There are three things that Japan does best, and they are: seafood, mountain climbing and hot springs. If you’re looking for an escape from the office to experience quintessential Japan but don’t have much time, Tottori Prefecture is a must visit.
With the Sea of Japan as its northern border, Tottori in the southern Chugoku region is blessed with volcanic mountains and white sandy beaches all within an hour’s drive. Masses flock to Tottori’s famous sand dunes and Sanin Kaigan Geopark on the east, but other areas of this least-populated prefecture remain relatively quiet throughout the year and are perfect if you’re trying to avoid the crowds.
This narrow prefecture is small enough that it’s easy to cover within three to four days, making it ideal for the traveler on the go. Yonago Airport on the west is near Mt Daisen, known for its symmetry which has earned it the nickname, “Houki’s Fuji” for its similarity to Mt Fuji. At 1,709 meters high, Mt Daisen is the tallest mountain in the Chugoku region and is a popular five-hour roundtrip course during the green season. It is also a popular spot for families as there are farms, camping sites, kids’ athletic parks and hot springs at the base.
Daisen’s close proximity to the beach has made this area the first location for leading outdoor retail brand Montbell’s annual Sea to Summit series, a triathlon-esque challenge including kayaking, cycling and mountain climbing. During the winter when Tottori is blanketed by fine snow from the ocean, Daisen White Resort opens for skiers and snowboarders, especially those coming from Hiroshima, Kobe or Osaka. (http://www.daisen.jp/p/kyokai/8/)
Right where Tottori meets Shimane Prefecture is Sakaiminato Port, also in western Tottori. This famed port boasts the greatest amount of snow crabs in Japan, especially the “matsuba-gani” (adult male snow crab). In the summer, the port brings in massive bluefin tuna weighing 50 to 60 kilograms each, and lands the highest number of unfrozen fish species in the nation. For travelers and seafood enthusiasts wanting to get in on the action, a 50-minute tour of the port and auction site is available on weekdays and Saturdays from 7, 9 and 10 a.m for 300 yen per person (closed on Sundays, public holidays and between Aug 12-17 and Dec 21-Jan 10). However, you have to book three days in advance. (http://sakaiminato-suisan.jp/)
An hour’s drive away is Kurayoshi City and Misasa Onsen, a region filled with tradition and folklore. Kurayoshi’s elegant charm lies within the white-walled storehouses and merchant homes lining the Tama River which flows through the city. Back in the Edo period, taxes were set by the building’s entrance width. In an effort to save costs, houses were designed with a narrow entrance and a uniquely long body, which still stand today. Although some of these homes have been renovated into cafes and restaurants for tourists, this peaceful city retains its authenticity with a strong residential community and traditional sake, soy sauce and textile shops still operating today. The uncrowded streets make for great photos, especially if you are dressed in a kimono in the Kurayoshi-kasuri style. Kurayoshi-kasuri is a local style using indigo-dyed cotton woven into traditional patterns and was traded throughout Japan in the Meiji era. (http://www.city.kurayoshi.lg.jp/)
Also located in central Tottori is Misasa Onsen, home to world-renowned radium hot springs. This 850-year-old village is visited for its high levels of radium which improve metabolism and immunity and relaxing ryokan inns characterized by their traditional wooden architecture and Japanese omotenashi hospitality. The onsen village also serves as the base camp for Mt Mitoku, a “power spot” most famous for Nageire Hall, a mysterious temple built in a cliff indentation high up in the mountains. No one knows who built the temple, so legend has it that it was miraculously thrown at the cliff by an ascetic monk. Although you can view this temple from the bottom, many make the pilgrimage to see it up close. The 900-meter mountain road is one of the steepest of all mountain temple trails in Japan, and while tiring, is said to be spiritually rewarding. Depending on the season, the trail may be closed so be sure to check before visiting. (http://spa-misasa.jp/eng/)
Tottori has airports on both its eastern (Yonago Kitaro Airport) and western points (Tottori Sakyu Conan Airport). A recommended route would be to fly into one of these airports (approximately a 1.5-hour plane ride from Haneda Airport), then make your way to the other end. While the JR Sanin Main Line stops at major points of interest, a rental car is recommended as the rural prefecture is quite spread out.