Pilgrimage to the Tottori Sand Dunes
The Sand Dunes in Tottori are breathtaking. Unfortunately, they are not located in the most accessible area. It is twenty minutes by train from Tottori City or three to five hours from Kyoto or Okayama depending on the road and the time of the year. It is, however, a gem which took the designated driver seven hours to drive to from Gifu city. But it was worth it for two simple reasons. The place was terrific and it is an ideal place to visit during national holidays.
It is a grand sight approaching the dunes. The highest dune fluctuates around 90 meters above sea level, whereas the main ridge reaches 40 meters high. Apparently, the weather is often 30-34 degrees. Luckily, we arrived during Golden Week when it was cool, busy but also accessible. As you can see from the picture, it is a remarkable sight from the highest mark. One could be forgiven for mistaking the thousands of people as a pilgrimage to Mecca.
There are plenty of activities to observe and enjoy as one walks across the top of the dunes. Local people have made it a habit to board down the dunes. It is a bizarre sight but it looks like a lot of fun. A little further one, several paragliders take to the dunes as their launch pad. The wind was so strong that they were unable to set off for a while. As one walks even further, there is easy access to the ocean, as waves roll back and forth away from the Korean Peninsula.
At the entrance to the highest peak lines of people can be seen waiting for the chance to ride on or take pictures of camels. That was one of the cutest and saddest aspects of visiting the dunes. On one hand, it is a lovely sight to see children riding camels across the desert. On the other hand, only children can. This disappoints some visitors who wanted to tick a box off their bucket list. Sadly, the camel owners also charge people for taking pictures. Not a good policy.
Nonetheless, a downer like that does not detract from the beauty of the dunes and the extra-activities and food are available. Andre Goto is a bar owner in Gifu City and travelled to Tottori. It took him eight hours. But he is glad he went. He said 'before I went to Tottori I heard about the famous rakyou (tiny pickled onions) and pears. But since I am a fan of rakyou, I was excited. I bought the salty and spicy flavored ones. I cannot get them out of my mind'.
'The surrounding mountains, dunes, camel rides and beaches are beautiful', he added. When you have left the rolling dunes and have cleared the sand from your toes, there is the chance to explore many local attractions apart from food and sand. The weird and wonderful evolutionary tract of insects which have evolved in the area is fascinating. There is a small interactive museum which plays short videos and contains archeological artifacts.
The official 'sand' museum is also worth a visit. It changes its theme as part of its ‘global sand project’ annually, and this year German Culture was the theme. Figures from Germany’s history were on display and were clearly popular with tourists. Furthermore, German sausages, Berlin’s Ampelmann, and cracking beer were also bottled and ready to be sold. This is a great way to reach out internationally and attract more than the two million visitors it welcomes each year.
Finally, the Tottori Sand Dunes are a great to visit during the Japanese public holidays. I went during Golden Week, and I was terrified about being stuck in traffic, or paying high prices for accommodation. The country roads make Tottori accessible, and there are well maintained campsites around the area. So why not book a cabin for a few thousand yen, and have a BBQ, then experience the weird and wonderful sensation of walking in a desert in Japan.