Japanese airports are pretty good about souvenirs. More specifically, food souvenirs, but even the smaller airports have a shop at which you can sample — or bring home — some local flavors. Niigata Airport (KIJ) in Niigata prefecture is no exception.
Whereas food does play a big role in my trip planning — Niigata is arguably the center of Japan’s rice and sake industries — I am also interested in learning about the history, languages, customs, and many other aspects of a place. In other words, knowledge.
After disembarking from the Sapporo flight, and making my way to the Niigata city airport bus stop, I had a few minutes before the bus left. While stretching my legs, I came across this cool bit of stained glass:
Now, I don’t recall if they had a translated description of the stained glass, but my curiosity was certainly piqued by the presence of the oar and coracle, that wooden round tub which serves as a boat. (link in Japanese)
Having looked up the meaning of the stained glass after the fact, I read that it pays homage to a part of Niigata prefecture called Sado Island (佐渡島 sado shima).
Located a short boat ride away from Niigata city, Sado Island is famous in Japan for a number of reasons, some of which can be found in the stained glass.
For hundreds of years, Sado Island was best known for two things: gold mines, and as a place to exile both political and religious leaders. Zeami, one of the biggest patrons of Noh theater was exiled there, causing Noh to become an unexpected hit in this small spot in the middle of the Sea of Japan.
It’s also one of the best places in the country to view the toki, or Japanese crested ibis (とき 朱鷺・鴇), as well as Tobishima daylilies; those two are prominent in the stained glass.
On the lower left, we have an oni, or demon; the onidaiko is a traditional Sado dance to ward off evil. In the center, there’s the coracle, called yataibune in Japanese. They were a common way to get around the hilly and cedar-filled terrain of the island.
Lastly, I haven’t forgotten about the food. Of course, seafood is a hit — shrimp, crab, and yellowtail are recommended — and then there’s Sado seaweed. Plus, if you want to show off your newfound hyperlocal wisdom, throw in a へんじんもっこ (henjinmokko)– that means “stubborn person” in the Sado dialect.
Now that you’ve got a backgrounder on Sado Island, why not visit?
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