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Off the beaten track sightseeing
There are many options for getting off the beaten track in Japan.
TO TOTTORI'S SAND DUNES (TOTTORI, WESTERN HONSHU)
Tottori 鳥取 is known for its sand-dunes 砂丘 (sakyu) which extend east to west along the coast for some 16km, and for its unique Sand Museum 砂の美術館 (Apr-Jan 9am-8pm; ¥600) where stunning and highly detailed sand sculptures, based on a theme that changes every year, are exhibited. Most are in the main exhibition hall but a few are outside and beyond those is a sand-dune viewing square where you get a great view of the dunes themselves.
Leave the museum by the secondary exit and you can then take a chair-lift (¥200/300 one-way/return) down to the main sand-dune area. It’s hard to believe unless you actually make the effort to travel out here that Japan really does have its own mini desert. Just in case you hadn’t realised this, non-native camels wait on the edge of the dunes for a classic Japanese photo opportunity (¥500 on a camel, ¥100 beside one), or to take you for a short ride (Mar-Nov 9.30am-4.30pm, Dec-Feb to 10am-2pm; ¥1300 for one person, ¥2500 for two). You can walk all over the dunes, but if you plan to do this think ahead in terms of your footwear!
The tourist information centre (www.city.tottori.lg.jp; daily 8.30am-5.30pm) at Tottori station has English-speaking staff as well as maps, pamphlets and a bus timetable. (For additional information about what to do in the area see tottrip.jp.) There are also lockers should you want to leave your bags at the station. Then take a bus (¥370; 1-2/hr) from stand 0 outside the North Exit – the last stop is the main sand-dune area but it is worth getting off at the stop before and going to the Sand Museum first.
Buses run infrequently so be sure to check the timetable for the last bus back. Alternatively, take the Loop Kirinjishi bus ループ麒麟獅子バス (from bus stand 6; daily July/Aug; weekends only rest of year; full circuit 80 mins; ¥300 per journey, ¥600 1-day pass) which goes to other places of interest in Tottori as well as the sand-dunes area.
It is easy to visit Tottori as a day trip from Matsue. However, there are several options if you want to stay the night here. Tottori Washington Hotel Plaza 鳥取 ワシントン ホテル プラザ (washington.jp/tottori; from ¥4400/S, ¥8300/D or Tw) is to the right of the North Exit of the station and comes recommended. An added advantage is a convenience store on the 1st/ground floor. Failing that there are branches of several business hotel chains here (see box p70). There’s a café in the station and a basement food hall in Daimaru department store, just beyond the North Exit.
Moving on from Tottori Tottori is easily visited as a day trip from Matsue, but it is also possible to go to Okayama, Himeji, Osaka and Kyoto from here. The only downside is you will have to go on the track between Chizu and Kamigori, which is operated by the private Chizu Kyuko railway; this means JR rail-pass holders must pay a ¥1300 supplement (payable on board), or ¥1820 if travelling on a LEX in a reserved seat (¥2340 in a Green Car). Services that use this route are the Super Inaba LEX (6/day) to Okayama; the Super Hakuto LEX (7/day) to Himeji, Osaka and Kyoto; and the Hamakaze LEX (1/day) to Osaka via Himeji. For anyone with a JR Pass it would be better to go back to Matsue and travel from there.
Another option is to take a local Sanin Line train to Hamasaka and then change to a train to Kinosaki-onsen from where the Kinosaki-onsen LEX (10/day; 65 mins) goes to Kyoto, with no additional charge.
THE ZENIGATA – A COIN SHAPE CARVED IN THE SAND (KOTOHIKI, SHIKOKU)
There are several stories about how the Zenigata suna-e 銭形砂絵 came to be in Kotohiki Park (see Kan-onji above). Some claim the coin carving is at least 350 years old, while others say it only dates back 130 years. Another theory is that the coin was and remains to this day a UFO base (a Japanese version of crop circles?), while others attribute it to the miracle-working of Kobo Daishi (see box p464). However, the common consensus is that it was completed in just one night by locals in 1633 as an unusual gift to the feudal lord of the area, Takatoshi Ikoma, who was to arrive the next day on a tour of inspection. Everybody knew that his lordship had to be pleased and a huge coin in the sand seemed the perfect answer. With a circumference of 345m, the biggest mystery is why the design does not disappear in the rain or wind.
A great time to be here is for the sunset, but also every evening the sculpture is lit up till 10pm. Twice a year the coin is reshaped by a group of volunteers who have orders shouted to them by one person commanding a bird’s eye view. A 2-day Zenigata Festival is held around 20th July (Maritime Day), with a fireworks display and dance contest in Kotohiki Park.
MANHOLE COVER SIGHTSEEING (ALL OVER JAPAN)
Most visitors to Japan have a list of temples, shrines, castles, gardens or onsen they want to visit. However, there is much more to look out for including the colourful and entertaining manhole covers you can see on the streets in almost every town and city. Manhole covers are a fact of life and generally provide a very functional service, but in Japan local governments have used them as a way to promote the attractions in their area. As you walk along keep an eye on the ground and you never know what you will see. One place with a wonderful range of manhole covers is Yuda-onsen (see p282). This manhole cover is for osui おすい (dirty water) from Kawaguchi-ko-cho (Kawaguchi-ko town).
- Routes and costs; When to go
- Rail Passes
- Sample route guide: Tokyo to Nagoya by shinkansen
- Side trip to Miyajima
- Off the beaten track sightseeing
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