Is there really a desert in Japan? It is so spectacular, where is this place? Where is Tottori, it is not at all familiar?
These are frequently asked questions by those who have seen photos of my latest trip to Japan, which were the same questions that I had when I first heard of this area. Once I visited and experienced the prefecture of Tottori, it has become one of the places in Japan that I must come back and visit again.
The direct translation of Tottori is “to catch birds” as in ancient times, residents were able to pay taxes with birds instead of money. In addition, this prefecture is located on a large wetland intersected by three rivers. There is an abundance of birds living in these wetlands which made it a prime bird hunting area. Locals kept repeating ‘Tottori until it became the prefecture’s name.
Tottori is located on the western side of Kyoto island, it is a slender coastline along the Sea of Japan and is situated in the Chugoku region. To visit Tottori flights are available from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Conan Airport., named after the widely-famous manga and anime character Detective Conan, as Tottori is the hometown of the author; Toyama Yoshimasa. The airport is decorated with drawings and characters from this anime to honor the author. Upon arrival a Conan figure welcomes all visitors, so be sure to take a photo with him before you leave.
From my pictures, many people think that Japan has a desert but in reality they are sand dunes, the largest and most beautiful sand dunes in Japan that have been accumulating for over 100,000 years. Apart from exploring the dunes on foot you can also explore riding a camel or horse, sand boarding and even in the air paragliding. A short distance from the dunes is the Sand Museum, the world’s first museum that displays sand sculptures. Open now for over 3 years during April to January, the sand sculpture exhibits are created by artists from around the world and change annually. Pardon the pun, it’s magnificence will blow you away!
In Tottori you will see pears in every corner of the town, both fresh and pear-flavored treats. Highly recommended, pears are Tottori’s signature fruit, very refreshing sweet, remarkably crisp in texture and very aromatic.
Talking to an owner of a renowned local pear farm in Tottori, eight types of pears are grown in Tottori. The most famous and sought after are ‘Nijuseiki’, ‘Shinkansen’ and ‘Oshu’ pears which are also available in season in Thailand.
The Matsuba crab season is from November to the beginning of March annually, famous for its exquisite snow crabs. The Matsuba crab season has become an annual highlight of Totorri Prefecture, so much so that the Tottori mayor announces a temporary change in name to “Kanitori” meaning ‘catching crabs’.
During crab season many hotels offer special half-board promotions which include diverse crab menu selections. However for only a taste I recommend a to visit Sakaiminato Market where both residents and tourists can purchase fresh products at reasonable prices. There are plenty of restaurants nearby that offer an assortment of seafood, but a sashimi rice bowl of mixed seafood or just crabs is a highlight not to be missed.
To visit the Sakaiminato Market take the train from the Yonago station to the Sakaiminato station. You may even board a ‘Kitaro’ train painted with Kitaro characters as the author of this anime was born in Sakaiminato, which also has many Kitaro snack and souvenir shops.
Japanese curry is possibly the most popular dish in Tottori and we went in search of the distinctive Pink Curry, a special creation of Tomiko Fukushima, the owner of The Torrori Yamanote’s Story. Aside from pink curry there is also pink soy sauce and mayonnaise, all with no additives or artificial colors, the pink come from Tottori beet roots, very healthy and yummy.
Tomiko-san has also over the years developed an anime which has become a special character of the restaurant. If you like something ‘kawaii’ it is a place you must visit.
The Uradome archipelago is home to the Sun-Inn Coast Geopark which also features an interesting geology museum. A highlight of the must do cruise around the island is a spectacular natural rock sculpture inhabited largely by sea gulls that swoop and dive for any food offered. A real up close and personal experience with nature at its wildest.
Before departing from Yuransen Port for your island cruise a delicious meal of black curry is highly recommended. The colour comes from the squid ink used in the curry, creating a delicious flavour without any fishiness. There is a small price to pay for eating this dish, your teeth will absorb the ink and turn slightly black, only temporarily and be sure to rinse your mouth well before leaving. Along with black curry there are also other dishes available, from squid ink burgers to squid ink ice cream, along with a wide range of souvenirs. One thing that caught my attention is how squid are dried here, very efficiently with a fan machine that also rotates the squid for an even and complete sun dried process. If we were to do the same in Thailand we could largely eliminate the flies that result from our process of sun drying squid and other seafood.
Another highly recommended dish is “tamago kake gohan” or a raw egg on rice. To really appreciate the natural taste of these eggs, dip into the raw egg and warm rice before adding any soya sauce, then add soya to taste. This special dish is offered in limited numbers, just 30 servings per day.. The soya sauce has been produced in house for over 150 years and can be purchased to recreate this wonderful dish in your own home.
Be sure to save room for a dessert and coffee. There is a wide range of desserts offered including rich custard choux cream creations, but the pancakes are exceptional. These may seem simple but trust me these pancakes are complex with a very fluffy texture and amazing aroma. During an ordinary day 500 orders of pancakes are produced, and up to 1,000 on busy weekends and holidays, even though Cocogarden is located in a remote mountain location. Not surprisingly it is quite famous and is a multiple winner of best sweet awards.
For the adventurous, Mitaku Mountain features one of Japan’s national precious treasures, Nageiredo Temple located high on a cliff for more than thousand years. According to legend the temple was created by the Gods and flung up into the caves high on the cliff. The route up and down from the temple is approximately 1 km and takes about 1 hour to complete. Before beginning the ascent a sash for each visitor is provided by the monks as this is a sacred site located in a stunningly beautiful and meditative location. Footwear is also screened by the monks and if deemed not appropriate for the climb and the temple straw sandal are provided. My companion was given these sandals which act like Velcro and provide an almost total anti-slip climbing experience.
Kurayoshi is a stunning example of well protected and preserved buildings and architectural marvels from the Edo and Meiji periods. If you are a fan of Korean movies much of Kurayoshi was the living set for “Athena: Goddess of War”. The many white walled storehouses are unique to Kurayoshi, many of which were “shouya” or soy sauce distilleries dating back centuries. While some storehouses continue the distilling tradition many have been renovated into cafes, souvenir shops and, art galleries. Other storehouses continue their traditional production of kimonos and traditional Japanese dolls. There are also hundreds of Mochi producers, Japanese ice cream made from pounded sticky rice, that still produce in the traditional and authentic manner, while many are exploring new twists such as “kiyomizuan” or mochi-shabu-shabu, or by creating new flavours with various fruits and vegetables that are then rolled out into thin slices. Flavours include pumpkin, green tea, black sesame, blueberry, chestnut, carrot and chilli. Additional vegetables and dried fish are then cooked in a broth and the mochi added quickly and removed before they melt To consume this you must bring the soup to boil first then add vegetables in. Thais would look for accompanying sauces but this dish is eaten as is at a cost of approximately 300 Baht per serving. In many establishments after a traditional mocha-shabu you can also watch how the mocha is prepared.
Hisaraku cafe is a highlight for coffee lovers as organic coffee beans are rock grinded and brewed with a syphon machine. Instead of sugar, red beans are used to sweeten your coffee. The grinder used for coffee is similar to my grandmother’s which was used to grind flower for sweets when I was young. Perhaps I should bring this out to grind my coffee beans also. This cafe also serves savoury dishes, one of them is “pin men” a dish with a high content of collagen that refreshes your skin. It looks like a typical ramen dish and is prepared for only 20 servings per day, so eat with your friends and everyone gets a collagen boost.
Last but not least is a souvenir shop modelled on the Yonago Castle that offers all kinds of tasty sweets from around the town. An all in one shop, but perhaps the most impressive sweet is the “Matcha Fondu” an intense green tea custard that has won Le Monde Selection Golden Award for 3 consecutive years. I would say just this dessert is worth the trip alone!
So there you have a taste of the atmosphere and attractions of Tottori. Our next stop will be Shimane prefecture which famous for its mineral waters and a town with the most beautiful lady in Japan. To be continued.
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Story by: healthandcuisine.com