Sand Dunes - A Little-Known Tourist Attraction in the Land of the Rising Sun

One of the lesser known tourist attractions of Japan is its sand dunes. Although they may not be able to compete with the likes of the Sahara desert, they do share similar appearances, making them the next best thing for travelers looking to see vast piles of sand.

The Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori, Japan

The Tottori Sand Dunes, or Tottori Sakyu, are located just beyond the outskirts of Tottori city in the Tottori Prefecture of Japan. It is the largest sand dune system in the country, measuring at roughly 2 kilometers in width, 50 meters in height, and 16 kilometers along the coast of the Sea of Japan.

According to records, the sand dunes of Tottori were formed over several millenniums from the sands of the Chugoku Mountains which were washed out into the Sea of Japan by the Sendaigawa River. The ocean’s currents and the winds helped in redepositing the sand to its current location along the coast. At present, the sand dunes continue to be altered by the same forces. As such, the landscape offered to visitors is always changing.

Tottori Sakyu has an area dedicated for sightseeing. It measures about 500 meters in size and is located between the ocean and the visitor center. From the top of this area, the majority of the sand dune system can be seen spreading far and wide in almost every direction possible. An observation deck is also available at the Sakyu Center, which is accessible by a chair lift directly connected to the sand dunes.

There are, of course, other sections of the Tottori Sand Dunes that tourists can explore and enjoy in various ways. Horse and camel rides are available for those who want to roam around in style. For more adventurous visitors, there are sandboarding and paragliding activities being offered on site by local firms.

Foreign travelers who want to see sand sculptures may visit The Sand Museum, sunrise, the museum’s exhibits were displayed outdoors. By the year 2012, all of its displays were transferred to a permanent building, which is located just a few meters away from the sand dunes. The exhibitions of the museum start in April and end in January of the following year. The theme is changed annually and is often based on a certain region or country. 

These sand dunes are actually part of a bigger complex known as the Sanin Kaigan National Park, which was established in 1963. The park stretches from Tottori to Kyotango and has an area of 87.83 sq. km. Aside from the Tottori Sand Dunes, visitors may also explore other features including caves, islands, and rock formations located within the park’s vicinity.

Problems of the Tottori Sand Dunes

The Tottori Sand Dunes were not always regarded as a tourist attraction. In fact, for many centuries, the site was considered as nothing but a nuisance. However, when the sand dunes found their way into Japanese literature, people started taking interest and made trips to the coast. It did not take long for the news of its beauty to spread across the country and the world. Today, the Tottori Sand Dunes is visited by almost two million people every year.

Unfortunately, due to a reforestation program that was implemented after World War II, the amount of sand being washed onto the coast from the mountains has gradually been decreasing. Furthermore, as a means to protect sections of the Sanin Kaigan National Park from tsunamis, concrete barriers were erected. As such, the currents in charge of bringing in the sand to the coast have been interrupted.

To prevent the dunes from shrinking any further, the government of Tottori has been dumping sand away from the coastline but still near the dunes to hopefully wash ashore. In addition, they have been manually removing unwanted grassy areas to further protect the dunes. As the government’s efforts to save Tottori Sakyu has yet to show lasting results, it millenniums that tourists visit the site as soon as possible.

Hours & Fees of the Tottori Sand Dunes

Visitors can expect to share the experience with thousands of other people during their trip to Tottori Sand Dunes. For those who want to avoid crowds, the early morning hours of the day often have fewer people. Tourists who want to include a trip to the sand museum or camel rides in their itineraries should take note of the following hours and fees:

Sand Museum

  • Hours: Open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM (until 8:00 PM on the weekends)
  • Admission: ¥600/person
  • Closed Day/s: When there are no exhibitions (January – April)

Camel Rides

  • Hours: Open from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM (March – November); Open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM (December to February)
  • Admission: ¥1,300 for one person; ¥2,500 for two persons
  • Closed Day/s: None

Getting to Tottori Sand Dunes

Tourists may reach the Tottori Sand Dunes using one of these transportation services:

Kirin Jishi Loop Bus

The Kirin Jishi Loop Bus has buses that go from the Tottori Station to the Tottori Sand Dunes on weekends, summer holidays (July – August), and national holidays. There are two routes available, A-Course and B-Course. Buses of the A-Course can reach the sand dunes in 25 minutes, while B-Course buses can take up to an hour to reach the destination.

Buses depart from the station every hour or two. The bus fare costs ¥300 per person, per ride. There is also a 1-day pass available for ¥600 per person.

Regular City Bus

The regular city bus has hourly departures from the Tottori Station. There is a bus stop No. 0 located in front of the station where tourists can catch a bus heading to Tottori Sakyu. The last stop of the bus route is where tourists should get off. Travel time usually lasts about 20 minutes and the bus fare costs ¥370 per person, per ride.


From the Tottori Station, tourists can get a taxi to drive them directly to the Tottori Sand Dunes. A taxi ride takes 20 minutes and costs ¥2,200 on average.

Tourist Attractions Near Tottori Sand Dunes

The Tottori Prefecture is home to several other attractions worth visiting before or after one’s trip to the Tottori Sand Dunes. Some of the top places to make a side trip to include:

Mount Daisen

Oogamiyama shrine

Mount Daisen, or simply Daisen, is a massive volcanic mountain located in the western part of the Tottori Prefecture. It stands 1,729 meters tall, making it the highest mountain of the Chugoku Region. The mountain is part of the Daisen-Oki National Park and is included in the 100 famous mountains of Japan. There have been no eruptions made by Daisen for the past several millenniums.

The mountain is more popular for being a spiritual symbol than just being a hiking trail to conquer. By the foot of the mountain, the Daisenji Temple can be located. This temple has several other buildings situated along the mountain slopes which are all connected to each other by trails. Further up the mountain and beyond the trails of the temple is the Ogamiyama Shrine.

Mount Daisen has several peaks, Kengamine Peak being the highest at 1,729 meters. However, the trail leading to this area has been closed after it eroded in the year 2000 due to an earthquake. The next highest peak that tourists can climb is the Misen Peak, which measures 1,709 meters in height. The Misen Peak trail mostly consists of steep stairs that stretch to a length of 4 kilometers.

From November to April, Daisen is usually covered by a nice blanket of snow, making it one of the best ski slopes of western Japan. From October to November, the forests of the mountain are a spectacular sight to witness, with its vivid autumn colors.

Kannon-in Temple

Kannon-in Temple is located in the eastern part of Tottori City. It dates back to the Edo Period and was constructed by the Ikeda Family, a ruling clan of Tottori. The temple has a beautiful traditional Japanese garden that features a lawn, maple trees, and pine trees collectively surrounding a large pond. There are small islands included in the pond which represent health and longevity.

Visitors to the temple can have matcha tea and Japanese sweets at the main building while enjoying the garden view. Kannon-in Temple is open to the public from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There is an admission fee of ¥600 per person, which already includes the tea and snacks.

Tottori Castle Ruins

The Tottori Castle was constructed back in 1532. During the era of warring states, it functioned as the region’s center of power. Come the Edo Period, it served as the Ikeda clan’s seat. However, as with other structures, the Tottori Castle suffered the Meiji Period’s modernization policies and eventually got destroyed.

At present, what remains of the Tottori Castle that once stood on the mountain side, northeast of the city include stone walls and a wooden gate that continues to stand erect. Tourists access an observation point that provides a great view of Tottori City by climbing up the castle courtyards.

At the base of the ruins, there is a European-style building that dates back to the year 1907. The structure is known as Jinpukaku and features a small museum dedicated to the Ikeda Clan.

During April, the Tottori Castle Ruins look particularly beautiful with its hundreds of cherry trees in full bloom.

Cherry Blossom Spots

No trip to Japan would be complete without hanami (cherry blossom viewing). Tottori has several places filled with cherry trees that are especially spectacular during the month of April.

Fukurogawa River

The Fukurogawa River is a 10-minute walk away from the Tottori Station. The river itself flows through Tottori and goes on for nearly 1.5 kilometers. Over 200 cherry trees are lined along either side of the river. There is a narrow path available for tourists to walk the length of the river.

Inaba Senbonzakura

Inaba Senbonzakura is a 15-minute bus ride away from the Tottori Station. Inaba was the initial name of the region, while Senbonzakura is a Japanese term that translates to mean “1,000 cherry trees”. It is the perfect place within Tottori for locals and foreign travelers to have hanami picnics.

Koyamaike Aoshima Park

Koyamaike Aoshima Park is a 20-minute bus ride away from the Tottori Station. It houses Japan’s largest body of water known as the Koyamaike Pond. The pond has an island called Aoshima Island, which can be accessed through a bridge. Along the 1.6-kilometer coast of the island, visitors can pleasantly stroll around and admire hundreds of cherry trees.

The Next Biggest Sand Dunes in Japan

Aside from the Tottori Sankyu, there are actually other sand dunes in Japan, particularly in the Shizuoka Prefecture and the Aomori Prefecture.

Nakatajima Sand Dunes

The Nakatajima Sand Dunes, or Nakatajima Sakyu, are located at Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture. The entire complex measure 0.6 kilometers, north to south, and 4.0 kilometers, east to west. Its dunes were formed from the sediment deposits of the Southern Japanese Alps which were washed into the Pacific Ocean by the Tenryu River. The sand is brought to the coast of Hamamatsu by strong winds and ocean currents.

During New Year’s, the Nakatajima Sand Dunes are flocked by locals who want to see the first sunrise of the year. The site is also busy with people during the Hamamatsu Festival, which is a traditional kite flying festival that occurs from May 3 to 5.

A visit during the summer is also interesting as Loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on the beach during this period. These eggs are collected and kept in a secure area where they can be monitored day and night. When the time comes, the hatchlings can easily exit the area and head towards the Pacific Ocean.

Sarugamori Sand Dunes

The Sarugamori Sand Dunes, or Sarugamori Sakyu, are located in the northeastern part of the Aomori Prefecture. The site also goes by the name Shimokita Sand Dunes, or Shimokita Sakyu, given its location on the Shimokita Peninsula. The complex measures 17 kilometers in length and 2 kilometers in width. It is popular for being Japan’s largest expanse made of singing sand.

However, the majority of the Sarugamori Sand Dunes is used by Japan’s Ministry of Defense as a military training ground. As such, tourists are generally not allowed to explore the area.