From its unusual landscapes to its rural charms to bustling cities, Japan is an enthralling destination, beckoning travelers again and again.
From Tokyo to Tottori
For unusual landscapes and rural charms, try out Tottori on your next Tokyo trip.
Found on western Honshu’s picturesque north coast, Tottori prefecture is a destination that pairs especially well with a city break. Start off your three-day Tokyo and Tottori escape by taking in the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, sampling monjayaki in Tsukishima Monja Street, and visiting the eighth-century Jindaiji Temple.
The next day, it’s on to Haneda Airport for the 90-minute flight to Yonago, within easy reach of sightseeing spots dedicated to manga artist Mizuki Shigeru. Begin the following day with a trip to the mountain temple of Mitokusan Sanbutsuji, followed by a leisurely drive to Uradome Beach, the famous Tottori Sand Dunes, and The Sand Museum.
Government Building Observatory
Two panoramic observation decks inside the twin towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building make for an alternative vantage point to admire the city from above. Perched 202 meters off the ground, these 45th-floor venues are both free for the public. From these aeries amid the high-rises of Shinjuku, the Tokyo Skytree can be seen to the northeast, while snowcapped Mt. Fuji is visible in the west on clear winter days. The North Tower Observatory is even open until 11 p.m., allowing you to soak up the view of Tokyo’s glittering skyline by night, with vistas that stretch as far away as Yokohama. They’re also a great way to experience the building itself – a landmark designed by the late and great Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.
Mitokusan Sanbutsuji Temple
The thickly forested slopes of Mt. Mitoku – a 900-meter-high peak about an hour’s drive from Tottori city – are home to the Buddhist temple of Mitokusan Sanbutsuji. The secluded sanctuary is best known for Nageire-do, a seemingly gravity-defying hall that was built into a depression on a vertical cliff face. Designated as a National Treasure of Japan, its origins are cloaked in legend, though some experts have dated Nageire-do to the Heian period, with 849 being put forward as its estimated year of completion.
Fit, adventure-minded travelers can see the structure up close by climbing a difficult mountain path, though it’s also visible from a much more accessible observation point. Nearby Misasa Onsen is classed as a Japanese heritage site alongside Mt. Mitoku for its radium-rich hot springs.
Tottori Sand Dunes
Among the sand dunes that can be visited in Japan, Tottori Sand Dunes are the largest in the country. These natural wonders were created over millennia as sediment from the nearby river was washed out to sea, only to be re-deposited on land by the ocean currents and the wind. Here, in the heart of San’in Kaigan Geopark, they stretch for 16 kilometers along the coast, and the main expanse reaches almost two and a half kilometers inland. Thanks to the windborne sand sweeping in from the Sea of Japan, the dunes’ wave-like patterns are like a continuously changing artistic display. Thrill-seekers can try their hand at paragliding and sandboarding while more sedate travelers can explore the landscape on camels.
The Sand Museum
The world’s first museum dedicated entirely to sand sculptures has been welcoming visitors for the past 10 years, providing an additional must-see attraction on the edge of the Tottori Sand Dunes. Measuring in at 1,950 square meters, the Sand Museum is helmed by executive producer Chaen Katsuhiko, a prominent and highly respected Japanese sand sculptor who has won international competitions. As Chaen invites top sand sculptors from all over the world to work on the exhibitions with different themes each year, even repeat visitors will find something new to admire. This year’s theme is “America” – with delicate and spectacular sand sculptures of the Statue of Liberty, the New York skyline, Mount Rushmore, and more.