Although there is little heavy snowfall thanks to Sado's relatively mild climate, the cold and the air still give a sense of the harshness of the north. The Osado and Kosado mountains are covered in snow while the foot of the mountains are bluish white, creating a world of silence. In contrast, the sea which surrounds the island crashes against the rocks in stormy waves - a typically wild Japan Sea seascape. At this season of the year the whole island is full of quiet energy as people busy themselves with various events including New Year preparations, carried out according to time-honored custom and beliefs. In the midst of these preparations, people look back on the old year and thrill in anticipation of the year to come.
Toshiya (New Year's eve) soba (noodle) and Jumyo (long life) soba
On New Year's eve people have a special dinner of buckwheat noodles as they wait for the arrival of the god of the New Year. This dinner is in accordance with the long-standing belief that by sharing a meal with the god they can ask for protection, health and long life.
Hatsumode (First shrine visit of the New Year)
In the first three days of the New Year people visit the shrine of their ancestral or tutelary deity to pray for good fortune. Many also go to to pay homage from New Year's eve onwards in a custom known as Ninenmairi (two-year shrine visit) to verify the boundary between the old year and the new.
Do-oshi (To give someone a victorious toss)
This ceremony, intended to ward off evil, is carried out on the evening of January 3, at the Bishamon Hall in Tsukibuse in the Ryotsu district. After a Buddhist priest has chanted a sutra, naked Shinto ministrants, known as oni (demons) , perform a startling ritual. Bean husks are burned on the hearth and the demons bang on the wooden wall inside the hall and walk on the floor to make it squeak. Men with arms and legs outstretched are then lifted up by the demons and pushed round the hall. These men have to be either 25 or 42 years old, ages known as yakudoshi which are thought to be unlucky for men. Finally the temple keeper chants "Jinrokuko brought in a bumper rice crop thanks to his meeting with Bishamon on Mount Katano. Thank you, " and lifts the rice tub (meshibitsu) up high at the front of the hall. The demons then hoist the yakudoshi men in triumpth on their shoulders, bringing the Do-oshi event to an end.
Shimehari Uma (Straw horses attached to a rope)
In the Hamochi district, on January 4, horses and sandals made of straw are attached to a rope and this rope is hung at the entrance to the village for 15 days. The event is known as harikiri (hanging from a rope) and is supposed to ward off evil.
On the evening of the 6th of January the whole family pays a visit to the shrine where their ancestors are buried and in the morning of the following day, the 7th of January they eat nanakusa-gayu, rice gruel containing the seven plants of spring.
Mayudama, inabo and awabo (Cocoon-shaped dumplings and ears of rice and millet)
On the 14th day after New Year, mochi (sticky rice cakes) are stuck on to rice stalks like ears of corn and millet, which are called mayudama, in order to pray for a good crop by imitating what happens on the farm. These stalks are hung from small beams. In Koda in the Aikawa district, white rice cakes are used as ears of rice called "inabo"and millet cakes as ears of millet called "awabo".
Known as "harigoma" in Sado, this is a traditional folk entertainment put on not only at New Year but also on other auspicious occasions such as weddings. People go round the houses wearing masks in the form of Tajima Mikata, who brought great prosperity to the gold mines, joyfully shouting congratulations and dancing as they go. The men, with a papier-mache horse neck in front and a basket tail behind, pretend to be riding a horse. The women wear a droll mask and carry a horse's neck as they dance. These cheerful dancers brighten up early spring.
Himatsuri (Fire festival)
In this festival, called by different names in different areas, a small hut is built of straw and bamboo on the 15th day after New Year and this is then set alight and all the New Year decorations are burnt. The idea is to get rid of evil, ward off fire and other disasters and pray for a peaceful year for the family. Some people also throw their first attempts at calligraphy of the New Year on the flames in the hope that this will help them to improve.
Tori-oi (Scaring birds away)
On the 16th day after New Year children go round the houses singing the "tori-oi" song. The idea is to scare away birds which cause damage to the rice fields and pray for a bumper harvest.
This ancient Shinto ritual, performed at the Hakusan Shrine in Okubo in the Hatano district, has been designated as one of Niigata Prefecture's intangible cultural assets. Performed to pray for a plentiful harvest, this is an imitative ritual in which the year's work of a farmer in the rice fields, ploughing, sowing, transplanting and reaping, is enacted in front of the altar.