine

[End of English post]



1. 六番目に大きな島
2. お寺と神社
3. みょうせん
4. 大膳神社だいぜんじんじゃ
5. のうたい

1. 六番目に大きな島






住みやすい気候のせいか、佐渡には大昔から人が住んでいました。日本で一番古い書物、古事記 (712年) と日本書紀 (720年) にも一つのくにとして出ているくらいです。



2. お寺と神社




3. 妙宣寺







4. 大膳神社





平安時代までは血を流すのを忌んだ公家の息子がわずか12歳で敵討をする。命を顧みず少年を助けた勇気ある僧がいる。幕府は人外の存在である僧をあっさり処刑する。鎌倉時代 (1192-1333) は人の心が荒々しい時代だったと思います。

5. 能舞台












次はこちらをお読みください:=> 弥彦神社への小旅行

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