Last summer vacation, my husband and I went out to spend the day at a place I'd been dying to see ever since I got off the plane, Tottori Sand Dunes 鳥取砂丘 . I wasn't quite sure what to expect since I knew it wouldn't be an actual desert, but the pictures of camels and huge dunes had certainly sparked my imagination. We took a rather crowded bus ride from Tottori station and got off right in front of the dunes. This place is packed with tourists. There are omiyage お土産 shops all up and down the street as well as restaurants and huge parking lots. Tottori might be the least populated prefecture, but you wouldn't guess that by the amount of people at the dunes. Walking out onto the sand though, it almost doesn't matter how many people are there because they're all swallowed into the pink sand. I had never seen anything like it before. The sun was beating down onto these massive waves of pink sand blocking out the ocean, highlighted by bright blue sky. There was barely a speck of green in the place save for a lone scraggly tree out on the sands. People milled about on the largest of the dunes, but they looked more like ants than humans. We saw that everyone was making their way straight to the top of the tallest dune so we decided to not do that. We went off to the right and walked up the gently slopping hill till we reached the crest with all of the Sea of Japan 日本海 and the surrounding mountains before us. Breathtaking is the only way to describe it. We drudged up the rest of the way to join the crowd at the highest point and while we really weren't that far from the road, it could have been that we were looking down from an airplane. There were people hang gliding off the dunes over the sea Their flash of bright parachutes looked like lonely little blips of color over an endless expanse of blue and pink. Crowds really weren't our thing though, so we made our way further down the small desert, away from the noise and the smell of sweat. Ten minutes away from the main area and we were all alone. No one explores the rest of that area and it's easy to feel lonely and tiny out on that beach. It also begins to look less like a desert and more like a beach with hardy grasses and small shrubs dotting the sand. I read somewhere that Tottori accidentally killed its desert by building concrete barriers against tsunamis, but now the dunes aren't being replenished from ocean sediment and officials are now having to import sand to dump on the dunes. Because of this, grass is slowly growing along the beach, furthering the destruction of the dunes. As long as I've lived in Japan, none of this surprises me. Sometimes it feels like Japan works against its own self interest.
On our way back we wandered close to the camels. You can ride them, but I honestly never considered it. There's a picture of me as a little kid riding a camel and I love seeing that picture, but I think it's wrong to treat animals as entertainment and have them spend their life hauling humans up and down because it's fun. If you ever go to Tottori, I encourage you not to ride them as well and maybe one day they'll stop using animals this way.
I really wanted to stay to see the sunset over the dunes, but it was time we left. After a quick mediocre lunch at one of the omiyage shops and a pear flavored soft cream, we hopped back on a bus. I needed time to get ready before the last fireworks show花火大会 of the season. I had been hauling two yukatas 浴衣 all around the Sea of Japan and I wasn't going to miss wearing them. We took a shuttle bus to the festival area and it dropped us off at an overpass in the middle of nowhere. They had sectioned off a part of a highway for food stalls and spectators. The night air was cool and the call of vendors selling their wares followed me as we walked along the road lit with red paper lanterns. There were people surrounding us on all sides, but it didn't matter. I was in Tottori and I was happy. We had one last stop before we headed back. Everyone kept telling us how cool the Sand Museum 砂美術館 is and we decided to check it out and get a bit of air conditioning before we hopped on the bus. Every year a different country sends a team to Japan to create these life size sand sculptures displayed in the museum. Last summer it was Germany and the place was filled with characters from the Brothers Grimm stories and historical German figures. There was the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and Einstein in his lab. We saw Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Before we went I was fully expecting it to be lame, but it was great. Take the time to walk through before you leave the desert. I don't really have much advice for people traveling to the Sand Dunes. I do wish we had arrived there very early before anyone else. I've seen some pictures of it when the dunes are windswept and free of people and they are stunning. I think the pictures Hideaki Hamada took for his Tottori Tottoru exhibit are what really pushed me to finally go. My friend sent me some pictures when she went around sunset and that pink light across the sand would make for some gorgeous photos. We went in the summer and even though it's not a real desert that sand still gets crazy hot. I wish I had brought a hat. I can't remember what bus we took out there, but there are two buses to the dunes in the summer. You can take a regularly scheduled bus for 330 yen or during the summer holidays only, the Loop Line goes out there for 300 yen. The museum ticket is 600 yen. Make sure you stay for their 3D light show. It was a little cheesy, but we really enjoyed it.