This article was created in partnership with Tottori.
A sea of golden sand stretches out before me in all directions. Framed by forests on either side and the Sea of Japan beyond, the Tottori Sand Dunes ripple and flow across 30 square kilometres.
Across the road, the Sakyu Kaikan restaurant and souvenir store is a welcome oasis in the desert. I browse the various sand-related mementos as I wait for my (sand-free) meal, surrounded by exhausted sand-surfers and paragliders.
Japan’s largest sand dunes are an hour’s flight west of the Tokyo megalopolis. Tottori has just over half a million residents, but what it lacks in people it makes up for with a rich range of natural bounties.
In the town of Misasa, radon-rich hot springs have been harnessed by the Izanro Iwasaki hot spring inn. Over the years, the ryokan has put Misasa on the map, and is a favourite of the Japanese royal family.
It’s said the radon in the water energises bathers, and the element even has its own jolly cartoon character. The hotel itself is a comfortable stay, but it only augments the natural appeal of Misasa’s radon bath.
At Misasa’s Mount Mitoku, the situation is reversed. The mountain is stunning in its own right, but the addition of the Nageiredo, a temple built literally on a cliff face in 849 AD, ups the ante. So significant is the temple that it’s been designated a National Treasure of Japan.
The region’s pear output is also a national treasure. While tourists can pick pears at a number of orchards around the prefecture, those with more than a passing interest can visit the Tottori Nijisseiki Pear Museum in the heart of the city.
The food in Tottori is even better than we’ve come to expect from Japanese cuisine. One of the points of origin of wagyu beef, Tottori seems to master whatever produce is thrown at it. In particular, Teppan Fukumoto is a restaurant that should be on everyone’s bucket list when visiting Tottori.
The Oenosato Natural Farm began as a simple egg farm in 1994, and today is a full-blown resort and restaurant. Guests can take cooking classes, enjoy a huge variety of dishes made with Tenbi eggs, and learn about the benefits of organic farming. The only thing they can’t do is visit the farm itself – it disturbs the chickens.
Walking tours of Tottori’s towns are the best way to feel at home. Chieko is my guide in the old town section of Yonago, the second-largest city in the prefecture. She’s so local that the tour winds up in her house, which doubles as one of the oldest temples in the city, and features a graveyard outside.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she says. “They’re just bones. The souls have moved on.”
Less confronting is my tour of Kurayoshi, Tottori’s third-largest city. My elderly guide of the town’s Edo-era warehouse district isn’t in a hurry. Still, it’s a lot of walking, and I’m left with an appetite.
His recommendation is a local favourite. Kitatei Manyoshi provides fresh sushi and a small, tranquil Japanese garden in the middle of the city. Diners are encouraged to take a moment to enjoy the peace before they eat.
The food is fantastic and owner Midori Kamei’s hospitality is warm and friendly, but that small yet inextricable link with nature makes all the difference. It is, after all, the Tottori way.