Sand dunes, Daisen & steak?!: Tottori-ken

A man climbs takes in the view from one of Tottori’s sand dunes. (Photo by Jonathan Fisher)

By Jonathan Fisher

As it turns out, there are loads of cool ways to spend a long weekend in Tottori-ken, Hiroshima’s slightly more inaka neighbor to the north, with its sandy coastlines along the Sea of Japan, and onsen aplenty making it a choice destination for ALTs looking to escape the crowded cement strip that follows the Seto Inland Sea from Hiroshima to Fukuyama and beyond. But if leaving the city behind doesn’t sound like your idea of a vacation well spent, consider this: steak. Tottori prefecture is known for its beef and dairy products (a sort of Hokkaido South), and as such, is home to the best, most reasonably priced sirloin steak I have had the pleasure of devouring in Japan.

But before I spend too much more time on the beef, a word on Tottori prefecture’s more traditional tourist attractions. The Dunes in Tottori city are a must-see natural wonder in Japan, right up there with the giant cedar trees of Yakushima and the Naruto Whirlpools off the coast of Tokushima prefecture. The Tottori Dunes, or 砂丘 (sakyu), which are a unique landform in Japan, are impressively vast. Bring a picnic lunch and even on the busiest tourist days, you’ll be able to find a pleasantly secluded spot to enjoy this desert-like landscape of giant sandy mounds. Of course tourist traps abound — like the exorbitantly expensive camel ride photo opportunity, and the ubiquitous and unnecessary ropeway dunes access — but these are all easy enough to avoid.

Tottori sand dunes. (Photo by Jonathan Fisher)

Tottori city itself is rather more cosmopolitan than I expected, in large part due to the presence of a Japanese national university there. So, there were plenty of variously pierced and fashionable young Japanese out in the city barhopping the one night my friends and I stayed there — a pleasant surprise!

An hour and a half west of Tottori city on the San-in Express Train Line in the small resort town of Yonago. Yonago is perhaps best known as the starting point for most people interested in ascending Daisen, a stunning semi-conical 1,700-meter active volcano that appears to have risen out of the ocean at some point in Japan’s geological past. It’s a challenging day hike for beginners, and the terrain near the top is great practice for Mt. Fuji, with very rewarding views from the summit. The temple and shrines at the base of the mountain are certainly worth a peek as well.

After you’ve spent the day hiking, Yonago’s renowned seaside Kaike Onsen resorts await. The Kaike Onsen resort complex is spread out along a sandy stretch of the Sea of Japan coast and includes reasonably priced one-time public access for those wishing to spend the night elsewhere.

But among the best of Yonago’s offerings, posh onsen and exciting mountain excursions included, is a small restaurant just two blocks from JR Yonago station: Torico Spoon, home of the best, most reasonably priced cut of beef I’ve had in two years living in Japan. It is rare to find a steak dinner in Japan under 2,000 yen. And I don’t mean the 24-hour family restaurant’s hanbaagu teishoku. Torico Spoon offers a 200 gram (approximately 7 ounce) sirloin served medium rare in its own herbed juices with potatoes, a small salad and soup on the side for 1,800 yen. The soup is actually the specialty of the house (hence the restaurant’s name). On the first night I dined there (my friends and I decided to come back for seconds the food was so good!) the soup special was a creamy shrimp and lobster chowder, which was impressively done, and a tasty compliment to the main course.

Steak and potatoes from the Torico Spoon. (Photo by Ryan Fowler)

The drinks at Torico Spoon were impressive as well. Though the décor of this restaurant is somewhat more akin to something you might expect from an eclectic Hiroshima city café with espresso and sandwiches available — and we learned that the restaurant is somewhat more popular as a lunch spot among the locals — the staff mix their cocktails and pour their beer like a real American steak house in oversize (by Japanese standards), sturdy tumblers. The gin there was plenty dry and Tottori’s locally brewed Daisen Pale Ale was a great match for the steak and soup.

My friends and I left this restaurant full of good food and happy, ready to collapse from all of the walking, our legs like jelly from the gin and our lengthy onsen dip before dinner. Though we didn’t stray very far from Hiroshima, it was certainly a Golden Week well spent.

Travel Tips

Buses leave for Yonago City from Hiroshima Bus Center approximately every two hours. One-way bus fares are 3,200 yen per person. (Incidentally, the bus stops in Miyoshi City en route to Yonago for those traveling from the north of Hiroshima prefecture.) The journey lasts about 4.5 hours.

Express train fare is 1,620 yen from JR Yonago Station to JR Tottori Station.

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