The Sahara, in the middle of Japan?
Sand, as far as the eye can see – high dunes – azure skies – deep blue sea. These are the ingredients that, mixed together in the right proportion, make a place that you may imagine in many places around the world. But – most likely – not in Japan.
Well, I’ve told you some months ago that there is a lot to be seen in Tottori prefecture (鳥取県 / とっとりけん) – things that one might not expect in this rather remote part of the country (check the links at the end of this posting). The Sand Dunes of Tottori (鳥取砂丘 / とっとりさきゅう) are certainly among those surprising places, even though they were already mentioned in the posting for the nearby Sand Museum of Tottori (砂の美術館 / すなのびじゅつかん).
But talking about them and seeing them in nature are things that are worlds apart – or, as in this case, separated be the most impressive sand dunes Japan has to offer. The sheer size of the area is remarkable: 16 km from west to east and more than 2 km from south to north. However, to conclude that there is uninterrupted landscape of dunes of more than 30 square kilometres, would cut the story a bit too short. Until the end of World War II the area that was covered by sand was about double as large as it is today. And there is a simple reason for it: It became inevitable to focus more on an agricultural use of the scarce land, hence also the dunes were, step by step, transformed in to farmland. Even parts of Tottori’s largest city, its capital Tottori City (鳥取市 / とっとりし) have been built on grounds that originally belonged to the sand dunes.
Actually, what is called “Tottori Sand Dunes” nowadays, is (more or less) a rather small part of the geological system, it’s “just” the “Hamasaka Dune” (浜坂砂丘 / はまさかさきゅう), which, by itself, has the breathtaking latitude of 545 hectare (i.e. 5.45 sqkm). And this part of the Tottori Sand Dunes also includes the most colossal dunes of them all, which is called “horse’s back” (馬の背 / うまのせ). That is exactly the place, where most of the visitors trudge through the sands.
Partially surrounded by the dune is the so called “Oasis” (オアシス), an area of about 5430 sqm that also includes a lake (or rather a puddle). Its waters are usually about 1.4 metres deep. Differences in height are up to 90 meters in the complete expanse of the dunes. So, don’t be fooled by the diminutive size of these pictures. The actual landscape is by far more impressive!
But where do all those masses of sand come from, that don’t seem to belong to this part of the world? Well, one could just say: The sand had lots of time to accumulate. About 100,000 years, to be precise. It all began with the fact that 100,000 years ago in the region of the city of Tottori the sea level was quite some metres higher than today, forming a large bay where lots of sediments accumulated. During the Ice Age, when the sea levels sank dramatically, those sediments emerged as sandy islands in the sea. On those islands wind-borne sand settled down. The numerous active volcanoes of the region, first of all the nearby Daisen (大山 / だいせん) contributed largely to that process by adding lots of volcanic ashes.
After the Ice Age sea levels rose again, old dunes vanished into the sea, but also new masses of sand accumulated right in this area – among others, washed up be the nearby Sendai river (千代川 / せんだいがわ). When sea levels began to sink again, the old dunes and the new ones merged – and since then the landscape has remained in a state of constant change. The dunes became larger and larger. However, due to reforestation and river regulation the natural supply of sand has been interrupted. In our days the dunes are no longer growing.
As untouched as the sand landscape may look like, it keeps on being threatened by various influences. In the 70s of the last century plants not indigenous to the region kept spreading. These plants were about to harm the natural movement dunes have to have. Hence, in the 80s those plants were eradicated by using herbicides. But before long it was realised that herbicides are not the solution for natural environments. Since 2004 every year thousands of volunteers are engaged in weeding – and also in cleaning the dunes from the trash visitors left behind. That may the price Tottori’s prime tourist attaction has to pay – already a few years ago about two million visitors were counted every year.
All those who need more than just “desert feeling” may find some further attraction (at least during the main season) by riding a camel (1,300 Yen per person for a short ride) or by riding on a horse-drawn buggy. As far as the other activities that are being offered here are concerned (paragliding, sandboarding), it shall be everybody’s own decision, whether a wonder of nature requires some further thrill or not.
How to get there:
At Tottori station’s bus terminal you can take e.g. the “Loop Kirinjishi Bus” or a Bus of the “Sakyū-Linie” from bus stop “0”. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes from the station to the dunes.
For taxis to the sand dunes, you have to expect about 2,000 to 2,500 yen per route.
The song for the dunes:
Kaori Mizumori (水森かおり / みずもりかおり) and her big hit “Tottori Sakyū” (Tottori Sand Dunes) (鳥取砂丘):
Other places in Tottori you should not miss:
– Stucco plasterers of the world – watch out!
– The town of white walls and red roofs
Tottori Sand Museum (砂の美術館)
-Travel Around the World in Sand
Tottori: Wakasa (鳥取･若桜)
– A gem, hidden in the mountains
Tottori Folk Crafts Museum (鳥取民芸美術館)
– Have a look and be amazed – thanks to Shōya Yoshida