If you’d be taking a look of the pictures below without seeing any name associated with it, what would you think in terms of location? You would probably think of the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Iran, or any other country that is well known for having a desert. But what if somebody would had tell you that this picture is taken in Japan? Would you believe it? Well, you should. And if you have any doubts, you must visit Tottori and convince yourself.
Tottori Sand Dunes
When I first heard about Tottori I got very curious about how is this possible, having a desert in Japan. Well, Tottori city, the biggest city in Tottori prefecture, hosts the biggest desert of Japan. It covers over 30 square kilometers of coast to the North of the city and it’s a major geosite of the San’in Kaigan Geopark.
The terrain here has been formed many year ago by many types of rocks carried by the river that wound through the volcanic mountains. The granite from the mountains eroded by winds became sediment deposits and has been carried by the Sendai river into the Sea of Japan. In time, the sea currents brought the sand up from the seafloor and with some help from the seasonal winds from the Northwest , it has been brought back onto the shore. And this is how the famous sand dunes of Tottori has been created and reached the form of today.
Something to remember is that this desert is an active one. This means it is continually growing and expanding. And if you’ll visit Tottori sand dunes you’ll have the chance to better understand it. You will see how the local community planted trees around the dunes, in order to avoid the desert to expand further on, towards the city.
The reason I started to speak about the sand dunes first, and not about Tottori city, is because the dunes are the biggest attractions of the entire prefecture, not only at the city. But of course, there are many other things to do around the dunes and inside the city.
You can spend an entire day at the dunes. You can walk around and try to get lost (even if is hard to to get really lost), admire the beautiful Sea of Japan. If you’re with kids or still a kid inside your heart, you can definitely run the dunes up and down for fun an build some muscles. Or you can enter inside the small oasis and cool down your feet when it’s too hot. But is something still missing for giving you that “feeling of Dubai”, isn’t it? Well, you won’t not be able to see any belly dancing or have a barbeque in the desert, but you can still experience a ride with a camel, sandboard or paragliding! And for such a small desert I would say it’s really a plus and a great experience to remember.
Apart from the dunes, the second place you must visit in Tottori is the sand museum. Located at the entrance of the dunes, it is easy accessible even if you come by public bus from the city or by private car. I found this museum very special, creative and pure. Special, because is not a regular museum that you see everyday, like a natural history museum. Creative, because the exposition changes entirely every few years, having no permanent exhibition on display. And pure, because is using only sand and the power of nature to create art.
In 2021 the exhibition on display is called “Travel around the world in sand, Czech & Slovakia”. It is the 13th exhibition on display since the museum was built, this time focusing on the history of prosperity and decline, the traces of sacred mystery of Czech Republic and Slovakia. With about 20 sand sculptures on display, the place looks divine. While all the exhibition is concentrated in one single place, like a big room, it creates a story from the entrance till the end.
I highly recommend this place and this exhibition, which is on display until January 2022. The entry ticket costs only 500¥ if you buy it from the tourist information station inside the train station, or 600¥ on the place. In terms of time, 1 hour is enough to truly enjoy the view.
It may not be the first place you have in mind to visit in Tottori, but the prefectural museum is a really good choice for a rainy day. Opened in 1972, it has been open to promote the further education and cultural development of the local people. It has a permanent exhibition which contains 3 main areas, the natural history, the history and folk culture and an art, plus special exhibitions. You can learn more about the area, which has on display items starting with the Paleolithic period till the Edo period, but also a rare Japanese giant salamander and a giant squid! The entry ticket is only 180¥ (cheaper than a coffee!) and you’ll need about 1.5-2h to see everything in a slow pace.
In front of the Prefectural Museum stands Jinpakaku. This is a French Renaissance-style mansion, very rare for Japan. Built in the Meiji period, the building has been designed by Katayama Tokuma in 1907. It has a beautiful wooden spiral staircase and it has been used as a location for several movies. It has a beautiful Japanese garden as well and it has a great view towards the city and the castle ruins just behind.
The building was the first one in Tottori having electric power and it used to be a symbol of modernization. Today, you can visit it for only 160¥ and 30-40 min of your time.
Tottori Castle Ruins
Just near the prefectural museum and Jinpakaku stands Tottori castle ruins. Built in 1532, the castle used to serve as a regional center of power and later on as a seat for the Ikeda clan. During the Meiji period it felt victim to the modernization and it has been destroyed. All you can see today are some stone walls and a gate, located at the base of Mount Kyusho. There is not fee to enter and walk around. You only have to walk about 30 minutes from the train station or use a local bus.
Food & Drinks
At a first appearance, the city doesn’t look much lively or too pretty. However, if you know where to go, you can find some very nice spots. For example, Sunaba coffee is very popular and offers great breakfast. They pay attention to the small details, like adding a real flower near your coffee. Morino Seikatsusya is a great place to start your day. This cafeteria has a view over the river and it has a large selection snacks. For lunch, I totally recommend the restaurant inside the prefectural museum. It has a great view over the park and the food is also delicious, with a good quality price selection. And last but not least, you can’t miss a local ice cream at the sand dunes with the camel shaped biscuits in it!
If you want to visit Tottori there is really not hard to reach the place. From Kinosaki Onsen you can come by train, via Sanin line, and you can be there in about 2 hours for only 1340¥. If you’re coming by Okayama you can chose a faster train for about 5000¥, or you can use a local one with a change in Kamigori for only 2840¥. From bigger city like Kyoto or Osaka you can even come by bus, cheaper and quicker!
Inside Tottori city you can easily walk to all the main attraction or use public buses. However, when you’ll visit Tottori sand dunes and the museum you’ll have to take a bus as it’s not very close. It costs 380¥ if you start from the train station and it takes about half an hour to get there.
The city is big enough and you’ll find many options for accommodation. If you’re a backpacker I recommend Y Pub & hostel Tottori which offers cheaper options. I personally paid only 2644¥ for a night, but I booked before on Agoda!
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope you enjoyed the article and you’ll visit Tottori for its sand dunes and sand museum as a minimum! Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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