The Sand Dunes in Japan?
Nobody ever thinks of a vast golden dune of sand when they think of Japan. Sand dunes just don’t really come to mind the way cherry blossoms, moss covered gardens, and bright city lights do when the average tourist plans their trip to the country of Japan.
That is exactly why you should definitely visit the Tottori Sand Dunes – they are a thrilling experience unique even for Japanese people!
The Tottori Sand Dunes, A Breathtaking Natural Formation
The Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘, Tottori Sakyu) are the only large dune system in Japan, spanning about 16 kilometers of coast along the Sea of Japan. The Sakyu is Tottori Prefecture’s most famous attraction and is located just outside of the Tottori City center. It is a more obscure attraction in Japan, with around two million visitors a year – mostly from within Japan and from East Asia.
The Sakyu make up the western-most section of the stunning Sanin Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark that runs all along the coast from Tottori to Kyotango in Kyoto Prefecture. Sanin Kaigan is specifically known for its numerous inlets, rock formations, islands, and caves that have created a starkly different geodiversity from the rest of Japan that affect the lifestyles and culture of the people who reside in northern Tottori, Hyogo and Kyoto Prefectures. The dunes in Tottori form a major geosite in th Sanin Kaigan Global Geopark.
The dunes were created over thousands by sediment deposits carried by the Sendai River from the Chugoku Mountains into the Sea of Japan. The strong wind and sea currents have brought the sand up from the shore, constantly changing the landscape of the dunes over the years – the dunes can reach heights of 90 meters.
The Tottori Sand Dunes, How Can We Enjoy?
In the middle of the dunes, there is a place called The Horse’s Back, the most famous scenic spot for viewing the Sea of Japan on a clear day. In the summer it is sprawling with visitors enjoying the epic views, running in the sand, riding camels, and even paragliding. In colder seasons, people enjoy more subtle beauty, as well as interesting water formations that result from heavy rains.
The Tottori Sakyu was one of my favorite memories in Japan so far – I spent a day with friends in the winter enjoying the dunes. Even with the cold weather, and maybe even because of it, the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, rolling hills of golden sand with the shoreline crashing in the distance. We spent the day running up and down the hills, stunned by the dizzying heights of the hills, and finding different flowers tucked away amongst the sand.
As someone who had never seen dunes before, (except in sci-fi movies) this experience was totally enthralling. One moment, we would wander into areas filled with tourists, and then we’d turn a corner and be in a secluded area with perfect untouched sand and a view of the ocean. For those interested in nature and hiking, I would recommend taking a day trip to the dunes with some friends and just letting feel free to wander and discover what the dunes have to offer.
I also recommend a visit to the Tottori Sand Dune Museum, where artists make incredible sculptures out of the sand – this year’s theme (in 2016) is “South America”. Definitely not to be missed! Lastly, don’t forget to top your day off with some of Tottori’s famous pear ice cream![cft format=0]