“Sand dunes in Japan?” I was incredulous when I first heard about The Tottori Sand Dunes (Tottori Sakyu) from a friend. But yes, a vast expanse of over 30km2 of sand dunes exists north of the city of Tottori in Tottori Prefecture, the Chugoku (Sanin) region, and is the only large coastal dune system in Japan.
This gem in Western Japan right next to the coast of the Sea of Japan promptly catapulted to the top of our must-go destinations. We searched for a JR pass that would bring us there and bingo, the 7-day Sanyo San’in JR Pass was the perfect solution.
How to Get to Tottori
You can get to the natural world of wonders at Tottori, which is northwest of Osaka, by driving or taking the buses or trains. To us, taking the JR train was the most attractive, comfortable and the fastest option.
From Osaka, we had planned to head west to Hiroshima and stationed ourselves midpoint at the transportation hub of Okayama. This charming city was our base for the day trips to Tottori as well as Kurashiki.
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With our Sanyo San’in JR Pass, we rode the Limited Express JR Super Inaba, and got from Okayama to Tottori in 2.5 hours.
Tottori Sand Museum
Our first stop before hitting the dunes was the Tottori Sand Museum. Tottori Sand Museum is an interesting one-of-its-kind museum.
It is the world’s first indoor facility dedicated to sand sculptures. The museum features artworks sculpted from sand by famous artists from all over the world.
The thematic exhibits, which change every year, usually focus on a country or region and the museum is closed from January to April to prepare for the new exhibits. Do confirm the dates they are open on their official website before you plan your trip.
At this 12th exhibition, we were treated to sights of South Asia, “Travel Around the World in Sand – South Asia: “Religious Devotion, Diverse Cultures, and the Road to Peace.”
So, there we were in Japan on another extended holiday around South Asia.
It was an enriching and eye-opening kaleidoscope as we moved from one sand-sculpted scene to another.
The girls were mesmerised by the intricately carved sculptures that gave very realistic three-dimensional views and the adults busied themselves trying to capture the vivid moments in time.
The visit to the Sand Museum was well worth it.
Lunch Spots Between the Tottori Sand Museum and Sand Dunes
We had left for Tottori around 8 am and after touring the Sand Museum, our tummies were ripe for lunch. The Museum Shop had samples of Tottori’s specialties and as we were rather peckish, we had a good time trying out the novel snacks and buying them.
Between the Sand Museum and the Sand Dunes is a short stretch of road with a handful of restaurants and cafes. We hadn’t had our fill of Japanese cuisine so we settled quickly for the one closest to the Sand Dunes, opposite the Visitor Centre.
The restaurant cum adjoining souvenir shop enabled the grandparents to sit in air-conditioned comfort and search for more treats while the rest of the sand gang geared up for the dunes.
Actually, we simply took off our shoes when we hit the sand as this is the best way to get close to the earth and to nature.
Picturesque Desert-like Sand Dunes in Japan
Spanning 16 kilometres long, the dunes hug the coast and are up to two kilometres wide and 50 metres high. They were formed over the centuries as sand coming from the Chogoku Mountains down the Sendai River were washed by the currents and blown ashore by the strong winds of the Sea of Japan.
Most of Tottori is located in the western part of the Sanin Kaigan GeoPark, a natural park with important geographical features, stretching all the way to Kyotango City in Kyoto. The landscapes in nature’s very own theme park change with the seasons, the constant tidal movements and coastal winds.
Sand Dunes Activities
There are many ways to enjoy the delightful dunes. You could take camel rides, go sandboarding down a 30-degree slope, paraglide, or sit on a chairlift.
Or just follow one of the four routes to enjoy the Sand Dunes in its entirety. For example, if you take the 60-minute Standard Sand Dunes Course, you can admire the oasis in the Sand Dunes and the many big hollows of the Oigo Suribachi.
For us, we simply took the most direct half a kilometre walk from the East Entrance, next to the Visitor Centre, climbed up the “Umanose”, the highest point in the Second Sand Dune Line, and enjoyed the breathtaking expanse of the sand and amazing views of the coast.
It was simply gorgeous standing on the summit of the Umanose absorbing the commanding view of the Sea of Japan.
The girls had their fill of fun burying themselves in the sand. If we had brought along a board of our own, we could have slid down the Umanose.
Yet, there was no denying how satisfying a sensation it was to walk on sand and more clean soft sand.
Our one-day trip to Tottori, the least populated prefecture of Japan, with its excellently carved works of art at the Tottori Sand Museum, the mesmerising beauty of the shifting sand dunes, and the satisfying sights of the sea sealed itself in our capsule of time as a truly memorable little day out.
Tottori Sand Dunes
2164-661 Fukube-cho, Yuyama, Tottori, Tottori Prefecture