The Breathtaking Tottori Sand Dunes

Sand dunes more often than not connote arid and dry lands in far off areas of the world. In scientific terms, dunes are mounds of wind-blown sand in deserts and coastal areas. Winds carry the grains of sand until it accumulates and forms ridges and mounds. The type of dune created is determined by the wind direction, the type of sand in the area, and the amount of vegetation. Some of the most beautiful sand dunes of the world are Sossusvlei in Namibia, Badain Jaran Dunes in Mongolia and China, Death Valley in California(U.S.), and Erg Chebbi in Morocco.


In Japan, the Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘 Tottori sakyū) are the largest dune system. It spans roughly about 16 kilometers of coast along the Sea of Japan, is about two kilometers wide and 50 meters high, and is part of the Sanin Kaigan National Park. It is located just outside the Tottori city center, Tottori Prefecture in Honshū. The sand dunes were formed from sediment deposits carried by the Sendai River into the Sea of Japan from  the Chūgoku Mountains.  The Tottori Sand Dunes constantly change shape because of the sea currents and coastal winds that carry the sand from the bottom of the ocean and redeposit it along the coastal shores. The Tottori Sand Dunes have existed for over 100,000 years. It has decreased in size over the years due to government reforestation program that followed after World War II. Concrete barriers have also been erected to protect the coastlines along the Sanin Kaigan National Park from tsunamis.

Tottori Sand Dunes. | cotaro70s


The Sand Museum is a short walk from the dunes. It showcases huge sand sculptures by artists from all around the world. In previous years, sand exhibitions were held in temporary structures outdoors. In 2012, the museum was moved into its own permanent location. The annual exhibitions follow a different theme every year. The Tottori Sand Dunes typically form picturesque patterns called wind ripples, and the sand that slides down the hills resemble an avalanche.  Basins as deep as 40 meters sometimes form, and hills as high as 50 meters can rise along the stretch of Tottori Sand Dunes. You can enjoy a tour around the area on a camel or horse-drawn carriage, or you can take a lift to get to the highest point. There are also a multitude of other fun activities such as sandboarding and paragliding. The Tottori Sand Dunes are an ever changing landscape that attracts millions of tourists each year and part of what makes Japan a wonderful place to visit.

Large Sand Castle at the Tottori Sand Museum. | サンドパルスタッフ