Sand, Seafood, and Sightseeing – A Trip to Tottori
By Kathy Rice
While Tottori is the least populous prefecture in Japan, practically epitomizing the inaka (the rural country side in Japan), it has been gaining more and more attention as a tourism destination due to the beautiful sand dunes (sakyū) located near the prefecture’s capital, Tottori City.
Coming from the middle of landlocked Pennsylvania, I still get excited every time I get a chance to go to the shore, so I’ve been dying to check out the sand dunes along Tottori’s coast. In October of last year, I finally got the chance to take a road trip with a friend to Tottori, and while it was a long trip (over three hours one way from Fukuyama), it easily became one of the most memorable places I’ve visited in Japan.
Due to a late start to the day, we arrived in Tottori City in time for a late lunch. As Tottori is located along the Sea of Japan, the prefecture is famous for its seafood, with a large fish market called Karoichi [http://www.karoichi.jp/] located near the coast. There are a few restaurants near Karoichi, so we tried one called Kayoutei (海陽亭).
The most popular dishes at Kayoutei are the kaisen-don (sashimi rice bowl), but my friend and I went for some of the different options. I got a rice bowl with lightly cooked salmon and salmon roe, along with a set of tempura. I’m not a huge fan of salmon roe, but when it’s fresh like it was here, it makes for a good pairing with salmon! The atmosphere of the restaurant was also very nice, with a large portion in the middle of the seating area devoted to fish tanks for the ultra-fresh fish the restaurant serves.
After we finished lunch, we headed to the main tourist attraction of the city, the sand dunes just outside the city center. At the sand dunes, there are camels for tourists to ride and take photos on, hang gliding and paragliding on nice days, and an elevated observation area to see a nice view of the dunes.
Unfortunately, due to our late lunch, by the time we got to the sand dunes it was already past 4:30PM, and the camels were being packed up, there were no more hang gliders around, and the observation area was getting ready to close.
However! That didn’t put too much of a damper on the day, because it meant seeing a lovely sunset from the dunes, something better expressed with photos.
While most of the attraction of the sand dunes ends at night, Tottori does have a rarity—a museum in Japan open past 5PM! The Sand Museum [http://www.sand-museum.jp/en/] is hands-down my favorite museum in Japan. The museum features a different display of sand sculptures made by artists from around the world. The theme changes every year, and last year’s theme was, “Travel Around the World in Sand-Germany.” However, starting in January, last year’s display was completely removed in order for artists from around the world to once again come to Tottori to make a new set of sculptures. This year’s theme is South America, and it will be running from April 16 to January 3 of next year. You can see photos of past exhibits on the museum’s website, but they are even more amazing to see in person. The museum also has videos and photo galleries detailing the process of building the sand sculptures.
On the way out, I stopped by the museum gift shop (which also has a ton of sand-themed knick-knacks!) and picked up a nashi-flavored frozen jelly snack. Tottori is known for its agricultural products, one of which are nashi (Japanese pears). Since we went right in the middle of nashi season, everywhere we went was selling nashi in some form, from the fruit itself to multiple nashi ice cream stands around the sand dunes.
Although it’s a bit out of the way, I definitely recommend visiting Tottori at least once, especially while the Sand Museum is open. Despite the long trip there and back, I know I will be going again soon just to see the new Sand Museum exhibit, and hopefully I’ll make it in time for the camels next time!