Sand and Japan are two words that do not really seem to fit together. When it comes to visiting the land of the rising sun, some of the most common things a person would immediately think to include in his itinerary would be ski slopes, cherry blossom parks, and hot springs.
Japan has always been seen as a country composed of either busy metropolitan cities or charming, rural towns. In that sense, it seems impossible to imagine how a beach or desert would fit in.
Contrary to popular belief, the country actually does house large sand dunes for tourists to explore – one in Tottori and another in Hamamatsu.
Tottori Sakyu – The Largest Sand Dunes in Japan
The Tottori Sakyu, also known as Tottori Sand Dunes, stands to be the largest one in Japan up to this day. It is situated just beyond the outskirts of central Tottori and is considered to be under the jurisdiction of the Sanin Kaigan National Park.
The sand dunes stretch on for about sixteen kilometers along the coast of the Sea of Japan and are measured at two kilometers and fifty kilometers, in terms of width and height, respectively.
According to scientific report documents, the Tottori Sand Dunes were formed by sand deposits from the Sendaigawa River that were swept by the ocean and brought to the Sea of Japan’s coastline in Tottori. Given the always present winds and tides, the Tottori Sand Dunes offer visitors with a different landscape, day after day.
The Tourist’s Guide for Visiting Tottori Sand Dunes and Nearby Places
A stretch of 0.5-kilometer area between the sea and the Tottori Sand Dunes’ visitor center serves as the main sightseeing area for tourists to fully take in the vast size of the sand dunes.
Of course, visitors are also free to explore the rest of the place which practically stretches on from this area to every which way for several kilometers. The tops of the sand dunes offer breathtaking views which should not be missed.
Camel rides are available for visitors who want to roam around the sand dunes in style. A single person can avail a camel ride for around 1,300 yen, while two people can get one for the price of 2,500 yen. These services are offered from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM during March – November and from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM during December – February.
For those who want something a bit more exciting, sand boarding and paragliding activities can be availed through local companies.
The area also houses many other attractions for visitors to enjoy such as:
Sakyu Center Observation Deck
The Sakyu Center Observation Deck is accessible from the sand dunes through chair lifts. Tourists who want to view the entirety of the Tottori Sand Dunes should make it a point to visit the Sakyu Center which is open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
Tourists can also enjoy a meal at either the canteen or restaurant of the Sakyu Center. For large groups with over ten people, the canteen located on the second floor is highly recommended.
The Sand Museum
The Sand Museum can be accessed from the sand dunes by simply going on a short walk. It houses massive sand sculptures done by various artists from different places across the globe. The unique museum features a yearly themed-exhibit that goes on from April to January.
The exhibition of the Sand Museum for 2017 started on April 15, 2017 and will last until January 3, 2018, with the theme “United States of America”.
Tottori Sand Dunes - Access, Hours, and Fees
The Tottori Sand Dunes can be accessed from the Tottori Station by taking a regular city bus or a Kirin Jishi Loop bus.
Tourists who want to take the first option should look for a bus going to Tottori Sakyu at the Tottori Station bus stop #0. This route takes about twenty minutes of travel time and costs 370 yen for a one-way trip.
For those who are interested in taking the Kirin Jishi Loop bus, it should be noted that this option is only available on weekends, summer holidays, and national holidays. This loop offers two routes called A-Course and B-Course which both go to the Tottori Sand Dunes from the Tottori Station.
Both routes cost 300 yen per way or 600 yen for multiple rides throughout the day. A bus ride on the A-Course takes about 25 minutes of travel time, while one on the B-Course lasts for about an hour.
Taxis, of course, are also available from the Tottori Station for 2,200 yen, one-way.
Night buses can also be taken to the Tottori Sand Dunes from Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Himeji, Fukuoka, or Hiroshima.
Hours: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM (Monday – Friday); 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM (Saturday – Sunday); Closed from January to April
Admission Fee: 600 yen per person
Nearby Tourist Attractions
The Kannon-in Temple is located on the eastern portion of the city of Tottori. It dates back to the Edo Period when it was built by the ruling family, Ikeda.
A lot of tourists visit the temple to see its stunning Japanese garden which features tall pine trees, maple trees, and a large pond in the center. Snacks, sweets, and matcha tea are available at the main temple building for visitors to enjoy while admiring the beautiful landscapes.
Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily
Admission Fee: 600 yen per person, inclusive of tea
Tottori Castle Ruins
The Tottori Castle was established during the year 1532 for the purpose of becoming the regional powerhouse during the Muromachi Period. Come the Edo Period, the castle served as the seat of the Ikeda family.
Regrettably, the Tottori Castle and many other structures greatly suffered the Meiji Period’s modernization policies. At present, stone walls and a wooden gate are all that remain intact on the land the castle once stood.
Nonetheless, the site, which is located on the northeastern edge of central Tottori, continues to attract countless tourists every year for its charming cherry blossom trees that come in the hundreds. As such, the place becomes quite crowded during the month of April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Hours: Always open
Admission Fee: Free
The Hakuto Beach features white sand and is included in the one hundred selected beaches of Japan. During summer and winter, the place is flocked by locals and tourists who want nothing else but to sunbathe and surf the day away.
Hours: Always open
Admission Fee: Free
Nakatajima Sakyu – The Largest Sand Dunes in Hamamatsu, Japan
The Nakatajima Sakyu, or Nakatajima Sand Dunes, serve as the largest sand dunes in Hamamatsu, Japan and one of Japan’s three largest sand dunes. It is located along the coast of the Pacific Ocean and measures about 0.6 kilometers in length and 4 kilometers in width.
Similar to the Tottori Sand Dunes, the Nakatajima Sand Dunes date back thousands of years ago. The sand deposits that contributed to its creation came from the Southern Japanese Alps and were swept to Hamamatsu by the Tenryu River.
The Tourist’s Guide for Visiting Nakatajima Sand Dunes and Nearby Places
Other than its ever-changing landscape, a lot of locals and tourists visit the Nakatajima Sand Dunes for its super beautiful sunsets and Loggerhead turtles that come to the shore every summer to lay their eggs.
Compared to the Tottori Sand Dunes, the sand dunes of Hamamatsu offer a quieter ambiance. Some popular activities visitors do at the site include kite flying, dipping their feet in the cool waters, and going on a photowalk.
The Nakatajima Sand Dunes gets quite crowded every 1st of January. Due to the belief of the Japanese community that watching the first sunrise of the year will attract lots of good luck and blessings.
Large crowds can also be expected from the 3rd to the 5th days of May when the Hamamatsu Matsuri festival is being held. This event dates back more than 400 years ago and features over a hundred massive kites being flown over the sand dunes.
Nakatajima Sand Dunes – Access, Hours, and Fees
The Nakatajima Sand Dunes can be accessed from the JR Hamamatsu Station by taking a regular city bus (No. 6) bound to Nakatajima Iki. It usually takes about 15 minutes to reach the Nakatajima Sakyu stop where tourists should get off at. From there, the sand dunes are less than 5-minutes walk away.
Hours: Always Open
Admission Fee: Free
Nearby Tourist Attractions
Act Tower Observatory
The observation gallery at the Act Tower is located on the 45th floor which stands 185 meters above ground. It offers guests with breathtaking views of Hamamatsu City, Enshu Coast, and the Southern Alps. On clear days, Mt. Fuji can also be spotted from the deck.
The tower, which consists of 45 floors and stands 213 meters tall in total, also houses a hotel known as the Okura City Hotel in its upper 17 floors. Paying tribute to Hamamatsu’s local musical instrument companies, the Act Tower resembles a harmonica.
Hours: 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Admission Fee: 500 yen per person
The Hamamatsu Castle was established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the three individuals who contributed to Japan’s unification and considered to be Japan’s greatest shogun. From 1571 to 1588, the castle served as the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
After the end of the Edo Period, the Hamamatsu Castle was destroyed during World War II. Fortunately, its foundation remained intact and the castle was restored to its original design and specifications during the year 1958.
At present, the castle grounds serve as a park featuring more than 350 cherry blossom trees, several museums, and a tea house.
Hours: 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily; Closed from December 29 to 31
Admission Fee: 200 yen per person
Hamamatsu Flower Park
The Hamamatsu Flower Park houses more than three thousand types of flowers and a hundred thousand kinds of plants. It is the ideal place for tourists to take leisurely walks and simply enjoy a pleasantly sunny day.
Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Closed from December 29 to January 1
Admission Fee: 700 yen per person
Hamamatsu Fruit Park
The Hamamatsu Fruit Park, which also goes by the name Tokino-sumika, offers more than 15 different types of fruits for visitors to pick on their own. The fruit-themed park also houses a food court, winery, and a dinosaur center, among other attractions, for adults and kids to enjoy.
Tourists should take note of the following harvesting seasons to get an overview of what they can expect:
April – June: Plums, Peaches, Cherries, Japanese Apricots, Strawberries
July – September: Figs, Pears, Grapes, Blueberries, Plums, Peaches
October – December: Kiwis, Persimmons, Oranges, Akebies, Apples
January – March: Strawberries
Hours: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily
Admission Fee: 700 per person
Hamamatsu Municipal Zoo
The Hamamatsu Municipal Zoo is a fun tourist attraction for everyone, regardless of age. Around 120 different kinds of animals are housed by the zoo including elephants, zebras, polar bears, and giraffes.
There is also a petting zoo within the facility where kids can interact with smaller animals such as rabbits and goats.
Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM daily; Closed from December 29 to 31
Admission Fee: 410 yen per person
Kujukuri-hama Beach – Japan’s Straight, 41-Mile Coastline
Although more of a beach than a sand dune, the Kujukuri-hama of the Chiba Prefecture is still considered to be among Japan’s three largest sand dunes. It is a 41-mile stretch of sand from Cape Daito of the town of Misaki to Cape Gyobu of the town of Iioka, right along the Pacific Ocean.
The Kujukuri-hama is considered to be one of the rarest coastlines of Japan, given its straight shape. Its lack of reefs makes it an ideal place for watersports including swimming and surfing.
At the northern side of the beach, tourists can locate Cape Inubo-saki which houses a sightseeing promenade, an old lighthouse that dates back to the year 1874, and a fishing port where boats may be rented during the spring and fall seasons for dolphin-watching purposes. To the right of Cape Inubo-saki, tourists can also find a majestic cliff known as the Dover of the Orient.
Due to its large scope, the Kujukuri-hama goes through ten municipalities of the Chiba Prefecture – Asahi, Sosa, Yokoshibahikari, Sanmu, Kujukuri, Oamishirasato, Shirako, Chosei, Ichinomiya, and Isumi. As such, there are many other destinations tourists can go to before or after paying a visit to the beach:
Asahi - Fukuro Park, Manzai Nature Park, Kumano Shrine, Ryufuku-ji
Sosa - Oio Shrine, Iidaka Temple, Chotoku Temple, Matsuyama Art Museum
Yokoshibahikari - Sakata Castle Ruins, Fureai Sakataike Park, Shisha Shrine
Sanmu - Fudo-in Chosho-ji
Kujukuri - Kujukuri Sardine Museum
Oamishirasato - Konakaike Park, Chikoin Temple
Shirako - Shirako Onsen, Shirako Shrine, Shikomachi Aqua Health Center
Chosei - Tamasaki Shrine, Amagadai Total Park, Tsurueyusui Park
Ichinomiya - Tamasaki Jinja
Isumi - Tsubaki Park, Ohara Port, Mt. Otowa Kiyomizu Temple, Gyoganji Temple