The Tottori Sand Dunes are a masterpiece of Mother Nature formed by the pounding winter waves of the Sea of Japan and granitic sand carried by the swift current of the Sendaigawa River that originates high in the Chugoku Mountains. The ripple patterns seen in the beautifully rolling dunes are constantly being changed by the wind.
The sand has been deposited in multiple layers: a thick layer of old sand deposited on a bedrock of granite some 80 m underground, volcanic ash layers from eruptions by Mt. Daisen in Western Tottori and the Aira Caldera in Kagoshima, Southern Kyushu, and a new sand layer on top that gives the dunes their present shape.
In this harsh environment, people have developed ways to farm, producing today local specialties like shallots. The dunes have also aided research into pioneering environmental studies on preventing and reversing desertification.
These patterns appear in the sand when the wind blows at 5 ~ 6 m/s.
Sand moves up the gentle slopes and piles at the top. When the buildup exceeds the angle of repose, the sand slides down the surface, creating these curtain-like patterns.
Large bowls, locally referred to as “suribachi (literally meaning a ‘mortar’),” are formed in the dunes by strong winds. These backbowls are as deep as 20 m and sharply sloped to 32˚.
Volcanic Ash Outcroppings
Between the new sand and old sand layers are sandwiched strata of volcanic ash from Mt. Daisen in Western Tottori, the Aira Caldera in Kagoshima and the Aso Caldera in Kumamoto. The sand layers can be observed in the cliff behind the souvenir shop at the entrance of the Tottori Sand Dunes.
The Tottori Sand Dunes form three large rows of dunes in the north-south direction, which are conveniently numbered first, second and third from the north (sea) side. The second dune, known as Umanose (literally meaning “horseback”) is the largest at about 47 m in elevation. Inland of it is an “oasis” of 19 m in elevation known as Chojaganiwa.
The troughs between the dunes are called “oasis’s” because ground water percolates to the surface when rain falls on the dunes. Ponds appear from late autumn to early spring. Come summer, the ponds disappear and the spring water produces streams, which become the Shirinashi River and seep into the sandy ground.
The Fukube Dunes (part of the Tottori Sand Dunes) are Japan's most productive area of shallots. Green fields expand over 120ha, turning reddish purple at the end of October when the shallot flowers are in full bloom. This magnificent landscape is a perfect example for the affluent vegetation of the sand dunes.
Mt. Hitotsu Sea Cave
6,000 years ago, during the Jomon period, this location was a shorefront and the waves of the transgressing sea carved out this old cave. When the sea receded, the Recent Sand Dunes were formed.
This lake was formed by stream water from the mountains dammed up by the ancient sand dunes. It has a circumference of 3.4 km and an area of 0.23 km2. Its surface is 16 m above sea level and its maximum depth of 17.3 m make it the deepest lake in the Chugoku region. From the promenade around the lake one can enjoy a spectacular view of the dunes. According to legend, a great serpent once lived at the bottom of the lake. During the day it would transform into the beautiful maiden "Otane", who was known for her kindness and caring towards the local people. Out of compassion for Otane, people erected a small shrine on the north shore of the lake and dedicated it to Benzaiten (or Saraswati), the goddess of fortune.