For most people, the thought of Japan sparks the idea of large cities with giant skyscrapers taking up the sky. I’m sure no one thinks about venturing through a desert. Tottori Prefecture is home to Japan’s largest desert. The prefecture is rural with not much going on. In fact, Tottori loses a bit of its population every year as young people usually move to the Kansai region in search of better opportunities.
The sand dunes were created over 100,000 years ago as deposits of sand from the Chugoku mountains were carried away by the Sendaigawa River. Sea currents and wind bring the sand up from the bottom of the sea and constantly change its shape.
The sand dunes are quite impressive to look at and the sheer size of the dunes gives the feeling of adventure waiting for you on the other side. At first glance the dunes seem like an unclimbable barrier, possibly shielding another batch of hills to hike over. However, once you take your shoes off and start trekking towards the top you’ll quickly realize this hike takes less than 20 minutes. On the other side, you’ll be able to see the crystal blue ocean. For Golden Week it’s still a little cold to go swimming but if you’re up for it, there’s no harm in taking a little swim.
From Tottori station take the bus bound for Tottori Sakkyu (鳥取砂丘) at bus stop #0 and get off at the last stop. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and costs 300 yen one way. I suggest buying the all-day pass which is offered for 600 yen and allows you to ride the bus anywhere around Tottori for free.
If you have a love for snowboarding, sandboarding is probably right up your alley. Sandboarding is a seasonal activity offered from April 15th to November 30th. Reservations are necessary (only in Japanese). To those with limited or no experience, there’s no need to worry because a fall in the sand is unlikely to cause injuries to anything other than your pride. A sandboarding course lasts 2 hours and costs 2500 yen which includes a board, helmet, and instructor.
After sandboarding, there are paragliding courses ideal for first timers. The course requires reservations first to take the half-day 4 hour course. However the price is only 7,000 yen and you won’t be flying tandem with someone else.
Tottori Sand Museums
The only museum that shows sculptures made of sand, the Tottori Sand Museum is a must-see for visitors in the area. Every year an international team of artists gets together and using the sand readily available from the nearby sand dunes they pack and sculpt major works of art. The work is only displayed for about 8 months but with each new theme, you’ll likely see something exquisite.
Camel riding is popular among everyone from young children to senior citizens. From the high camelback, you can get a wide view of the desert and the Sea of Japan. Reservations aren’t required but it’s a good idea to call ahead to check availability and operating times. The cost is 1300 yen for one person and 2500 yen for two people, and a picture with the camel costs 100 yen.
Travel wouldn’t mean anything without souvenirs. Pick up Tottori related knick-knacks at the Sakyu Kaikan, Tottori Sand Museum Shop, and the Sakyu Center which have unique novelty items. You can also try the Tottori specialties sand chocolate ice cream. It has a crunchy texture with sesame and kinako flavor which looks like sand.