Trivia #1: Tottori (鳥取) literally means “bird” (鳥) and “to get” (取)
Trivia #2: Early residents in the area made their living by catching the region’s plentiful waterfowl
Trivia #3: You’ll meet much more local tourists than overseas travellers in Tottori
Tottori. Hidden gem. Check.
Those were my initial thoughts when I stood in awe of the “desert”, except that, it is not really a desert, but a vast area of wind-swept sand dunes. Tucked away in Japan’s southern Chugoku region, Tottori, also known as Tottori Sakyu, is a peaceful seaside town famous for its sand dunes. It fact, it is Japan’s only large dune system.
This modest town is Japan’s least populated city (600,000 residents) with simple delights to offer. Comparing Tottori with the endless sea of people living in the Tokyo region (15 million), this place will be a very pleasant change in anyone’s travel itinerary in Japan.
The best time to visit would be very early in the morning, before other groups of tourists trample all over the perfectly-formed sand ripples. I was told that a moonlight walk across the dunes (and under the stars) is also an amazingly surreal experience.
An oasis of calm
While in Tottori, I can’t help but observe that pear-related food products are everywhere – ranging from pear soft serve, pear chocolates to pear biscuits and many more confectionery varieties you can think of.
So, being a good sport, I decided to go for the local pear curry (I’m finally eating more fruits!) at a family restaurant. I was intrigued by the pear curry as it tasted mildly spicy and fruity at the same time. It’s exactly the same as your usual Japanese curry, but instead of meat and potatoes, you get pears.
When in Tottori, try camel riding!
Yes, you’ve heard that right. You can ride a camel in Tottori and experience an exotic travel experience nowhere else in Japan can offer. From my enquiry, it costs 500 yen to have your photo taken with the camel and ranges between 1,500 yen to 1,800 yen for a short ride.
…Or sandboarding! Oh wait, there’s paragliding too?!
For those who seek a little adventure – you can slide down the humongous sand dunes! For a fee, you could rent a sandboard and ride those waves of sand to your heart’s content. And if sandboarding’s not enough for your adrenaline fix, how about paragliding over the sand dunes? How cool is that?!
Sand Dunes in Monotone
Charming in an odd way
Another panoramic view of the vast sand dunes – it’s charming in an odd way. Because when you stand on top of a sand dune overlooking the surrounding area, you will hear the melodious chirping of the birds nearby and the gentle howl of the wind – taking in the sweet sounds of nature, but all the while looking at a vast, empty land.
Tottori Sand Museum, where sculptures come alive
As I planned my visit to Tottori as a day visit with a field photography objective at the sand dunes, hence I didn’t have a lot of time to explore other attractions. If you have some time to spare, visiting the Sand Museum is highly recommended. Moreover, it is the world’s first sand sculpture museum, crafted by a group of highly talented artists.
However, if you plan to visit the Sand Museum during your trip to Tottori, it is best to confirm if the exhibition is still running before you make your way down. Otherwise, you might be sorely disappointed as the sand museum might not be open if there are no on-going exhibitions. Find out more here.
Tottori Sand Museum Opening Hours:
Mon – Fri, Sun: 9:00am to 6:00pm
Sat: 9:00am to 8:00pm
Entry Fee: 600 yen
You could also hop onto the Tottori Sand Dunes Lift to reach the shore – be prepared for some amazing scenery as you get a bird’s eye view of the landscape!
Adult: 300 yen (round trip)
Kids: 200 yen (round trip)
How to get to Tottori Sand Dunes
The quickest way to reach Tottori will be via the Limited Express Super Hakuto train, but be prepared to fork out a supplementary fee of 1,300 yen as the Super Hakuto is not fully covered by the JR Pass. Travel time is approximately 2.5 hours (from Osaka).
If you would like to maximise your JR Pass without paying the supplementary transport fee, then you will need to factor in a longer travel time and also the likelihood of subway transfers, depending on where you are staying.
Given that your savings wouldn’t be that significant after factoring in the subway transfers (a few hundred yen), you might want to consider the first option to minimise the hassle of switching in between several train transfers, which can make travelling a lot more tedious.
The Tottori Sand Dunes region is a largely under-explored travel spot for many travellers to Japan. It is quiet and totally unassuming, and nevertheless a power travel spot. If you want a hot spring and a beach, this is the place to be at.
Finally, I learnt that if one visits this place in winter, the sand dunes will be covered by powdery snow, presenting visitors with a bizarre snowscape scene. And, hey, people actually do snowboarding on the snow-covered sand dunes. Wow.