If you think about Japan, you don’t immediately think about desert-like sand dunes. But Tottori on Japan’s western coast boasts incredible sand dunes where you can do some fun activities. Let’s learn more about this desert-like place in Japan!
Large Sand Dunes
The sand dunes of Tottori are giant dunes located on the coast of the city of Tottori, in Tottori prefecture. They are part of the Sanin Kaigan National Park and extend over a rectangle of 2.4 km from north to south and 16 km from east to west. It is one of the largest dune areas in Japan, surpassed only by the Sarugamori Dunes in Aomori Prefecture.
In 1955 they were designated as a natural monument of Japan. It is now considered an important tourist site for the prefecture. You can do activities here like sledding in the sand, paragliding, and riding a camel.
Formation of the Dunes
Tottori’s formidable sand dunes were created over millennia by the Sendai River, tirelessly depositing sediments that washed down from the Chugoku mountains to the sea. The sea currents and the wind regime contributed to the creation of this mini-desert, whose dunes constantly change shape and can reach up to 90 meters high with steep slopes of 40 degrees.
The shape is like an earthenware mortar, so when you walk toward the beach, you have to go down to the bottom of the mortar, then you have to walk up a little. Then you will find an amazing view of the beach below you. One part is called ‘Oasis’, where natural spring water sometimes comes out and makes a small pond. Some years, the pond becomes bigger when it merges with the water from the melted snow.
Tottori Sand Dunes History
A long time ago, the sand dunes were smaller, but because they cut the trees for iron manufacturing the area has extended. In 1897, the area became a practice field for the army until the end of WW2. The sand dunes affected the lives of the local people because the sand was blown to the residential area by strong winds, which is why they started to plant trees for sand prevention. At the same time, people started to regard the sand dunes as a resource for tourism.
The local schools started using them as a destination for school trips. The dunes are also used for extreme sports such as hang-gliding, para-gliding, and sand-boarding using the slopes. The tourist industry brought in camels to promote the area. Camels in the sand dunes remind us of the image of the desert of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Tottori University did a scientific study about the dunes and the plants and insects living in the sand. There are 16 types of plants and insects such as earwig and antlion that made the dunes into their home.
The Sand Museum is a unique museum that exhibits sculptures made of sand. It opened in 2006 at the eastern end of the sand dunes. The concept of the museum is ‘traveling by sand’. They choose a theme every year and invite many artists from Japan and overseas to contribute to their exhibition. The entrance fee is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for kids who are younger than 15.
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Access: 22-minute bus ride from Tottori station (JR Line) to Tottori Sakyu (鳥取砂丘) stop