Enjoy an unconventional April adventure and explore the sand dunes of Tottori Prefecture. 



Take a detour from your typical cherry blossom travels and discover Tottori Sakyu (鳥取砂丘), the Tottori Sand Dunes. Located in Tottori Prefecture in the Sanin Kaigan National Park, these are the largest sand dunes in Japan, spanning about 16 kilometres of coastline along the Sea of Japan. And while sakyu literally means “sand hill,” the dunes reach up to nearly 50 metres high, an impressive sight right beside the ocean. Visitors can climb up the middle dune, which is called Umanose (the horse’s back), and enjoy the view from on high as the sandy expanse stretches out on all sides, carved with deep grooves from the coastal winds, and punctuated by The Oasis, a large, seasonal pool that reflects all the moods of the sky.

For ¥1,300 (around $15), more adventurous travellers can get off their feet and onto a camel or a horse-drawn cart, with the option to take home a keepsake photograph. Sports are also popular on the dunes. Many people enjoy sandboarding, or fat-tire bike riding along the glassy edge where sand meets ocean. Some even enjoy a bird’s-eye view through a guided paragliding session. After all the adventuring, visitors who want to unwind at a distance can take a chairlift to the Sand Dunes Center and take in the view from the observation deck.

But the most impressive part of the Tottori Sand Dunes experience might actually be found indoors at the Sand Museum, which exhibits huge, intricate sand sculptures by artists from all over the world. The exhibitions are created around a regional or cultural theme, and displayed on an annual basis from April to January. Because they’re made of sand, the sculptures eventually collapse, a transience not unlike the cherry blossom. At the same time, the dunes themselves stand tall on the coast, built up over thousands of years as grains from the Sendai River were continually washed out to sea, until the waves carried them back on toward the coast.

Though they’re free to visit, the dunes are a protected territory, so taking sand home is forbidden—but if you want to take back a souvenir, there are plenty of sand sculptures at the gift shop made from unprotected stuff. You can also pick up a box of “sand chocolate,” a sesame-flavoured treat sprinkled with kinako powder, a sweet soybean flour that looks a little like sand.


Do sand, don’ts

Make the most of your trip to these Japanese dunes by following three friendly bits of advice. They’re sure to get you over the hump.

DO go early in the morning.

You’ll want to catch a glimpse of the sand patterns before foot traffic gets too heavy.

DO NOT go in your swimsuit.

There may be sand, but this isn’t a beach! And skip the flip-flops, as the sand is incredibly hot.

DO check out the Sand Museum.

Check out the museum’s newest South Asia-themed exhibit, which opens on April 13.

Illustration by Chieko Watanabe