18/10/2021

Tottori Sand Dunes, A Desert in Japan?

The Tottori Sand Dunes lie north of San'in Kaigan Geopark. Facing the Sea of Japan, it takes headon the strong ocean breeze. If you’re looking to experience deserts, you’ll be glad to know that these sand dunes are as close as you can get whilst living in Japan. 


Table of Contents

  1. Tottori Sand Dunes Formation
  2. Desert Escapade Adventures
  3. Other Things To Do Here
  4. Useful Information
  5. Takeaway

Tottori Sand Dunes Formation

Close your eyes and imagine a vast field of golden sand, the fierce blowing from the northern sea breeze, and the sun rays shining down on you. Did you know that you don’t have to travel to North Africa or Saudi Arabia just to experience the desert? You can have that dream desert escapade right here in Japan.

Located in the City of Tottori in the Chūgoku Region, you will find the only sand dunes in all of Japan. This golden sea of sand is called the Tottori Sakyuu, or Tottori Sand Dunes, and it stretches 2.14 kilometers north to south and 16 kilometers east to west creating a total of 30 square kilometers of desertscape.

This masterpiece of nature was formed over time when weathered rocks and sand from Chugoku Mountains were carried into the Sendai River and then out to the Sea of Japan by strong winds and heavy rains. The sands are then redeposited to the coast by the sea waves. This cycle kept recurring for more than a hundred thousand years until the “hill of sand” in Tottori we see today was created. 

※ Tottori Tourism Guide, "Tottori Sand Dunes"
※ Tottori Sand Dunes Travel Guide, "Tottori Sand Dunes"

The Tottori Sand Dunes is one of the gems of San’in Kaigan Geopark, a national park in Japan since 1963. This UNESCO Global Geopark has been the symbol of Japan’s commitment to promoting conservation and biodiversity. In 1955, Tottori Sand Dunes was declared a National Natural Monument and Treasure for being a promising site of scientific research and exploration because of its unique and rare features.

※ Tottori Sand Dunes Travel Guide, "Tottori Sand Dunes"

Desert Escapade Adventures

Aside from its scientific significance, Tottori Sand Dunes has also been an important element of Tottori’s tourism industry as it attracts more than two million people every year. What do these guests visit for? Well, here are some of the amazing adventures they have experienced here that you can too! 

※ National Geographic, "See Japan's Surprising Sand Dunes"

Umanose

One of the most famous sand dunes in Tottori is the one called Umanose which resembles a horse’s back, hence the name. Umanose reaches around 47 meters above sea level which gives you a great view of the Sea of Japan and the surrounding scenery. There is also a large pool of water below the hill that appears and sometimes disappears depending on the season of the year.

Check out the Exploration Map below that will come in handy for what to spot in the desert! 

※ Tottori Prefecture, "Tottori Sand Dunes (Central) Exploration Map"

Sandboarding

Did you know that some of the dunes here in Tottori tower around 50 meters high? Because of that, Tottori Sakyu has been a go-to place for sandboarding, an activity that originated in Western Australia wherein you are to stand on top of a board and use it to slide down a hill of sand at top speed, not unlike snowboarding.

Sandboarding in Tottori hits different because aside from enjoying the thrill and adrenaline rush of going down the hill at a tremendous speed, you also get to enjoy the spectacular view of the entire Tottori Sand Dunes meeting the Sea of Japan. If you are not familiar with sandboarding, there are sandboarding lessons available from 3,500 yen. 

Intimidated by sandboarding? There’s a less nerve-wracking activity that you can try - sand sledding. 

Paragliding

If you are not satisfied with the sandboarding thrill, let’s level it up! Experience flying up in the sky by paragliding. With paragliding, you get to experience both the adrenaline rush and the freeing sensation of flying. 

Never tried paragliding before? Not a problem, paragliding courses are available at the sand dunes. You’ll receive instruction, practice for a bit, then fly solo! 

Still afraid? Or maybe you want to take some aerial shots. Join the tandem course and fly with an instructor who will control the glider whilst you enjoy the view and take photos! No stress!

※ Tottori Sand Dunes Travel Guide, Paraglider “Zero Paraglider School” “Saku Hyonpo

Camel Riding

I am not an adventure enthusiast, and sandboarding and paragliding are just too much for me.” - Does that sound like you? (Sounds like me.)

Well, there are other fun activities here in Tottori Sand Dunes that you can enjoy. One of them is the rare and exotic experience of riding camels through the dunes. Why is it rare? Well, camels are usually in deserts and Japan is not really a desert. At least not outside of Tottori! 

Meet sweet friendly camels waiting to give you a ride. Be nice to them if you don’t want to get spit on. 

Price: 1,500 yen (Single Rider), 2,600 yen (2 Persons - Take Turns)

NOTE

Schedule wisely. During peak holiday periods (Golden Week and Bon Odori), only children can ride to not over-exhaust the camels. 

※ Tottori Sand Dunes Travel Guide, “Camel Riding Experience”
※ Rakudaya, “Camel Riding Experience

Cycling Tour

Traverse across the sand dunes on a fat bike - bicycles with fat tires to cross over sand. On a fat bike you can cross to areas restricted from access by camels or horse-drawn carts. It’s a lot less tiring than walking too. Cycling is one of the best ways to visit every nook and cranny of Tottori Sand Dunes as well as the rest of the park area.

Price: 7,000 yen for 2-hours

※ Tottori Sand Dunes Travel Guide, “Fat Bike

Other Things To Do Here 

Adventuring on the dunes is great fun and a remarkable experience, but it may not be for everyone. Mayhaps you’re looking for a more chill and calming experience. In that case, why not try these places:

Sand Museum

Established in 2006, the Sand Museum exhibits various sand sculptures created by talented artists from around the globe. The sand exhibits here change depending on the theme of the museum for that year. 

Aside from just appreciating the sculptures, you can also try a hand at making your own. This sand sculpting experience is designed to promote a deeper understanding of the nature of sand and advance the art of sand sculpting.

Access: West of Tottori Sand Dunes

Entrance Fee: 600 yen (Adult)

NOTE

  • Museum temperature is the same as outdoors, meaning cold in winter and hot in summer. You have been warned! 

  • Free entry for disabled persons and 1 accompanying person. Requires disability certificate proof (障がい者手帳).

※ The Sand Museum, "Information"

Sakyu Center Observation Deck and Sky Lift

The Sakyu Center is where you should go for a lunch break from the day’s activities and for souvenir shopping. The Center’s highlights however are the breathtaking views of the Tottori Sand Dunes from its Rooftop Observation Deck and Sky Lift. 

The Sky Lift is a great start to your journey to exploring the Tottori Sky Dunes. Depart from Sakyu Center and arrive at the entrance to the dunes ready for adventure! From the high vantage point, you can see the sandy dunes as well as the ocean over the horizon. 

Sakyu Center

Pear Picking

Pears are a Tottori specialty thanks to the suitable climate and years of cultivation experience. Try some fresh juicy pears at Tottori. Speaking about fresh pears, you can’t get any fresher than plucking it from a tree. There are several Pear Farms located within walking distance from the Sand Dunes and Sand Museum. If you have no time to pluck them, these places also sell freshly plucked pears. Some places like Sakyu-Kaikan offer pear plucking + lunch package deals!  

Period: June ~ September  

※Tourist Information for Tottori, “Pear Picking in Tottori” “Asian Pears”
※ Tottori Guide, “梨狩り体験

Useful Information 

Shoes! 

Sports shoes and comfortable footwear are recommended for hiking the sand dunes. If you really want to wear nice shoes you can but they may be ruined with sand. Sand boots or slippers are available for rent near the camel riding area of the information center. 

A foot wash area is available at the back of the information center to wash off the sand before heading home. 

※ Tottori Tourism Guide, "Tottori Sand Dunes"

Takeaway

Japan is full of surprises. Who would have thought that you can get to play with sand here in this country known for its skyscrapers, cuisine, and four seasons? Well, Tottori Sand Dunes has a long list of exclusive adventures waiting for you. So, come and visit this wonderful work of nature and have fun like you never had before.

For more information about things to do in Tottori as a whole, check out this article:12 Things to Do in Tottori 

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