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Japan’s desert by the sea

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Japan’s desert by the sea

It’s dramatic, it’s sparsely populated, it has a desert and it’s only a short ride from Kansai. Yes it’s Tottori.

As anyone who has lived in Kansai during the summer months will know only too well, the humidity of a Japanese summer hits this region’s cities like a big wet blanket. Our weekends are worth their weight in gold as we seek refuge somewhere with a slight breeze or a little water to dip our feet into. Tottori-ken on the Sea of Japan coast certainly offers a little of both and in fact the combined efforts of water and wind have created, over millennia, one of Japan’s most spectacular, if unexpected, natural sights.

Of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Tottori boasts the fewest people. Of course, it is nowhere near as expansive as Hokkaido or many of the more northern prefectures but its stunning coastal scenery has prevailed when many other parts of this country have lost out to the ever demanding population. While jagged rock formations and one of Japan’s most dramatic mountains (Daisen which rises a rapid 1,729m straight from sea level) grace a short stretch known as the San-in Coast National Park, the highlight is undoubtedly Tottori-Sakyuu; The Dunes.

These sand dunes are impressive by any standard. Stretching for over 10 kilometers along the coast and at some points over 2 kilometers wide it’s not like a regular trip to the beach. Arriving by rental car, we followed our satnav up a narrow road that seemed to lead to the great expanse next to the sea, and after parking the car at the edge of the sand we began our search for the waves. It’s not often that you go to the beach and struggle to locate the water. “It’ll be just over the next dune,” we panted to each other as we went to stand beside a man strapped to a hand-glider. Following his running start along the sandy mountain ridge we were eventually greeted by an ocean view to rival many a more famous location. However, as we later discovered, you need not hike the grueling dunes to enjoy the view. Had we driven a little further we would have reached the Sand Pal Tottori Information Center and had a much shorter walk to the sea.

The information center is handily located at the nearest access point to the main sand dune and can be accessed by a bus running from Tottori station every 20 minutes. They offer a strange, considering the terrain, bike rental service as well as a more suitable camel back journey to the top of the dune. Yes, that’s right. Camels. In Japan.

Although undoubtedly imported, the camels seem at home in this desert-like landscape and make for a somewhat less-than-common Japan photo opportunity. So whether on a camel or by your own steam your goal is to stand atop the highest dune in Japan and it is a unique experience. Not only do the views rival any dramatic cliff-top scene but you then have the option (which you do not when on a cliff) to lose total control and hurl yourself off the top. It really is an exhilarating experience as you fly down the sandy mountain with your arms windmilling uncontrollably and a dust cloud trailing behind you like the Roadrunner (beep! beep!). The climb back up the seemingly vertical wall of sand puts you off doing it a second time but I’d certainly recommend doing it once.

As well as the dunes this coast offers some more regular beaches, which are perfect for unwinding, cooling off in calm waters and topping up the tan. A day exploring the dunes and the dramatic San-in Coast National Park followed by a day on the beach soaking up the rays makes for the perfect weekend getaway. And I can guarantee
a cool breeze.

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Getting There
• Highway bus: From Namba OCAT (¥3,300, 2hrs 30min);
From Kyoto JR Station (¥3,850, 3hrs)
• Train: To Okayama JR Station (¥3,690, 2hrs)[/box]

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