The Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘) are Japan's only large dune system. The dunes stretch along the coast east of Tottori City (鳥取市) for 16 kilometers and extend up to 2 kilometers away from the coast. Ocean currents and prevailing winds off the Sea of Japan (East Sea) help perverse and collect the sand brought down as sediments from the Chugoku Mountains by the Sendai River.
The dunes have existed in the area for over 100,000 years. The area is strikingly at odds with the rest of Japan which is known more for its humidity and rain. Technically, its not a desert (far too much rain) but the temperature of the sand can easily soar above 50C (120F) on sunny summer days. A number of hardy species of plants and animals thrive in sections of the dunes.
The highest dunes reach around 90 meters above sea level but the main ridge near the bus center by the ocean is around 40 meters high. Thanks to the rain, the dunes can reach 40 degree slopes. 30-34 degrees is normal for true desert dunes.
Most people just walk out onto the dunes and back but there are a number of different activities offered on the dunes. If you're looking to tour around the desert in style then there are two types of rides: camel and donkey. The camel ride is short and expensive at 1,800 yen. The donkey cart ride is a bit longer and less expensive.
The strong prevailing winds off the Sea of Japan makes paragliding off the tops of a dunes a popular way to get a unique perspective on them.
Viewing the Dunes
The best time of view the dunes is in the morning before other tourists have trampled out the ripples. During the afternoon, the temperature of the exposed sand has reached 64C (150F) but on most days walking barefoot out on the sand is quite pleasant. Moonlight tours of the dunes are also highly recommended.
If you come with a large group then you can book a tour guide to show you around and give an explanation in Japanese of all the dune's features.
The dunes are located in Tottori Prefecture east of Tottori City. From JR Tottori Station, you can catch the city loop bus (砂丘コース - Sakyuu Course) which goes to the main dune area and back. It's very cheap at only 200 yen and takes around 20 minutes. There are two routes it follows depending on if its a weekday or during the summer vacation.
Tottori City can be reached via local trains or by highway buses from a number of different cities in Japan. There is also a small domestic airport west of the city.
Submitted by mbystedt on Sun, 04/17/2011 - 22:23