Sado Kinzan - Sado Gold Mine

Useful Information

Location: Aikawa, west coast of Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture.
Ferry boats from Niigata, Naoetsu, Teradomari take about two hours. 30 km from Ryotsu Harbour.
(38.041694, 138.256001)
Open: APR to OCT daily 8-17:30.
NOV to MAR daily 8:30-17.
Fee: Edo (Sohdayu Tunnel): Adults JPY 900, Children (6-14) JPY 450.
Groups (30+): Adults JPY 800, Children (6-14) JPY 400.
Meiji (Dohyu Tunnel): Adults JPY 900, Children (6-14) JPY 450.
Groups (30+): Adults JPY 800, Children (6-14) JPY 400.
Island Mirrorge (Dohyu Tunnel): Adults JPY 3,000, Children (6-14) JPY 2,550.
Industrial Heritage Tour: Adults JPY 1,500, Children (6-14) JPY 750.
Prospector Adventure Tour (Ogiriyama Tunnel): Adults JPY 2,400, Children (6-14) JPY 1,200.
Classification: MineGold Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=400,000 m.
Guided tours: Edo (Sohdayu Tunnel): self guided, D=30 min.
Meiji (Dohyu Tunnel): self guided, D=40 min.
Island Mirrorge (Dohyu Tunnel): self guided with MR glasses, D=30 min.
Industrial Heritage Tour: D=70 min.
Prospector Adventure Tour (Ogiriyama Tunnel): D=70 min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Golden Sado Inc. 〒952-1501 1305 Shimo Aikawa, Sado City, Niigata, Tel: +81-259-74-2389, Fax: +81-259-74-3235. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1542 Shige'mon Sotoyama, an Echigo merchant, discovers Tsurushi Silver Mine nearby.
1601 Sado Kinzan discovered and developed.
1603 Nagayasu Ohkubo designated Magistrate of Sado.
1622 Sado Koban (Sado gold coin) first produced.
1696 Minamisawa Drainage Tunnel (922 m) completed.
1868 End of Tokugawa Shogunate, start of Meiji era, mine now belongs to the Ministry of Industry.
1869 mechanized and modernized by invited Western engineers.
1875 Ohdate shaft dug, the first mechanized shaft in Japan.
1883 first rock drills in Japan were used.
1889 becomes an imperial property under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Household Ministry.
1896 sold to Mitsubishi & Co.,Ltd, expanded and developed, becomes Japan's largest gold and silver mine.
1918 taken over by Mitsubishi Mining Co.,Ltd.
1918 50,000 tons of ore produced per month.
1989 gold ore deposit exhausted, mine operations terminated.
2010 listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.


The gold veins of this mine are spread over an area of 3,000 m east to west and 600 m north to south. They reach up to 800 m deep. The gold is found in a bundle of veins, there is no single continuous vein. The veins branch off and reunite in intervals of 10 to several hundred meters. Each vein has minor off-branches.

During its operation the total amount of mined metal was 78 tons of gold and 2,330 tons of silver. The most produktive time was around 1920, when it produced 50,000 tons of ore per month.


佐渡小判 (Sado Kinzan, Sado Gold Mine) is the most famous gold mine in Japan. It is known and mined since 1601, when it was discovered and developed to the biggest gold mine in Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was a major source of funding for the Tokugawa Shogunate, which directly controlled Sado Island and its mines. The gold was mined, cast and most of it was immediately used to produce coins. The Ohban (large gold coin) and Koban (small gold coin) are legendary. The mine produced nearly 400 kg of gold annually plus some silver and copper.

After the end of the Shogunate the mine was owned by the new government and 20 years later became imperial property. It was sold to the Mitsubishi joint-stock company in 1896 who modernized the mine and increased production. The most produktive time was around 1920, when it produced 50,000 tons of ore per month. The mine was still successful in modern times, but had to be closed because the gold ore deposit was exhausted. The mine operations terminated, there was some cleanup work but finally all activities ended. The mine was reopened as a show mine with museum, still operated by Mitsubishi, and has been substantially modernized and enlarges in the last years. The exhibition now includes the abandoned Kitazawa Dressing and Flotation Plant where Mitsubishi processed the ore. At the moment they apply for being listed on the UNESCO WHL.

The mine has numerous tours, most of them are self-guided. The two main displays are the manual mining techniques of the Edo era in the Sohdayu Tunnel and the modern day mining techniques of the Meiji era in the Dohyu Tunnel. It is recommended to visit both wit a combo ticket, but it's also possible to visit only one. Those underground tours have numerous dioramas with many details, miner dolls which are animated, showing typical miners work. Then there is a quite expensive virtual reality tour where visitors get glasses called MR Glass which display overlays with information. The Island Mirrorge tour takes place in Dohyu Tunnel and is the only tour which requires booking. They have their own website with online booking system. And then there are two guided tours. The Industrial Heritage Tour which is actually a bus trip to the Kitazawa Dressing and Flotation Plant and other abandoned mining industry remains, and finally the harbour. And the Prospector Adventure Tour which visits undeveloped tunnels, where only the necessary measures for safety were made. Those tunnels have uneven floor, no light, and there is the old machinery in its partly deteriorated state, that's the reason why it is guided. Actually this is the tour which is more like a show mine tour in other countries, the other tours are like anime and too much animatronic. Helmets with headlamps, boots, and work gloves are provided.

The first tour which was created is the Edo era tour. A course with various displays, dioramas and exhibitions about underground mining techniques, leads 300 m through the old mine tunnels. The topics of the exhibition are operating the manual drainage pump by pumping workers, the work of the stope miners (the ones who really dug ore), or Mizukae-Mushuku (draining workers). The pumping workers were very important and well paid, because without them the mine would be flooded. The stope miners were at the head of the tunnel mining the ore or creating tunnels. They used chisels with iron clippers and hit them with hammers. They followed the ore veins, and if the vein was thin the resulting tunnels were barely big enough for the miners. The were called tanuki-ana (raccoon dog tunnel). At the end of the 18th century, there was the need for many people working as draining workers. The Tokugawa Government decided to capture Mushukunin (unregistered people) in cities like Edo and Osaka. They were kidnapped and forced to slave labour in 24-hour shifts.

The newer tour is the Meiji era tour, which is very similar, it just shows the mining technology of the mid 20th century. The tunnel is much younger and the exhibits show mining with machinery and mine trains.

From Aikawa at the coast following road 31, then 463 up a valley you will reach a spectacular hill, which is cut into two halves by a narrow gorge. This is an abandoned mine, there was an ore bearing vein which was mined completely, while the surround rock was left untouched. At the foot of this hill are ticket office and museum, right at the road as space is very limited. A stair leads down to the level of the entrance tunnel, which brings visitors across the street underground into the mountain. The other tour starts at the mine entrance on the opposite side of the road, be careful when you cross the road. A bridge brings visitors back on the other side of the road into the museum. Here are exhibitions on the smelting, casting and the coins. The exhibition was extended recently with audiovisual displays.

The museum gives an overview on the processing of the gold ore. It was smelted, refined and cast to Koban (gold coins). There are models of all important machinery like furnaces and foundry in the scale of 1:10. A second part of the museum was created in 2001 for the 400th anniversary of the mine. It shows a full-sized model of the Minamisawa Drainage Tunnel. A three-dimensional model shows the location of the gold veins. There is also a real 12.5kg bar of 99.99% pure gold which visitors are free to touch.

The mine museum was massively extended during the last years and covers now additional sites of industrial heritage. It is also well developed for visitors with tours on different mining related topics. As a result Japan has applied for UNESCO World Heritage status for the mine in 2022, which is already listed on the tentative list for 15 years. This drew an angry response from South Korea, as the mine used Koreans as forced labourers during Japans colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945. It is estimated that some 780,000 Korean forced labourers worked in mines and factories during this time. We are not aware why they are so angry, such an important historic fact actually makes the site WHL worthy. We guess they do not want to oppress the news, so they should actually be quite happy about the nomination. Unfortunately they have now started to use the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (WANK) for threatening third persons to support their opinion. We received an email complaining about the poor quality of our page, for not mentioning the forced labour. VANK is known for this kind of cyber harassment, and we have already received a complaint about writing "Sea of Japan" instead of "East Sea". Harassment is never a good way to reach a goal. We wish the best for the nomination, and hope they will add a section in the mining exhibition about the forced labour. As Germans, we know that it makes no sense to keep quiet about the unpleasant sides of the past.