I recently went to the least populated prefecture in Japan – Tottori – with my family, just to get away from it all.
Tell Japanese people you’re going to Tottori for a vacation and the standard reaction is “really? why?” – but it shouldn’t be. It may be way off the standard tourist radar, but it’s a fantastic part of the world and well worth a visit. We spent our time in and around the city of Yonago, so can’t comment on the city of Tottori itself, or the famous (in Japan, anyway) Tottori sand dunes. Those are on the list for a future getaway!
It’s an easy hour and a bit flight into Yonago Kitaro Aiport from Haneda (Tokyo) on ANA, and there are also occasional direct flights from Korea and Hong Kong. Click here to check Expedia for flights to airport code YGJ. Strongly recommend renting a car at the airport – this is not Tokyo, and public transport is sparse.
Oh, and you’ll be greeted at the airport by this little eye guy popping out of a suitcase. Apparently Yonago is the birthplace of Mr. Shigeru Mizuki, who created “Gegege no Kitaro” – a famous manga in Japan, featuring uh, a guy who has an eye for a head. Sure, why not. I’m not an anime person, but if you are, then great – yet another reason to visit! The manga is so popular here that the airport is even named after it.
One of the attractions of Yonago is the wonderful old style hotels that dot the Kaike Onsen area. Book one and you’re ready to relax by the sea. Most of the hotels also offer delicious fresh seafood dinners. Perfect.
A massive highlight is the Shoji Ueda Museum of Photography.
We went on a whim, knowing nothing of Mr. Ueda’s work, but hearing that the museum was worth visiting.
His photography is excellent, and the building itself is a work of art. The most isolated museum I’ve perhaps ever been to, it is flanked by fields and the beautifully imposing Mount Daisen – this place is truly in the middle of nowhere. Did I say you should rent a car? Rent a car!
The views from inside the museum are spectacular as well – you are confronted with Mt. Daisen via this stunning camera obscura viewpoint. I took the photo to the left with an iPhone – no filters, no anything. Just a gorgeous place.
We also really enjoyed exploring the Yonago downtown area. It, like so many Japanese smaller city centers, was decimated by the triple punch of 1) general Japanese population decline 2) the trend for younger people to move to Tokyo or Osaka for jobs & 3) the rise of the big box store / online shopping. As a result, a wasteland of shuttered shops resulted. For a while. Now – Yonago is fighting back, and repurposing the open showa-era shopping arcades with trendy cafes and restaurants, furniture shops and hair salons. Some may cry “gentrification!!” but please – would you rather have an empty, decaying area or one full of life? That’s what I thought. And it’s not like the area is expensive anyway, everything is a bargain compared to Tokyo!
While the revitalization is far from complete – there are still many shuttered shopfronts to contend with – it was great to see a smaller city fighting for its downtown area. We enjoyed a nice cafe lunch at SHIPS and shopping for local edible souvenirs while chatting with the very friendly staff at Land & Years. Strongly recommend strolling through the area and supporting the many brave local businesses fighting against the tide.
We also took a daytrip into neighboring Shimane prefecture to visit the Adachi Museum of Art, which has the highest ranked Japanese garden in the country (although you unfortunately can’t walk through it…) and Izumo Taisha, one of the most important shrines in the country. For me, Izumo Taisha was the more impressive of the two, and was well worth the drive. The surrounding area around the shrine is also dotted with nice shops and places to rest your tired feet after exploring the shrine grounds.
Whether you live in Japan or are planning your next trip here, consider substituting a visit to a well-touristed city with a few days in this beautiful part of the country. Want to know if Japan is on sale for you? Check here! Do I get points for saving the website plug until the very end of the article? No? OK, fair enough.