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Become the Woman in the Dunes

Just now, as I was recollecting on my past trips to Japan’s Tottori Sand Dunes, an embarrassing truth dawned on me: I have not yet read The Woman in the Dunes, the novel that constitutes the most notable appearance of the landform within Japanese popular culture.

(In case you’re curious, I have literally just received an email confirmation from Amazon: A paperback copy is on its way to my home as I type.)

Whether or not you end up deciding to order a copy of the book for yourself, I do hope this post will convinced you that the Tottori Sand Dunes are worth visiting.

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How to Reach Tottori Sand Dunes

Getting to Tottori Sand Dunes is reasonably easy. First, you will need to get to Tottori Station in Tottori City. Tottori is accessible via direct train service from Osaka; you can also come by air from Haneda Airport on ANA. If this case, you’ll first need to travel from Tottori Airport to Tottori Station, and then connect to one of the frequent buses between the station and the sand dunes.

As you can probably imagine, it makes sense to spend at least one night in Tottori if you plan to visit the sand dunes, even if you don’t partake in all the other Tottori attractions I’ll be listen later in this post. Thankfully, Tottori is home to plenty of hotels, from the “business” style Super Hotel to Marumo Ryokan. None of these places is going to rock your socks, though they’re all serviceable.

Things to Do at and Near Tottori Sand Dunes

Marvel at the view


The bus drops you off near the edge of the Tottori Sand Dunes, past which point the path pretty steeply descends down into a valley. This is worth exploring—there’s a small “oasis” at the bottom; you’ll eventually come back up to another ride—but I encourage you to reserve a moment simply to take it all in.

Ride a camel


The Tottori Sand Dunes might not be a “real” desert, but they do have real camels. The number of these varies, depending on which day you visit, but for a relatively modest fee, you can take a camel ride. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the experience, although the owners of the animals don’t like non-riders photographing them.

Hit the beach


While I don’t believe that any of Japan’s best beaches are along the Sea of Japan coast, it doesn’t mean said coast isn’t beautiful. I’ll spotlight some rock formations that fit this description more than the dunes in just a second, but a walk along the sea-level sands at Tottori will certainly allow you to feel a sea breeze on your face.

Visit The Sand Museum


After you finish up at Tottori Sand Dunes, I recommend sticking around for a minute to visit The Sand Museum. In addition to the area around the museum hosting a number of restaurant, there are many rotating sculptures within it, some of which are downright impressive.

Bike or drive the Uradome Coast


You don’t absolutely need a set of wheels to see the Uradome Coast, which is technically accessible via foot (albeit quite a long walk) from Iwami Station along the JR San’in Line.  However, renting either a car or a bike will allow you to see many more of its stunning rock formations in a much shorter period of time.

Other Things to Do in Tottori Prefecture

The dunes are by far the most popular thing to do in Tottori-ken, but they’re not the only thing to do. Here are some other ideas:

  • Completion the Nageire-do temple hike near the town of Misasa
  • Visit the famous “white warehouses” of Kurayoshi
  • Enjoy sweet flavors at the Kurayoshi Pear Museum
  • Explore the city of Yonago and nearby Sakaiminato port

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Other FAQ About Tottori Sand Dunes

Why is Tottori Sand Dunes famous?

Among Japanese people, Tottori Sand Dunes came into public consciousness in large part due to the 1962 novel The Woman in the Dunes by Kono Abe. In more recent years, however, I’m proud to say that travel blogs like this one have made the “Japanese desert” a popular place for foreign tourists to visit.

How much does it cost to ride camels in Tottori Sand Dunes?

Although prices can change at a moment’s notice, due to the fact that independent camel owners offer rides at the Tottori Sand Dunes, you should expect to pay somewhere around ¥500 to see the dunes on camelback. In my experience, these are usually two-humped camels.

When should I go to Tottori?

Tottori’s Sand Dunes are hospitable to visits year-round, although I personally like going during the spring and autumn—so April, May, October and November. The sand can become uncomfortably hot during the summer between about June and September; in winter, there’s a higher chance of rain, which spoils the experience of being at the dunes.

The Bottom Line

The Tottori Sand Dunes are absolutely worth visiting, whether or not you get a chance to read Kono Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes before you get there. One of the most unique natural features not only in the San’in region but in Japan as a whole, the dunes of Tottori are captivating, even if they don’t technically constitute a Japanese desert. Want to visit Tottori, but unsure about how to incorporate it into your next Japan trip? Consider commissioning a custom Japan itinerary, and letting me sweat the details. All you’ll need to do is help yourself up onto the camel!


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