Sabusawa: Lose Yourself in the Nostalgic Countryside
Sabusawa Island is the largest of the Urato Islands.
During the Edo period（1603-1868）, the island flourished as a port for the Date Clan’s rice trade. As you wander the island, you can still feel the prosperity of the ancient port in historical sites like the twelve zodiac direction-stones on Hiyori-yama, the ”Shimari-Jizo” statue（a relic of Edo-period prostitutes pining for sailors）, a monument to the ”Kaiseimaru”, Japan’s first Western-style warship, and the remains of an artillery battery. A walk to the far side of the island will be rewarding with a beautiful, calm sandy beach all to yourself.
There are no rivers or natural water sources on Sabusawa Island, so rice and vegetables are grown only with rainwater. With Autumn comes nostalgic scenery of amber rice-fields and the harvest drying in the sun.
At Togawa-ya you can experience an authentic countryside life impossible to find in the city. Be overwhelmed with feelings of nostalgia as you tuck-in to delicious home-cooked meals made with ingredients from the island. The guesthouse owners are also farmers of “Sabusawa rice”, a rare variety of rice grown in the island rice-fields, and used to make local sake. The warm hospitality of the Togawa family will make you feel right at home!
A 10-minute walk from the wharf takes you to Hiyoriyama Lookout, with a spectacular view over the ocean. Here you’ll also find a unique stone statue called “Shibari Jizo”, which is said to have been used by Edo-periof prostitutes from local brothels. They would tie the statue with a rough rope to pray for a headwind in order to keep sailors stranded on the island. There is also a stone that was erected during the Tenpou Era which was used for astronomical observation and to watch for the coming and going of ships.
Remains of Artillery Battery
In the late Edo period (1603-1868), the Sendai Clan designated Sabusawa Port as the most important point for sea defence and built an artillery battery. An ammunition depot and watchtower were also built here, and it is said that more than 50 artillerymen from the clan were assigned to guard it. The elevated site overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Sabusawa Beach below.
As there are no natural rivers or other sources of fresh-water on Sabusawa, traditional farming methods are used to grow rice. Even after the rice is harvested, the water is not drained from the fields, and snowmelt and rainwater are used for agricultural purposes. This allows micro-organisms to grow in the mud, creating a nutrient-rich soil. The rice grown on Sabusawa is of fantastic quality, yet only produced in small quantities, and is also used to make local sake. It is truly a compound of the island’s natural blessings.
The ricefield road is one of Sabusawa’s most scenic spots, located on the farside of the island. A single, straight white road lined with crushed oyster shells stretches all the way to the coast. Originally, the path was surrounded on both sides with rice fields, but due to the ageing population and lack of young people to continue agricultural work, most of the paddies have been overrun with reeds and weeds. This is a landscape that will take you right back to ‘old Japan’.
Kessho Jizo' (Make-up Jizo)
Heading down the stone steps from the Hiyoriyama Lookout, and across the to the grounds of Shorinji Temple, a beautiful face will be waiting to greet you! This is the “Kessho Jizo”, the ‘make-up’ jizo. The artist and date of the statue are unknown, but it is said that if you apply red and white powder to the Jizo’s face and make a prayer, you will be blessed with a beautiful child. Many people still visit this Jizo to apply make-up, hoping their child will be born beautiful.
After winding along the countryside road, Maehama Beach will open out before you. The sun-bleached seawall and white sand contrast with the blue sea, making it one of the most picturesque beaches in Urato. Listening to the sound of the waves and feeling the sea breeze, you can leave your daily hustle and bustle behind and lost yourself in relaxing ”Island time”.