The pictures you see above look like they might have been shot in the desert—or at the very least somewhere barren like Mongolia in East Asia. However, they were actually taken in Tottori Prefecture on the west coast of mainland of Japan. As a person who loves exploring unusual places, I had to research this place and plan a trip here immediately. I was especially excited to meet the camels (who I naively thought were native to Japan at the time, but one of my Japanese friends informed me that they were likely imported from India). I tried to research the origin of the camels online, but gathered that nobody really knew where they came from or how they got here like some kind of ominous mystery. Regardless of their origin I was extremely stoked to see the!
Much to my delight, I found out that Tottori was the real-life location of the anime Free! and discovered the first ending song was inspired by the Tottori Sand Dunes. This series was one of my favorite anime in college so traveling here was like a dream come true.
Tottori is almost a six hour journey by train from Tokyo, but flying here only takes one hour and is half the price (see the “Access” section for more information). These are the biggest sand dunes open to the public in Japan so I would definitely recommend coming here if you have the chance. This place is just too bizarre not to see and it has a lovely beach! In addition to the camels, there are cable cars you can ride, specialty pear ice cream you can try, and a sand sculpture museum. Sandboarding is also available for the adventurous! Please see the official tourism website for more info.
Climbing the dunes was a bit of a challenge, but was worth it to see the gorgeous beach at the other end. I had never experienced a desert-like landscape in my life and was amazed at how far the dunes go down. Walking from the entrance to the park and climbing them took around a half an hour, but you can easily spend 2-3 hours here enjoying the views that are unlike anywhere else in Japan. The cable car ride is only 300 yen and will help you save energy if you get too tired.
Here is an old video I took of the camels in August of 2017. There were only a few of them around but they seemed to be kept in good care. It costs 1300 yen to ride them and 100 yen for just a photo with them. It was a very surreal sight for Japan:
After camel watching, I made my way to the beach a sip on some specialty sake I bought from the souvenir store. It definitely felt like some kind of weird scene out of an anime:
After fully enjoying the sand dunes and the camels, my last stop was the Sand Museum. Similar to the snow festival in Sapporo, there is a sand sculpture festival in Tottori. The Sand Museum is open year-round but some exhibits change. When I was there a sand sculpture of the detested president Trump greeted me at the entrance. Regardless of my strong dislike of his presidency, I thought it was hilarious to see this here in the “desert” of Japan, of all places. There was also a recreation of the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and several sculptures with inspiration from Hollywood and outer space. You really can’t miss out on this place because it’s too iconic. The admission fee is only 600 yen.
From Tottori Station, take the Tottori Sakyu Bus to the very last stop which is the sand dunes (you can clearly see them from outside your window). This takes 20 mins and only costs 380 yen.
A roundtrip flight from Tokyo to Tottori only takes one hour and costs around 20,000 yen. However, I didn’t know this at first and road the train one way 6 hours for 18,000 yen (making it almost double the price round trip). Unless you have the JR Pass, I would recommend flying there.
In my next post I will be talking about how to get to Iwami; another bug location from the anime Free! Please look forward to it~