The Tottori Sand Dunes are an incredible destination in Japan that you simply don’t expect from this surprising country.
Even if travellers don’t mean to, they tend to have a very specific idea of what Japan is. Temples, castles, mountains and big cities are common elements of this stereotype of Japan. Giant sand dunes not so much. And yet visit the Tottori Sand Dunes on the coast of western Honshu and that’s exactly what you’ll find there.
The sand dunes of Tottori are proof that there’s no end to Japan’s wonders. It’s yet another side to Japan that shows there’s always more to see there, even if the dunes are quite some distance from the common tourist destinations. Here’s why this remarkable attraction is worth the journey it takes to see them.
Background on the Sand Dunes
So, how did the Tottori Sand Dunes come about? They are the only noteworthy sand dune system in Japan after all. Over thousands of years, sediment deposits from the Chugoku Mountains was carried down the Sendai River into the Sea of Japan and then pushed back on shore by the tide. Wind and the tides have continued to shift the dunes ever since, making for a landscape that’s never the same.
Today, the dunes cover an area of around 30 square kilometres and can stretch as deep as two kilometres from the water’s edge. The tallest of the dunes can reach heights of up to 50 metres, with the most popular section of the dunes found right outside the city of Tottori.
Because of their rarity, the Tottori Sand Dunes are protected as part of the Sanin Kaigan National Park. This coastal national park itself is a section of the San’in Kaigan Geopark, recognised as a Global Geopark by UNESCO in 2010.
What to Do in Tottori
With a trip to the Tottori Sand Dunes, there’s more than a few things you can do to explore the area. Of course, you may just want to walk around the dunes and climb up a taller one to enjoy views across this stunning landscape. But it’s also possible to take a camel ride around the dunes or even get shown around in a horse drawn cart.
Those after something a little more adventurous can try their hand at sandboarding or take to the skies for some paragliding or hang-gliding. Kids aren’t likely to grow bored of the dunes either, thanks to the playgrounds at the Tottori Sakyu Kodomonokuni theme park. As for the best place to enjoy views of the dunes, take a chair lift ride up to the observation deck of the Sakyu Center.
The Tottori Sand Museum
The other main thing to do at the Tottori dunes is to visit the Tottori Sand Museum nearby. Rather than being a museum focusing on the geology of the dunes, this museum showcases sand sculptures from acclaimed artists the world over. The exhibitions here change every year, each with a new theme for the artwork.
Tips for Visitors to the Tottori Sand Dunes
- While the sand dunes themselves don’t have opening times, camel rides are only available from 9:30 to 16:00. The Tottori Sand Museum is open from 9:00 to 18:00, except on Saturdays when it closes at 20:00.
- Camel rides cost 1500 yen for one person and 2600 yen for two. Entry to the Sand Museum costs 600 yen.
- Those interested in seeing other stunning natural destinations around Japan should take a look at these articles on Japan’s beaches and Nikko National Park.
Visiting the Tottori Sand Dunes with the JR Pass
How you reach the Tottori Sand Dunes using your JR Pass will depend on where you’re coming from.
The main train that connects major cities with Tottori is the Super Hakuto Limited Express that leaves from Kyoto and stops in Osaka. While you can use your JR Pass for this service, there is a supplemental fee required for sections that use non-JR rail lines. Alternatively, the Hamakaze Limited Express is fully covered by the JR Pass.
Those coming from Tokyo, will first need to take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Osaka and then use the above limited express service. While Tottori can be visited as a day trip from Osaka and Kyoto, this extra travel time from Tokyo makes it simply too far for a single day.
Once you’ve arrived at Tottori Station, you can take a bus to Tottori Sakyu or go by taxi to reach the dunes.