Tottori: Time for a Little Peace and Quiet
If you ask visitors coming to Japan for the first time to name their top ten places of interest that they want to visit during their trip, I could guarantee you that almost no one would even consider the place which will be the topic of today’s article.
Though it will never win any popularity contests, this small, out of the way part of Japan truly is a hidden gem with a unique and charming set of characteristics.
I refer of course to Tottori Prefecture.
Tucked away on the south western coast of Japan’s main Honshu island, Tottori is one of Japan’s smallest prefectures. It is sandwiched by Shimane to the south, Okayama to the east and the Sea of Japan to the west. Though it may lack stature, this diminutive little region has plenty to offer the typical traveler. So come with me today as we head down to Tottori.
As I mentioned before Tottori is one of Japan’s smaller prefectures. In fact, in terms of population, Tottori is actually the smallest in all of Japan. It has a population of around 600,000. Compare this to the 8.8 million who live in Osaka or the 15 million who live in and around Tokyo and you gain at least some sense of just how peaceful and quiet this sleepy little domain is. Coming from Osaka as I do, I can assure you. That is no bad thing.
And even if you aren’t the type to laze around and do next to nothing on your vacation time, Tottori still has plenty to offer. Tottori’s geographical placement, along the Sea of Japan coast, affords it some unparalleled natural beauty, with stunning ocean views.
It also has its mountainous areas too. The city of Yonago is home to Daisen, the tallest of all the mountains in Japan’s Chugoku region, clocking in at 1,729 meters.
One of the first places visitors to this prefecture should check out is the Tottori Sand Dunes. This is the only large natural dune system to be found in all of Japan. These huge dunes attract around 2 million tourists annually, most of whom are Japanese. The massive masses of sand and sediment have a history going back more than 100,000 years and wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a movie.
On her first visit my friend even remarked that they reminded her of the desert world of Tatooine, from the Star Wars movie series. Unfortunately you won’t find the droids you’re looking for around here, but there are plenty of other things to see and do in Tottori.
A short drive from the dunes brings you to the prefectural capital, conveniently named Tottori City. The city has a number of noteworthy places of interest. Perhaps best known amongst these is the now ruined Tottori Castle.
It is what the Japanese call a Yamashiro, literally meaning “Mountain Castle”.
This name originates from how the castle was constructed. Rather than having its foundations and structure built from scratch, the castle was actually carved out of the mountain where it stands. In Europe, Edinburgh Castle, which is built on an extinct volcano, is probably the most famous example of this kind of castle construction.
For centuries it served as a base for the Ikeda Clan, one of the most prominent Samurai dynasties in this region of Japan.
Although the original castle dates from the 12th century, it is probably best remembered for its role in Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s conquest of Japan in the late 16th century.
The siege of Tottori in 1581, is one of the most noted conflicts of that era.
This legendary battle saw the city come under siege from the forces of the Toyotomi Clan for 200 days. Although the defenders of the city, led by Kikkawa Tsuneie, put up a heroic resistance, ultimately starvation and depleted resources forced their eventual surrender. According to historical acocunts, in a rare act of mercy from Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the survivors of the Tottori forces were given food and treatments. Unfortunately, with many of them already in the midst of the ravages of starvation, many of the city’s defenders died shortly thereafter as a result of overeating.
Unfortunately time, neglect and natural disasters have wrought a heavy toll on the once proud Tottori Castle.
All that remains of the structure today are some scattered ruins, parts of the main stone wall, and a single gate augmented with spikes of iron to deter intruders.
Nevertheless, the castle retains a great ambiance and sense of wonder at some of the magnificent warriors and military geniuses who once graced its now crumbling gates. It is a must see for anyone with an interest in Japan’s feudal history.
However, if like me, you are more of the laid back, pacifist type, then you may want to head across the city to the Uemachi district. Here you will find the Kannon-In, a magnificent Buddhist temple. Peace and tranquilty are the orders of the day here, as you walk through the beautifully presented Japanese garden, highly reminiscent of the Edo Period when this temple was originally built. So atmospheric and picturesque are these gardens, that the Japanese government actually designated the site as a “Special Place of Scenic Beauty” in 1937.
Of course no visit to Tottori is complete without sampling the local cuisine. Fruit lovers should be sure to check out the famous Tottori Nashi (sweet pears), while those looking for something a little more savoury may want to try the variety of dishes on offer that incorporate the locally grown Japanese Scallions.
Getting to Tottori is a little tricky compared to the more centrally located parts of Japan, but its still relatively straightforward. In addition to the daily flights offered from Tokyo Haneda airport, JR West offers rapid express trains from Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and the adjacent prefectures of Hyogo, Okayama and Shimane to Tottori City. The journey time from Osaka is approximately 2 and a half hours, although this can change drastically in winter, when Tottori is prone to heavy snowfall.
Whether it’s some Japan’s bloody samurai history, some breathtaking views or just a quiet stroll around the garden, Tottori is a place with something for everyone.