Tottori (鳥取)  and its sand dunes are among the best reasons to visit western Japan. There's more to do than climbing and collecting seashells — hang-gliders, sandboards, and even camels await.
It's useless. The sand can swallow up cities and countries, if it wants to.
Kobo Abe's existential meditation on sand and work, The Woman in the Dunes, was published in 1964. Although the novel does not mention Tottori by name, it was a natural choice for the film adaptation of Abe's book. "There has never been sand photography like this (no, not even in Lawrence of Arabia)," said Roger Ebert, of the Oscar-nominated film.
You will, almost certainly, have a better visit than did the story's protagonist, Niki Junpei; come to collect insects, Junpei was fascinated by the patterns and movement of the sand, and missed the last train. Locals offered him lodging for the night, but the next morning, Junpei discovered that he was a prisoner at the bottom of a sandpit, which he and an unnamed woman must shovel out every day in order to keep the house and village from being swallowed in the endless, enigmatic movement of the sand.
The city itself is the industrial center of the prefecture, with several big electronics factories for companies like Sanyo. The fishing industry is also quite lively. There are also two universities, which attract agricultural students and researchers from other parts of Japan and a small number of foreign students. Although the number of foreign residents in Tottori is low, compared to other major cities in Japan, its 250,000 locals are certainly friendly — and thoroughly unlikely to strand you at the bottom of a sand pit.
- Tourist Information (鳥取市観光案内所), JR Tottori Station, ☎ +81 0857-22-3318, .
- Tottori Sightseeing Association (鳥取市観光協会), 103 Shinmachi, ☎ +81 0857-26-0756, .
- Tottori Sand Dunes Information Center (鳥取砂丘情報館サンドパルとっとり), 2083-17 Yuyama Hukube, ☎ +81 0857-20-2231, .
ANA runs four daily flights from Tokyo's Haneda Airport (about 75 minutes). Depending on when you buy your ticket (among other factors), a one-way ticket costs anything from around ￥11,000 to over ￥30,000.
Tottori is on the JR San'in Main Line, which travels along the coast from Kyoto to Shimonoseki. Okayama is about 2 hours south via the JR Tsuyama Line and the JR Imbi Line.
The Izumo night train runs directly from Tokyo. It leaves at 9:10PM and arrives in Tottori at 7:56AM. The cost is about ¥10,200.
Express buses serve Tottori from Hamamatsu-cho in Tokyo (¥10,200), Osaka's Namba Terminal (¥6000, 2 1/2 hours) or JR Bentencho Station (¥3600), Kyoto (¥3870), Okayama and Nishinomiya Kita (¥3000), Hiroshima (¥4400), and Fukuoka (¥9500).
There are two buses in Tottori: the Loop Kirinjishi and the ¥100 Bus Kururi. For the sand dunes and port, take the Loop Kirinjishi bus. A special sakyū bus runs from the train and central bus station — it plays the sand dunes' theme song as it goes by.
The ¥100 Bus has two routes, Red and Blue. The buses depart every 20 minutes from JR Tottori Station. (As the name suggests, trips of any distance are ¥100.) The red bus starts running 8:05AM (9AM on weekends and holidays) and makes its last departure at 6PM. The blue bus starts at 8:05AM (9:10AM on weekends and holidays) with a last departure at 6:10PM.
The city center, between the train station and Mt. Kyusho, is easily navigable on foot. From downtown, a wide and pleasant greenbelt leads to the beach. Starting from JR Tottori Station, walk west about 5 blocks to find the river, Sendai-gawa. Head right when you find the path. The walk takes about 45 minutes. To get to the sand dunes, it is best to take the bus. Walking is possible, but it will take a few hours to get there.
The White Rabbit of Inaba
Just offshore at Hakuto Beach is a small island that is part of a local folktale. The story goes that a rabbit was trapped on the island, longing to return to his family on the mainland. He tricked a family of sharks into lining up so he could hop on their backs to the shore, but as he reached the last shark, he sneered that he had deceived them; enraged, the sharks tore off all the rabbit's fur. To make matters worse, some cruel gods told the rabbit he would be cured if he bathed in the sea, which he did, only to find that the salt stung his wounds quite badly. The youngest brother of the gods, Okuninushi no Mikoto, felt sorry for the crying rabbit, and told him to bathe in fresh water and dry off with cattails. The rabbit was cured and predicted that the god would become the ruler of the Inaba region, which came true. Reminders of this story abound in the Tottori area, and you will see the white rabbit on everything from bridges to sewer grates to flower arrangements, sometimes accompanied by a rather fat god carrying a big sack.
- Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘 ''Tottori sakyū''), ☎ +81 0857-26-7238, . Open 24 hours. Special activities typically begin at 9AM. 16km from east to west, the Tottori Sand Dunes are a favorite target for climbing, exploring, and more. If you arrive very early in the morning, you can see the unique patterns carved by the wind before they get trampled by the scores of people who come to climb the biggest dune. If you'd prefer not to get sand in your shoes, a cable car ride (¥200 one way) leads to the Dune Observatory Center. After heavy rains, the oasis below the uma no se (the largest dune) forms into a beautiful lake. Free.
- Tottori Castle Ruins, Higashi-cho, ☎ +81 0857-22-3318. Enter anytime. Built in 1545, Tottori Castle was destroyed in a massive siege in the 19th century, and only the foundations remain. The site offers a nice view of the city below from the lower reaches of Mt. Kyusho. The surrounding park is the perfect place to go during cherry-blossom season. Free.
- Tottori Prefectural Museum, 2-124 Higashi-cho, ☎ +81 0857-26-8042, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. A two-story museum that displays the flora and fauna of Tottori, regional rocks and minerals, historical artifacts, festival and local cultural artifacts, and a variety of art produced in the city. (Be aware that most, but not all, of the prehistoric artifacts are reproductions; most of the other displays are real, though.) Some of the standouts are the largest preserved squid in Japan and a live giant salamander. ¥180 adults, college students and under free.
- Jinpukaku Mansion, 2-121 Higashi-cho, ☎ +81 0857-26-3595. Tu-Su. This French-style mansion was home to the remnants of the Edo-era feudal clan, Ikeda. ¥150.
- Kannon-in, ☎ +81 0857-24-5641, . 8:30AM-5PM. Constructed in 1632, this is the 32nd temple along the Chugoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage. While the temple itself does not look particularly special, the garden inside is what makes this such a great place to visit. The temple doors are removed upon entering so that you can sit and enjoy the beautiful pond garden from inside. The garden is quite peaceful, as the only sounds you can hear are the birds in the trees. It's easy to forget you're in a city. Entrance is listed as ¥600, but this charge includes tea. If you don't want the tea, you can enter for ¥300.
- Ochidani Shrine, 87 Uemachi (¥100 bus to Ochidani Kouen Yamabikokan-mae), ☎ +81 0857-22-3318. Built in 1650 by Mitsunaka Ikeda, the first lord of Tottori. The god worshipped here is the same worshipped at Toshogu Shrine in Nikko. It's a popular place to watch fireflies at night in the late summer. Free.
- Warabekan (Children's Museum), 3-202 Nishimachi, ☎ +81 0857-22-7070, . 9AM-5PM, closed the 3rd Wednesday of every month. This museum features a re-creation of an old school building and many interesting tin toys. ¥500, high school students and younger are free.
- Tottori Mingei Museum of Folkcrafts (鳥取民藝美術舘 tottori mingei bijutsukan), 651 Sakae-machi, ☎ +81 0857-26-2367. Th-Tu 10AM-5PM. Despite the name, this small, two story museum displays mainly pottery and glass, but also has some textiles, woodwork, and bamboo work. The Ushinotoyaki pottery is the highlight of the collection. Just outside the museum, there is a place (the hexagonal structure) to pray for and make offerings to deceased orphans. With the stained-glass, it has an interesting Christian-Buddhist fusion feel. ¥500 adults, free for students and elderly.
- Genchuji, 176 Shinhonji-cho, ☎ +81 0857-22-5294. 9AM-4PM. This temple is the site of the grave of Araki Mataemon, a legendary swordsman. In a famous story, he came to the aid of a man who was seeking in vengeance; the actual sword he used is displayed on the temple grounds. Rakan (paintings of high ranking Buddhists) are painted on the fusuma (screen doors) inside the temple by Keitaro Takagi. While traditional priest paintings are stoic, these paintings are quite candid, with rather comical appearances. ¥300.
- Tottori City History Museum (やまびこ館), 88 Uemachi, ☎ +81 0857-23-2140, . 9AM-5PM. Interactive multimedia and digital displays about the city's history and culture. ¥500 adults, high school and under free.
Outside the city center
- Aoya Kamijichi Site Museum, 4064 Aoya, Aoya-cho (Aoya Station), ☎ +81 0857-85-0841, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. One of Japan's most famous archaeological sites. Thousands of Yayoi Period relics were excavated here, including human remains. Free.
- Inaba Manyo Historical Museum, 726 Machiya, Kokufu-cho (Inaba Manyo Rekishikan Iriguchi bus stop), ☎ +81 0857-26-1780, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. Located in Kokufu-cho, this museum houses many Inaba-area artifacts from the Nara and Heian eras. ¥500, high school students and younger are free.
- Kawahara Castle, 1011 Tanihitotsugi, Kawahara-cho, ☎ 0858-85-0046, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM, to 9PM Sa April-Sept. Located in the far-eastern reaches of the city limits, the castle offers a spectacular view. It is said that Toyotomi Hideyoshi stopped here and dreamed about a peaceful, united Japan prior to uniting the nation himself. From JR Tottori Station, take the bus for Chizo and get off at Kawahara (30 minutes). The castle is a 15 minute walk from the bus stop. Free.
- Nagashibina Doll Museum, 32-1 Beppu, Mochigase-cho (JR Inbi Line to Mochigase Station), ☎ 0858-87-3222, . Th-Tu 9AM-5PM. Displays hina dolls (for girls) throughout history, mostly from the Edo-period. ¥300.
- Saji Astro Park, 1017-1 Takayama, Saji-cho, ☎ 0858-89-1011, . 9AM-9PM, to 10PM April-Sept. Houses a planetarium and the largest telescope in Japan. ¥300 adults, ¥200 junior high students and younger.
- Shikano Castle Ruins, 1517 Shikano-cho, Shikano, ☎ +81 0857-84-2099. Enter anytime. Although none of the original castle remains, the inner and outer moats and stone columns can still be seen. It's most popular during cherry blossom season with approximately 500 trees scattered throughout the castle grounds. Free.
- Ube Shrine, 651 Miyanoshita, Kokufu-cho (Bus to Miyanoshita Jinja-mae), ☎ +81 0857-22-3318, . The first shrine to be built in the Inaba area, which consists of the entire eastern half of modern Tottori Prefecture. Praying at this shrine is believed to bestow fertility, long life, and wealth. Free.
- Watanabe Museum, 1-55-1 Tsutsumishita, Kakuji (Sakyu bus to Watanabe Museum), ☎ +81 0857-24-1152, . This privately-owned museum houses a wild display of samurai armor and artifacts, as well as a selection of other things such as musical instruments and ukiyo-e woodblock prints. ¥900 adults, ¥500 high school and college students, ¥300 younger.
There's a lot to do at the sand dunes. Pay close attention to operating days/seasons and make reservations before getting your heart set on a specific activity, though.
- Camel Rides, 2164-449 Yuyama, Fukube-cho, ☎ +81 0857-23-1735. 9AM-5PM. Anyone who knows anything about sand dunes knows that they're meant to be traveled atop a camel. You'll find the camels by the main entrance (east), in front of the lift. One rider ¥1800, two ¥3000. If you just want your picture taken atop a camel, it costs ¥500. The price is a bit steep, but you did get into the dunes for free.
- Horse-drawn Carriage Rides. While it may not be as much of a Lawrence of Arabia experience, the horse-drawn carriages are still fun. The ride lasts approximately 15 minutes. Board next to the camels. ¥1000 adults, ¥600 children.
- Hang Gliding, 283-6 Yuyama, Fukube-cho, ☎ +81 0857-75-2282. Courses are offered daily from April through November. Full day courses suitable for beginners, offered by professional hang-gliders from Kyoto Air Sports. Because you need to be there for the entire course to get airborne, you must make a reservation. Walk-ins are not accepted. ¥11,000.
- Paragliding, 1-1155-36 Hamasaka, ☎ +81 0857-29-9098. Daily from late March to November. Half-day courses suitable for beginners, operated by professionals from Zero Paragliding Sports. If you've never tried paragliding, these sandy surfaces are a good place to start. Reservations required. ¥6500 for each half-day course.
- Sandboarding, ☎ +81 0857-23-1749. Thursdays, April 15 to Nov 30. This is by far the best place in Japan to experience sandboarding. Each course lasts 2 hours, reservations required. There must also be at least 10 people signed up for that day, or the course will be cancelled. ¥2500 per course.
With the Sea of Japan as its northern border, Tottori has some excellent beaches.
- Hakuto Beach, ☎ +81 0857-26-0756. (白兎) Famous for its association with the White Rabbit of Inaba; in fact, the name of the beach means "white rabbit". This beach was the rabbit's destination after his shark-hop.
- Idegahama Beach, ☎ +81 0857-85-0015. So nice the sand will sing to you (narisuna). The sand at Idegahama is made of silica, and when you walk on it, it makes a pleasant sound. The sand at Idegahama was even worshipped long ago because of the melodies that rang from the sand. To hear the sand at its best, come when it is hot.
- Natsudomari Beach, ☎ +81 0857-22-3318. For more than 400 years, these waters have been worked by female divers with their own special method of fish-catching. If you are lucky, you may even see them today.
- Uradome Beach, ☎ +81 0857-72-3481. Designated as a national park, the coast just east of the sand dunes is rugged and magnificent. Contact the Iwami-cho Tourist Association.
- Starting from the castle ruins, climbing Mt. Kyusho takes around half an hour and offers a great view of the city and surrounding area, all the way out to the sand dunes. But watch out for the ghosts of those who starved at the top during the castle siege.
- Relax at Tottori Hot Spring, not far from JR Tottori Station, or at Yoshioka Hot Spring. Both have brochures at the information desk in the train station.
- Shan-Shan Festival. Mid-August. More than 4,000 people participate in the parades of the "Inaba Umbrella Dance", using ornate umbrellas covered in bells and colorful strips of paper. Snap a photo of the over-sized one hanging year-round in the train station, as it is a symbol of this area.
- San In Beach Party, . Early July. This all-weekend party is rated as one of the best outdoor events in the country. The 2007 event gathered more than a thousand guests from far and wide, and half of those were foreigners. There are DJs at night, live music during the day, come-as-you-please workshops on the beach, beach game tournaments, food stalls, and the famous beach bar. Hotel and camping facilities are available — contact the organizers if you need specific information. It's held at a beautiful bay about 10km out of Tottori called Kozomi (west along Route 9 towards Yonago). Tickets ¥6000 advance, ¥7000 at the festival.
- Kirin Lion Dance. April. A traditional lion dance held at Ube Shrine, dedicated to the shrine's patron deities.
- Tottori Sand Dune Illuminations. December. At the end of each year, the sand dunes are lit up at night, and on New Years Eve, there is a countdown to the New Year.
Walking east from the station, you will find a string of small shops lining the main street to the right. Kato Kamiten, a stationary shop in the second block east, has an colorful and interesting selection of locally-produced paper on its second floor.
- Daimaru (鳥取大丸), 2-151 Imamati, ☎ +81 0857-25-2111, . 10AM-7:30PM. Five story department store just east of the station. Aside from the usual fashion, there's a food court in the basement and a rooftop family beer garden in the summer, with a tent for the rainy season.
- At the southeast corner of Sakaemachi, you will find a large two-story store in which everything sold was made locally, including pottery, paper, clothing, dolls, and food items.
- There is another shopping district about 3km west of the train station which includes a sizable bookstore and a DeoDeo electronics center, among other things. A small import grocer sits not far away.
- West of the river near the coast is a shopping area anchored by the large Jusco store.
Tottori is most famous for its pears; cookies, cakes, and other sweets are made from them. Have a look at the omiyage shop in the train station, at the local handcraft shop two blocks up the main street, or in the basement floor of Daimaru. Another local specialty is shallots, grown in huge fields out near the sand dunes and pickled for appetizers.
Crab and white squid are the best of the local catch.
There is a reasonable kaitenzushi (conveyor-belt sushi) restaurant, as well as other restaurants inside the Shamine department store in JR Tottori Station. A number of popular chain restaurants can be found in in the city center, such as Wara Wara (笑笑), Doma Doma (どまどま), and Shirokiya (白木屋).
- Cafe Source, 227 Yayoi-cho, ☎ +81 0857-21-3457, . 12PM-12AM. Go up the main street from the station several blocks. Just before you come to the river, you'll find this café on the right, on the second floor. Classy atmosphere and tasty selections from an eclectic menu. If you're not up for a full meal, stop in for the drinks and desserts. Lunch sets from ¥850, dinner from ¥2950.
- Karoichi (かろいち), 3-27-1 Nishi-cho, ☎ +81 0857-38-8866, . Most restaurants 11AM-4PM, 5-10PM. A large seafood market with a view of the coast. Among the several restaurants, Wakabayashi Sushi is good and cheap — an eight piece nigiri set is ¥700. It's inside the market near the right entrance.
To find the main drinking district, which is an area about 2 blocks by 3 blocks, walk about two blocks up the main street from the train station, take a right and go down about a block. There are plenty of izakaya and small pubs.
- Big Apple, 3-24-2 Koyama-cho higashi, ☎ +81 0857-28-2413. Tu-Su 6PM-2AM. By day, Big Apple is a diner for the neighborhood's factory workers, but on weekend nights they often bring in DJs and clear the tables from the dance floor. It's a short walk north from JR Koyama Station, just off Route 9.
- DNA, 753 Suehiro Onsen-cho, ☎ +81 0857-22-7005, . Located in the heart of the entertainment area, DNA is the nightclub in Tottori. They have 3 rooms (main hall, dining & a VIP room) that can hold up to 250 people. Major events are held at the weekend, with international artists, while their mid-week schedule includes lower key events such as quiz nights, dance lessons, and fashion shows, with imported beers to enjoy. The owners are an English guy and an Israeli guy who have lived in Tottori for a decade, so they have good local info.
- Goldrush, 178 Yayoi-cho (Okumura Building, 2nd floor), ☎ +81 0857-20-2461. M-Sa 7PM-3AM. Country-western-style saloon in the backstreets of the drinking district. They are rumored to serve reasonable tacos.
- Luz, 271-1 Suehiro-onsen-cho, ☎ +81 0857-21-7567. Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-1AM. This place has nice African decor. Try the mamushi-shu, which is sake with a drowned viper snake inside. The Israelis who sell jewelry in front of the place can sometimes be a very valuable source of information. It's across from the Lawson.
Garden at Kannon-in, Tottori
- Yanagijaya Campground (柳茶屋キャンプ場). Free campsite right next to Kids' Land (こどもの国 Kodomo no kuni), west of the sand dunes. There are free showers in the Cycling Terminal building next door.
- Oasis Minshuku (オアシス), 2083 Yuyama, Fukube-cho, ☎ +81 0857-23-0227, . A nice hotel just five minutes from the sand dunes. Rooms ¥4000; breakfast ¥500 extra, dinner as well ¥2500.
- Ladies Inn Tottori (レディス イン 鳥取), 102-5 Eirakuonsen-cho, ☎ +81 0857-23-8161. As the name says, this hotel is for women only. Coin laundry and Internet available. ¥4500-5300.
- Wel City Tottori (ウェルシティ 鳥取), 176 Ogi-machi, ☎ +81 0857-22-8100, . Pleasant business hotel with Western-style rooms, Internet access, and dinner from ¥1000. Rooms from ¥4273.
- Tottori City Hotel (鳥取シティホテル), 471 Ebisu-machi, ☎ +81 0857-27-6211, . Basic, no-frills business hotel, with a good location in the city center. Rooms from ¥5000.
- Hotel Alpha One Tottori (ホテルアルファーワン鳥取), 759 Suehiro-onsen-cho, ☎ +81 0857-29-9188, . Great hospitality and rooms bigger than average, with a good buffet breakfast. Rooms from ¥5100.
- Toyoko Inn (東横イン鳥取駅南口), 2-153-3 Tomiyasu, ☎ +81 0857-36-1045, . Offers Internet in the lobby, PCs and color printer, coin operated washing machines, and free breakfast. Women may ask for a free cosmetics set. Every room has a television, air conditioner, green tea, and refrigerator. Rooms from ¥5460 single, ¥7560 double, ¥8190 twin.
- Tottori Washington Hotel Plaza (鳥取ワシントンホテルプラザ), 102 Higashi Hongi-machi, ☎ +81 0857-27-8111, . Good-sized rooms and a tasty buffet breakfast. Nice view from the upper floors, too. ¥6900 and up.
- Super Hotel Tottori Ekimae (スーパーホテル鳥取), 5 Ogi-machi, ☎ +81 0857-22-9000, . Business hotel with Internet access in the (small) rooms and a PC in the lobby. Rooms from ¥5280 single, ¥7280 double (which they call 'super').
- Hotel Monarque (ホテルモナーク鳥取), 403 Eiraku-onsen-cho, ☎ +81 0857-20-0101, . Impeccably clean rooms with a relaxing spa for guests. Western-style rooms from ¥7080 single, ¥10,000 double; Japanese-style rooms extra.
- Hotel New Otani (ホテルニューオータニ鳥取), 2-153 Ima-machi, ☎ +81 0857-23-1111, . Good business hotel with friendly, patient staff, but the meals are a bit overpriced. Rooms from ¥9500 single, ¥18,000 double.
- Net Cafe Dorothy (コミック＆ネットカフェドロシー鳥取店), 2-72 Tomiyasu (JR Tottori Station), ☎ +81 0857-27-7775, . 24 hours. Internet cafe with private booths and comfortable chairs for long computer sessions or a long nap — pillows, blankets, and showers available for the latter purpose. Complimentary grub includes soda, coffee ice cream, popcorn, and miso soup. ¥980 for three hours, ¥1380 for six, ¥2480 for 12.
- Shop Tottori Coffee & Internet Cafe (スペースクリエイト自遊空間鳥取店), 5-206 Koyama-machi higashi, ☎ +81 0857-32-2381, . 24 hours. Also offers private booths, free drinks, and shower rooms; also karaoke, pool, darts, and even tatami "family rooms". It's a short walk to the right after exiting JR Koyama Station. ¥280 for 30 minutes, ¥1500 for eight hour 'overnight' pack.
- Misasa - Home to the mysterious cliff temple, Mitokusan Nageiredo and a nice hot spring.
- Kurayoshi Home to a well-preserved historic district.
- Daisen A great place for hiking in the warm months and skiing in the winter.
- Wakasa A nearby town with a nice ski resort.
- Tsuyama One of the best places in the entire Chugoku region to view cherry blossoms in the spring and autumn leaves in the fall.
- Many of Tottori prefecture's famous hot springs are easily accessible as day trips: Togo Hot Spring in Togo-cho, Shikano Hot Spring in Shikano-cho, Iwami Hot Spring, Hamamura Hot Spring in Ketaka-cho, Sekigane Hot Spring in Sekigane-cho, Hawai Hot Spring in Hawai-cho