Tottori: A Hidden Desert In Japan

Tottori sand dunes sunset Hidden places in Japan

Japan has a rich natural environment: the country is surrounded by sea and has many mountains, forests and valleys that divide the landscape. But did you know… Japan also has sand dunes and a desert? In Tottori prefecture, located on the west coast of Japan, about 30 square kilometers of coast tare covered with sand dunes!

Tottori Sand Dunes is a unique place, very different from the classic image of Japan; flashy neon lights, sushi, bullet trains, cherry blossom trees and the Shibuya crossing. The Tottori Sand Dunes are located just north of the city of Tottori, along the Sea of Japan and find their origin over thousands of years ago. At this time sand carried by the Sendai River from the Chugoku Mountains was thrown into the Sea of Japan. Strong winds and sea currents deposited the sand along the coast, creating a landscape of sand dunes that has been continuously changing over the years.

When you are looking for a beautiful place, with smaller cities without the big crows, Tottori makes for the perfect getaway. In this article, we talk about Japan’s least populated prefecture and some of the things you can see/do there.

How to get to the Tottori Sand Dunes

If you would like to visit this extraordinary desert from Tokyo, you have three options: the train, plane or car. The easiest option is travelling by train. From Shinagawa Station take the Tokkaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka or Himeji Station and transfer to the Super Hakuto to Tottori. Once you reach Tottori Station, you will need to take the bus bound for Tottori Sakyo and get off at the last stop. The trip from Tokyo will take you about 6 hours and the costs will be around ¥19,000 for one way. If you have a JR pass, some parts of the trip are covered.

The fastest options is travelling by plane, from Tokyo Airport – Haneda Airport – ANA operates multiple flights a day. The flight takes approximately 75 minutes and from the airport another 60 minutes to reach the dunes. The car will give you the most freedom, but will also take you the longest, from Tokyo the drive is approximately 8h30m.

How to get around in Tottori?

The sand dunes of Tottori are located a little outside of the city centre, on the north. But they are are easily accessible by bus. As are most of Tottori’s attractions, which are mainly centred on the north east side of the city. Besides its regular city buses, there are two loop buses: the 100 Yen Kururi busses that operate within the city and, surprise, only cost ¥100 per ride. The other bus is the Kirinshishi Bus, a loop bus operating especially for main tourist spots on Saturdays and holidays. For this bus a day pass is available, setting you back at ¥600 for unlimited travel for one day. The number of buses that run is quite low throughout the day, so make sure to check the time table!

Another recommended option is the ¥2000 yen tourist taxi. This is an all-you-can-ride taxi service for 3 hours for ¥2,000, operating within Tottori City.

Of course, if you feel like a some exercise you can also go around by foot or rent a bike.

Interesting places close to the Tottori Sand Dunes

1. Tottori Sand Dune Museum

Located in Fukubecho Yuyama, right next to the sand dunes, stands the Tottori Sand Dune Museum. You can get to the museum by car, (sightseeing) bus, or by simply walking from the dunes. This unique museum exhibits large sand sculptures made by artists from all around the world. The sculptures change every year and are based on a country or region. When the museum opened its doors back in November 2006, the exhibitions were held outdoors, but after the museum moved to its current location in 2012, the exhibitions were held indoors. The sand used to make the sculptures comes from local road construction projects that share the same physical qualities as the sand dunes. The exhibitions start from mid April and last until early January of the following year.

Tottori Sand Dune Museum
Open from April – January, 9am – 6pm
Admission fee ¥600

2. Sanin Kaigan National Park

The Sanin Kaigan National Park was established in 1963 and occupies an area of 87.83 km² along the Sea of Japan coast in the Prefectures of Tottori, Hyogo and Kyoto. In the center of the park you will find the Kasumi Kaigan Coast, which was designated as a national beauty spot in 1938. On the rocky coast, you can find several scenic spots such as Yoroi no Sode (sleeves of a samurai’s armour), a cliff of 65 meters height, 180 meters width and a sharp angle, that looks like the sleeves of a samurai’s armour. Also, you will see many strange-shaped rocks and sea caves, created from erosion from the Sea of Japan. 

Sanin Kaigan National Park

3. Scenery of Japan Sea from Umanose

Tottori beach

In 1955, the Tottori Sand Dunes were designated a national natural treasure due to their unique geographical features, plants that grow on dunes and undulation as a coastal dune. These dunes are the largest in Japan, measuring 16 km from east to west, and 2 kms from North to South. And, although the dunes look like a desert, the landscape changes with the season. In winter seasons the sand is covered with snow! In the middle of the dunes you will find umanose, translated as horseback because of its resemblance. It is located 47 meters above the sea level with a spectacular view of the Sea of Japan and surrounding mountains. If you visit umanose during the winter, you might also find an oasis of around a meter deep and gives you an impressive view of the clear sky reflected on its water. An amazing spot for your photo album!

4. Riding a camel

In the area you will find several attractions and excursions. Instead of getting around by foot, you have the option to do some sightseeing while riding a camel. From the camel back, you will be able to see the Sea of Japan and the entire sand dunes. If you have never ridden a camel before, fret not, the staff will assist you during the ride.

5. Sand Boarding and Paragliding

For the more adventurous type of travellers there are is the option to go sand boarding and/or paragliding. Even if you have no experience, do not worry because falling on the soft sand is unlikely to cause you any injuries. Sand boarding is only available during mid April to the end of November and you need to make a reservation in advance. If you decide to do paragliding, you will have the opportunity to see enjoy an impressive view of the dunes and the Sea of Japan from at a greater height. If this is your first time, you can also try one of the beginner’s courses that are offered on the dunes.

6. Riding on a Fat Bike

Picture from Trail On.

If sand boarding and paragliding are not really for you, why not try riding a fat bike? This type of bike uses fat tires, hence the word ‘fat’, ideal for riding on sand. Trail On is the only company that offers you the opportunity to ride them. You will be able to choose between two types of courses or a fat bike tour of around two hours duration. This is definitely a fun and active way to enjoy the sand dunes and explore the hidden spots of the area.

7. Sakyu Swimming Beach

Sakyu Swimming Beach is a very popular spot during the swimming season that starts in mid-July and lasts until the end of August. It attracts people from all over Japan as they get to enjoy the clear, cool seawater from the Sea of Japan with the sand dunes in the back ground. Moreover, it is ideal for families with children because swimming on the beach is safe given that there are no rocks and the beach is long and shallow.

Where to stay?

In Tottori you will find many ryokans and smaller hotels. We have shortlisted our recommendations:

  1. Ryokan Mansuirou – a traditional ryokan with a charming onsen and free pick-up from JR Kurayoshi station.
  2. Ryokan Yamadaya – a genuine original ryokan, located close to the Sand Dunes.
  3. Tottori Guest House Miraie BASE – a cozy guesthouse perfect for meeting other travellers.

If you are looking for a unique experience in Japan, Tottori Sand Dunes is the perfect spot for you. Visiting this not so well-known hidden desert in Japan is an opportunity to enjoy the sand dunes, plants and amazing landscape that changes depending on each season, relax on the beach or try on some activities that you might otherwise never have tried, like sand board or paragliding. What do you think, will you visit Tottori? Let us know in the comments or tag us on instagram @Japan_wonder_travel to get featured! 

Happy travelling!

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