A Weekend Excursion to Tottori, With the Sanin Pass
While Tottori Prefecture is the least populous prefecture in Japan, it is certainly not lacking in sights to take in. In fact, Tottori is a great place to visit to not only take in some of the beautiful natural and cultural scenery that is unlike anything that you would expect to see in Japan, but also to escape the hordes of tourists that can be found in the more popular destinations throughout the country. I took a weekend trip to Tottori City to check out some of its more notable sights and I was thoroughly pleased by what I found.
To help me on my journey, I purchased the San’in Pass, which is a ticket that grants tourists and foreign residents (like myself and potentially you) free access to a number of facilities as well as discounts and other benefits at participating stores and restaurants within the San’in Area (Shimane and Tottori). I purchased the 1-Day Pass for 2000 JPY, but there is also an option to purchase a 3-Day Pass for 4000 JPY.
To purchase the San’in Pass, you will first need to download the San’in Pass mobile app. Further information about the pass and the download link to the app is provided here: https://www.sanin-tourism.com/en/tourist_pass
After downloading the app, registering your information, and selecting which pass you would like to purchase, you can go to the International Information Desk at Yonago Airport or the Yonago International Tourist Office located in Yonago Station to pay for the San’in Pass.
Yonago International Tourist Office and Information Desk at Yonago Airport
Before making the payment, be sure to specify from what time and date you would like the San’in Pass to activate. The San’in Pass will be valid for exactly the specified time (24 hours if 1-Day, 72 hours if 3-Day), so you will not have to worry about the Pass expiring at midnight . Please note that you will have to manually activate the pass when it reaches your specified time. The app will turn from gray to red when the pass is activated, as is pictured below.
Sanin Pass app screens, October 2018
Watanabe Museum of Art
Established in 1978 to showcase the collection of Japanese antiques and artworks of the Tottori doctor Hajime Watanabe, the Watanabe Museum of Art is particularly notable for its impressive array of samurai armor and swords.
Admission to the Watanabe Museum of Art is free with the San’in Pass (a savings of 900 yen).
For my next stop, I visited Kannon-in, which is a temple of the Tendai Sect of Japanese Buddhism that is particularly noted for its beautiful Japanese landscape garden.
Although Kannon-in is not included in the list of facilities that the San’in Pass grants free admission to, the cost is reasonable and includes a tea service (hot Japanese green tea and a traditional sweet). The admission fee was advertised to be 600 JPY, but on the day I visited, there was a discount so I could enter for only 500 JPY!
Entering the sitting area, you are immediately greeted by the sight of the picturesque garden.
Jinpukaku and Tottori Castle Ruins
After spending a relaxing time at Kannon-in, I decided to check out Jinpukaku and the Tottori Castle Ruins because they were so close together. Jinpukaku is a grand European-styled house that was built in 1907 and served as the symbol of modernization in Tottori at the time. It now functions as a public museum that visitors can enter to see how guests such as the Crown Prince spent..
Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures of the exhibits inside the building. However, I was able to take some pictures of the furniture and structures within the house as well as the garden outside of the house, which are very evidently different from most houses that you will find in Japan.
In stark contrast to the grandiose Jinpukaku, Tottori Castle has been reduced to a single wooden gate and its stone foundations. While it is not particularly notable in itself, it is still a very nice place to go for a stroll. You can find a small shrine on the grounds, there are a considerable amount of cherry trees that are planted along the stone walls, and, if you climb up far enough, you can find an observation deck that offers an impeccable view of Tottori City.
Admission to Jinpukaku is free with the San’in Pass (a savings of 150 yen).
No trip to Tottori would be complete without a visit to its famed Sand Dunes. Spanning 16 kilometers along the coast of the Sea of Japan, the Tottori Sand Dunes are the only ones of their kind in all of Japan. Be prepared for steep uphill climbs on uneven sandy terrain. There are free sandal rentals near the dunes, or you could also choose to go barefoot to enjoy the feel of the very fine and soft sand against your toes. Due to its seaside location, the sand is actually very cool in many areas, so there is no need to worry about burning your feet.
Those of you who are more adventure seeking can opt to partake in some of the additional activities that are offered at the Sand Dunes: camel riding, sand boarding*, or paragliding*.
*Sand boarding and paragliding are conducted as lessons and require reservations to be made in advance.
After finishing up at the Sand Dunes, I walked a few minutes away to visit the Sand Museum. The theme of this year’s exhibition being ‘The Nordic Countries,’ I was pleasantly surprised to come across yet another European-style exhibition that temporarily made me forget that I was still in Japan. The craftsmanship and beauty of these sculptures were all the more impressive considering that they were all made entirely of sand.
Admission to the Sand Museum is free with the San’in Pass (a savings of 600 yen).
I knew that I wanted to try some ramen while I was in Tottori, but not just any ramen that I could easily find elsewhere in Japan. Tottori is famous for its gyukotsu (beef bone base) ramen, and I had the chance to enjoy a bowl at a restaurant called Gottsuo Ramen.
Those of you who are familiar with Japanese ramen will likely have come across tonkotsu (pork bone base) ramen at some point in your life (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you try it out!). However, in contrast to the cloudy and fatty consistency that is characteristic of the tonkotsu broth, the gyukotsu ramen was much cleaner yet had its own richness that rendered me unable to stop eating. The ramen came topped with kikurage (black wood ear mushrooms), chashu slices, menma (young bamboo shoots), soybean sprouts and green onions all stewing inside that rich, delicious beefy broth.
Kaisendon at Karoichi Market
To round out my Tottori Trip, I visited the Karoichi Market to check out the sights and the selection of seafood that they had to offer. Located near the charming and quirky Kanikko-kan (Crab Aquarium), the Karoichi Market is a small but lively space where vendors sell fresh seafood caught at the nearby Karo Harbor as well as various souvenirs specific to the region.
I decided to try out the basic kaisendon (sashimi on top of rice) for a reasonable price of 860 JPY at Ikataro, located near the North Exit of the Karoichi Market. The bowl was topped with tuna, salmon, octopus, squid, shrimp, ikura (salmon roe), crab, uni (sea urchin), a slice of seaweed, a slice of lemon, and some shredded egg, and was served with a side of miso soup and hot tea.
Naturally, the highlight of the meal was the fresh seafood that was served on top. I was particularly excited about trying the crab and uni, as these are more expensive ingredients that are not typically found in kaisendon at this price. While the rice was a bit dry and bland, the seafood more than made the meal and I was quite satisfied with my experience.
The experiences that I had in Tottori City were unlike any other that I had in Japan. With Tottori being relatively free of tourists, being in close proximity to a number of breathtaking natural and cultural landmarks, and having amazing food to try, I would definitely recommend anyone to come and experience Tottori for themselves.
Born and raised in sunny Southern California, Chris initially came to Tokyo as a bright-eyed university student. Now free of his educational commitments, he has chosen to continue his whimsical wanderings up north in the not quite as sunny Hokkaido.