It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Tottori (鳥取県).
Tottori Prefecture is part of the Chugoku Region (中国地方) and the capital is Tottori (鳥取市). I’ve not been to Tottori Prefecture, and didn’t know a huge amount about it until researching for this post. I get the feeling Tottori is a bit of a forgotten prefecture, and certainly in my experience in the travel industry it doesn’t seem like a place that many tourists get to. In fact, Tottori is also the least populous prefecture in Japan. Thanks to Japan Australia, Zooming Japan and SengokuSophie for contributing to this week’s post with ideas!
Tottori Prefecture is located along the Sea of Japan (日本海) coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, and is famous more than anything for its sand dunes (鳥取砂丘 / Tottori Sakyu). These are the largest sand dunes in Japan, spanning about 16 kilometres of coast. They are up to two kilometres wide and 50 metres high. The sand dunes are part of the Sanin Kaigan National Park (山陰海岸国立公園).
This really does look like a beautiful part of Japan, and it’s weird that not more people flock here. As well as being a place of natural beauty with an ever-changing landscape, there are various activities to participate in whilst visiting the sand dunes. There are camels to ride, horse-drawn carts to ride in, and for those with an adventurous heart it’s possible to try paragliding and sandboarding too!
One unique attraction I would love to visit at the sand dunes is the Sand Museum. The Sand Museum is Japan’s only open-air sand sculpture museum, and I have to say it looks pretty cool! Exhibitions last from mid-April to early January, and change annually. Each exhibition has a theme, and this year the theme is ‘Germany’. The sand sculptors participating in the exhibition come from all over the world, and the whole event is produced by Katsuhiko Chaen from Kagoshima Prefecture.
So, sand is the main thing to see in Tottori, but there are a couple of other attractions to explore if you happen to be there. One is the Tottori Castle (鳥取城) Ruins, although don’t expect too much. There is no actual castle left now as the castle that was built in 1532 has long since been destroyed. Instead there are just some stone walls, a single wooden gate and an observation point. There is also an unusual European style building here called Jinpukaku (仁風閣). Built in 1907, Jinpukaku was the first building in Tottori to have electric lights, and it served as a symbol of modernisation. Today it is a museum and public event space.
(“Tottori castle04 2816” by 663highland – 663highland. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons)
There are a number of temples and shrines worth visiting in Tottori, but one of particular note is Kannon-in (観音院), a temple of the Tendai Sect of Japanese Buddhism. This temple is known for its Edo-style Japanese landscape garden which features a large pond surrounded by maple and pine trees. The garden of Kannon-in is an example the Chisenkansho-shiki teien (池泉観賞式庭園) style, which literally means a garden of the ‘pond appreciation style’. A Chisenkansho-shiki garden is meant to be viewed from a fixed perspective and a single location, rather than being a garden to stroll through. In the case of Kannon-in, the garden is meant to be viewed from the veranda of the sho-in (書院), a hall used for the study of Buddhist sutras.
Tottori Prefecture also happens to be a good place to visit if you are a manga fan! Hokuei (北栄町) in Tottori Prefecture is home to Japanese manga artist Gosho Aoyama (青山 剛昌), famous for the manga series ‘Detective Conan‘ (名探偵コナン) (also known as ‘Case Closed’). In Hokuei there is the Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory (青山剛昌ふるさと館), a museum dedicated to the work of Gosho Aoyama.
If, like me, you prefer your manga characters spooky, you’ll be interested to know that Sakaiminato (境港市) in Tottori Prefecture is the birthplace of Mizuki Shigeru (水木 しげる), creator of GeGeGe no Kitaro (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎). Because of this, there are a number of interesting nods to his work throughout the area. All of the trains which run through Sakaiminato Station are painted with characters from the manga, and when you get off at Sakaiminato Station you are met by lots of yokai (Japanese monsters and demons) dotted around everywhere. The street leading out from the station is Mizuki Shigeru Road, and there is also a Mizuki Shigeru Museum. Along the road are bronze statues of the characters from the manga, which are lit up at night. There is also a Kappa Spring (hot spring for kappa, Japanese water sprites), a Yokai Jinja (a monster shrine) and Yokai Post (where you can get a monster postmark on your postcards). I really want to go there!
For me, the Mizuki Shigeru connection makes Tottori worth visiting, but if you prefer some more typical sightseeing one final place worth mentioning in Tottori Prefecture is Mount Daisen (大山). Mount Daisen is a volcanic mountain, and part of the Daisen-Oki National Park (大山隠岐国立公園) which spans Okayama, Shimane and Tottori prefectures. Mount Daisen is 1729 metres high, making it the tallest mountain in the Chugoku Region. Near the base of the mountain there is Daisenji temple and Ogamiyama Shine can be found a little further up the train above the temple. In the summer and autumn months Mount Daisen is a great place for hiking, and from late November to late April the snow falls and it is possible to ski in this area.
The Omiyage Section
There aren’t that many famous souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) from Tottori Prefecture, but the area is famous for pears so these feature in most edible souvenirs. In fact, Tottori’s mascot is a character called Toripy which is half bird half pear (or a pear with wings, depending on how you look at it). Of course, there are a lot of Mizuki Shigeru souvenirs you can buy in Tottori, and also some sand-related souvenirs, too! If you’re really lucky you might even find a Hello Kitty riding a camel with a pear on her head…
(Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Next week I will be writing about Shimane (島根県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!
I’ve always wanted to visit the Tottori sand dunes! Thanks as always for your in-depth posts ^^
Thanks for reading, Kei! 🙂
Most famous in Shimane is Izumo Taisha, but I also want to recommend Tsuwano! 🙂
Thanks for the recommendations! 🙂
Just visited Shimane for the first time this summer and LOVED it! The garden nerd in me went absolutely crazy for the Adachi Museum of Art’s stunning gardens but all of Matsue city was really nice. The samurai quarter is picturesque and the downtown area is pretty walkable. And they have such great discounts for foreigners (even those of us who are residents here!), which adds up to significant savings. We also loved the town of Omori, right outside Iwami Ginzan. The silver mine itself was less than exciting but the small town was beautifully-preserved.
Thanks for the comments! I’m glad to hear the Adachi Museum is as good as I’ve heard! 😀
I’d heard so much about it that I was worried my expectations would be too high. And summer isn’t always my favorite time to visit gardens since most of the “color” happens in spring or fall. But it was stunning. Absolutely stunning. You’d love it!
Shimane has a lot of cool tourist attractions and I recommend visiting Matsue City, which is a former castle town. A few ideas for places to visit are:
Matsue Castle – one of the few original castles remaining in Japan
Matsue Former Samurai District – located north of the castles inner moat
Izumo Taisha Shrine – one of Japan’s most important and oldest shrines
Adachi Museum of Art – famous for its award winning garden, which has been named the best garden in Japan annually since 2003
Tsuwano – a picturesque old town containing samurai mansions
Thanks for the comments, as always! 🙂
My fiancé and I are headed back to visit friends and attend one’s wedding in November. We’ve definitely added Tottori to our list. Great post! You inspire me to do better. 🙂
Aw, thanks サラ! Glad to hear you liked the post! 🙂