Off the Beaten Path: Tottori
Written by: Samantha Ferrari
I live smack-dab in the middle of Tottori prefecture, in a little town called Hokuei. The residents proudly produce watermelons, yams, rice, and grapes. Nearby is the small city of Kurayoshi, to the west is the city Yonago, and to the east is Tottori’s eponymously named capital city. The cities are relatively smaller than others in Japan and are not the main reason you should come to Tottori. Gardens, parks, waterfalls, rivers and mountains take up the most space in the prefecture. The Japan Sea borders the shoreline, where energy-producing windmills are placed along the white-sand beaches. Everywhere, rice fields accentuate the spaciousness of the area. Jagged mountains frame the land, isolating Tottori-ken like the well-kept secret it is.
Tottori is surprisingly accessible from Hiroshima. There are train and bus stations in each major city, as well as airports in Tottori and Yonago. Unless you have the funds to fly, it would be most beneficial to come for a weekend, or even during Golden Week. By bus, it takes about four hours to get from Hiroshima Station to Tottori Station and costs approximately ¥7000 round trip, which is about half the price of travelling by train. However, because of the expansiveness of Tottori, I highly recommend travelling by car. Driving shouldn’t cost you a lot more—in Tottori, there aren’t any toll booths on the highways, and the drive along the ocean is breathtaking.
Tottori is true inaka—it is the least populated prefecture in Japan. In many ways, it is a throwback to a Japan less influenced by the West. This is a prefecture that is excited about the first Starbucks set to open in the capital sometime this year. 7-11s do not yet exist here. Living in Hokuei, I’ve learned to rely on locally-grown foods—and here, they are plentiful (and delicious). Tottori is a breath of fresh air after Japan’s monstrous cities. Life moves at a slower pace. The stretches of mountain trails and beaches are often empty of other people. Multitudes of birds, monkeys, deer, foxes and tanuki live in the forests. I often stumble upon a hidden shrine or an ancient graveyard. Tottori prefecture is so rich in traditional cultural experiences that it is impossible to discuss them all; instead, I’ll tell you about a few of my favorite places that you could make your next weekend getaway.
Just south of Kurayoshi city is the quaint Misasa Town, a popular destination for spa-seekers and nature-lovers. The name “Misasa” literally means “three mornings,” alluding to the belief that if you stay to enjoy their hot springs for three mornings in a row, you will find all your ailments cured. There are many hot springs throughout the prefecture, but Misasa’s are said to be the best, and there are many places to enjoy them in the little town. Misasa Onsen Kouraku is my personal favourite, with its stone outdoor pool and waterfall. The water is rich in a naturally occurring radioactive gas that supposedly prevents cancer. On Wednesdays and Sundays, the staff scatter roses in the women’s pool, and they are notoriously cool with allowing foreigners with tattoos to use the facilities.
Also in Misasa area is Mount Mitoku, home to the “national treasure” Sanbutsuji, a 1300-year-old Buddhist temple precariously hanging in a cliff crevice. Misasa town itself is worth a wander: there are quaint cafes, elegant tea-houses, and the shops are stocked with local produce. I would certainly recommend hiking in the area; you may stumble upon an eerie abandoned village up in the hills.
Located between Yonago and Kurayoshi is Tottori-ken’s famous Mount Daisen. Towering over the Daisen Town area, the mountain boasts a thriving ski-village and one of the largest skiing areas in the prefecture. I highly recommend a ski-trip weekend on the mountain: the view of the coast from the top of the mountain is truly magical. Beyond the ski season, there are plenty other fun attractions in the Daisen area: there is a horseback-riding ranch, a blueberry picking farm, and the famous Daisen-ji Buddhist temple.
Tottori is famous for its one-of-a-kind sand dunes. At sixteen kilometers, they are the largest in Japan. Located very close to Tottori’s capital, the dunes draw tourists year-round. In the winter, they are romantically lit up by Christmas-style lights. In the warmer seasons, you can ride a camel, go paragliding or try “sandboarding” on the dunes. Another notable place nearby is the jagged Uradome Coast, worth a boat-ride to see the rugged cliffs and caves. A popular snorkeling destination, the sections of calm and clear waters are perfect places for sun-bathing in the summer.
A hidden gem, Tottori doesn’t get a lot of tourists. Visiting Tottori is a rare chance to get off the beaten path. The people here are laid-back and friendly, but fluent English ability is scarce in the very rural parts—which makes it an excellent place to practice your Japanese. If you’re not fluent, don’t worry: there’s plenty of information about Tottori’s attractions in English posted on Japan’s main tourism website, and travel websites like TripAdvisor can also be very helpful. Tottori’s natural beauty is a rarity in Japan, and if you’re craving a touch of nature, this prefecture should be your next stop.