The Dunes of Tottori

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April 10, 2017

Japan remained isolated for centuries and has carried many unique developments into the present day. It conjures images of castles and Shinto shrines, sushi and sake, animation and martial arts. What most people don’t think of is the desert. Deserts belong to the Middle East and Africa, and to imagine one in Japan is bizarre.

Yet along the south-western curve of Honshu, in Tottori Prefecture, visitors may stumble upon Japan’s own, miniature desert. Compared to deserts such as the Sahara, Tottori’s is more like a thirty square kilometer patch of sand dunes, but seeing them between the stark Japanese coast and beautiful forests makes it all the more exotic.

About a twenty minute bus ride from Tottori Airport, the rolling dunes offer a number of options to tourists. Cable car rides to a viewing area are available, or tourists can explore on foot, with boots for rental. A horse-and-carriage option is also available, as well as camels for anyone seeking a more thematically appropriate method of transportation. Tourists may also paraglide and sandboard, and the wide variety of options makes the dunes an excellent place for couples, families, or the solo-adventurer.

The other main attraction is the Tottori Sand Museum, which is more like an open air art venue, displaying various sculptures in sand for a limited time due to the nature of the medium. It’s something akin to a gallery changing its featured exhibit, with the exception that at this museum, the exhibition pieces must be captured in photos before they crumble and are lost forever.

In a land of rivers, mountains, and endless coastline, the wind-swept dunes of Tottori are special. They’re a hidden place that many visitors never find, and they’re a reminder that while Tokyo and Osaka are the face Japan presents to the world, there is much to discover beyond the sprawling metropolises.

Sand Museum Hours: 9am – 6pm, closed Jan – mid-April, ¥600 admission fee

All photos (C)Tottori Pref.


Aaron Perry


Originally from Michigan, USA, Aaron now lives in Shimane Prefecture. He writes, works at a sake brewery in the winter, and spends most of his time sitting under the kotatsu.


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