For those of you who are visiting or staying in Okayama during your Japan travels, or are planning to visit the Art Islands (Naoshima, Teshima, Shodoshima, etc.), I would suggest leaving abouat a half day for an escape into a very unique, natural region in japan - the sand dunes (Sakyu) of Tottori. Japan is very geographically diverse, so it's almost no surprise that Japan even has a desert-like area filled with picturesque sand dunes!
To get to Tottori, the city that holds these natural wonders, the most direct and efficient route to take would be to travel from Okayama Station on the Super Inaba or the Super Hakuto, both operated by JR West. I took the Limited Express Super Inaba, which only has six stops, with Totori as the final destination.
The train ride itself is quite an interesting and exciting experience. After reaching the first stop, Kamigori, you may find the local passengers packing up their bags almost simultaneously - this is because they are preparing to turn the train seats around, as the train will change directions as it begins to run on a different track. This also means that Japan Rail Pass users will have to pay a surcharge fee of ¥1720. JR West Pass users are exempt from this, as the trip is fully covered by the pass. Even though I was required to pay this surcharge, I believe that it was worth it, as I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic journey itself. There is a less direct way to travel to Tottori, but the journey is roughly one to two hours longer.
The train journey itself is a gorgeous presentation of Japan's natural beauty and scenery. From lush green forests that cover hills after hills - they resemble Studio Ghibli movies, like "Castle in the Sky!" to rice fields and open areas of greenery, you can see it all during this train ride. It is an exhilarating experience, and I felt like the extra charge was completely worth the scenic experience.
I reached Tottori in less than two hours, and made it to the sand dunes just in time for sunset. I left Okayama at around 2:00 PM, and returned at roughly 9:00, completely satisfied with the spontaneous evening trip. If you have a bit of time to spare, be sure to check out the lovely town of Tottori and visit the sand dunes.
Thanks in advance. Gary