The Sand Dunes of Tottori

The only desert in Japan

By Jamila Brown    - 3 min read

For most people, Japan evokes images of the vastness of Tokyo, dancing robots, and sushi. Hardly anyone would think of the desert when considering Japan's geography. Not much is known about Tottori. It's a rural prefecture in the Chugoku region of Japan but on this Honshu shoreline lies the beautiful Tottori Sand Dunes.

The sand dunes were created over 100.000 years ago as deposits of sand from the Chugoku mountains carried by the Sendaigawa River. Sea currents and wind bring the sand up from the bottom and constantly change its shape.

I've never been to a desert before, but stepping into the 30km2 sandy landscape made me feel as if I was actually in one. The sand dunes are quite impressive to look at, but don't let the sheer size of them keep you from exploring the dunes. At first glance, the dunes seem to be an un-climbable barrier, possibly shielding another batch of hills to hike over. However, once you take your shoes off and start treking towards the top you quickly realize this hike takes less than 20 minutes.

Once you reach the top of the dunes you'll be able to clearly see the crystal blue ocean below. And if the weather permits, you can take a quick dip in the waters. The bravest among you can try sandboarding or even paragliding over the dunes. Animal lovers can enjoy a ride and some photos with a camel. If you're an art lover, the Sand Museum will always have a promising exhibit. For only 600 yen you're given an all-access past to peruse the museum and all the sand sculptures. Sand sculptors from all over the world come to Japan to contribute their art based on a geographical theme each year. Photos are welcome but please don't touch the exhibits.

There are a variety of restaurants in the area, as well, that offer anything from Japanese curry to Italian cuisine. Be sure to finish your meal off with some of Tottori's famous pear ice cream or chocolate coffee ice cream.

I suggest staying until sunset so you can see the most beautiful sunset in Japan. The way the sun illuminates off the ripples in the sand will leave the most romantic feeling in your heart. However, if you didn't drive, don't stay too late since the last bus leaves around 6 pm.

Getting there

From Tottori station take the bus bound for Tottori Sakkyu (鳥取砂丘) at bus stop #0 and get off at the last stop. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and costs about 300 yen one way. There is an all-day pass which is offered for 600 yen and allows you to ride the bus anywhere for free.

The Sand Museum is across from the Sand Dunes and costs 600 yen to enter.

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Jamila Brown

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Sleiman Azizi a month ago
Sand dunes in Japan... it's not actually a 'desert' - Tottori's rainfall sees to that. Still, the sheer size of the dunes would make for a pretty incredible experience.
Sherilyn Siy 2 months ago
Surreal. Interesting to learn the geological history of the place.
Kim B 2 months ago
One of my favorite places in all of Japan!
Jamila Brown Author 2 months ago
I heard there was another sand dune area in Japan but I wasn't quite sure where it was. I guess I'll have to make a trip to Chiba one day.