- San'in Travel Diary Vol.2 -
Hi, I’m Tom Miyagawa Coulton and I’m a photographer and writer currently living on a small island in Hiroshima. This is my account of my second trip to the San’in area. I hope you enjoy it and visit some of these places during your trip.
By Tom Miyagawa Coulton
It felt like a mirage. Seemingly out of nowhere, some of the biggest sand dunes in Japan rise up along this 16-kilometer stretch of coastline on Tottori’s northern shore. They formed over tens of thousands of years and continue to shift in shape and size.
The largest sand dune towered in front of me. Without visual markers, the dunes corrupt your sense of depth and distance. The only point of reference were people on the crest of the sand dune silhouetted against the sky. On a fine day, the wind carves mesmerizing patterns in the dry sand.
The presence of camels accentuated the other-worldly aspect of the dunes. Non-native to Japanese shores, the camels came from Japanese zoos and have long been a feature of the sand dunes. Originally used for photo opportunities, now you can ride the camels as well as pose for pictures.
The Tottori Sand Museum is a short walk from the sand dunes and shouldn’t be missed. Every eight to nine months, a new large-scale exhibition is crafted out of the sand. This year, the destination was the USA and exhibits picked out recognizable aspects of Americana – ranging from jazz to fast food. The curator Katsuhiko Chaen designs the enormous and detailed sand sculptures, which are then carved by skilled sand artists from around the world. The result is a breathtaking exhibition that leaves you wanting to grab a trowel and start sculpting yourself. Luckily there are frequent sand sculpting workshops at the museum where you can do just that.Read More >>
Kurayoshi in Tottori Prefecture was a wealthy merchant town that flourished in earlier times. The town was ideally placed to benefit from the northern trade sea route. The old storehouses and quaint streets are beautifully preserved. My visit was enhanced by the presence of my tour guide interpreter, Sachiyo Kusuda, who explained the historical significance of the buildings we visited.
The traditional buildings of Kurayoshi are famous for the elegant contrast between their stark white earthen walls and distinctive red roof tiles. According to Sachiyo, the tiles come from Iwami in western Shimane Prefecture where the earthen materials gives it its distinctive coloring. The tiles are fired at high temperatures and are renowned for their strength in cold weather.
During the boom years Kurayoshi was a trading hub, bustling with merchants and brokers. Two of Kurayoshi’s biggest exports were an indigo colored cloth called Kurayoshi-Gasuri, and Senbakoki – a rice farming tool. The hills in Tottori were famous for their tatara iron furnaces and artisans in Kurayoshi crafted the metal into the highly sought-after tools.
Many of the old storehouses and buildings have been carefully converted into shops and cafes. One former warehouse houses a vast array of souvenirs including original antique lacquerware sourced from the town. An ideal souvenir for any Japanophile. Cafe ‘Kura’ near the picturesque white storehouses is the perfect place to unwind and rest your feet, while still enjoying the atmosphere of the old town.
The work of late international award-winning manga artist Jiro Taniguchi put Kurayoshi on the world stage. He set his highly acclaimed manga “A Distant Neighborhood” in the town, using real streets and buildings in his images. The story won the best scenario prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France.
At Sakai Fishing Port – one of the biggest fishing ports in Japan – vessels unload over 100,000 tonnes of fish every year. This is sold and distributed across the country. Much of the fish at famous inner-city markets like Tsukiji in Tokyo originates from fishing ports like Sakai Fishing Port.
We booked onto a guided tour of Sakai Fishing Port and our designated “the Sakaiminato Fish Guide” led us around the port. We changed into our white plastic boots and put on our yellow caps – the necessary attire to enter the floor of the fishing port. Just as our guides began the tour, a trawler unloaded their catch at the port. The huge nets transported vast amounts of fish from the hull to the waiting ice crates. Gradually brokers gathered to prepare their bids for the day’s catch.
We saw fish in all shapes and sizes. From mackerel to sea bass to whitebait. In June, the port is full of the mighty bluefin tuna. Shoals of tuna swim through the waters off Tottori from June to August as fishing boats from across Japan give chase.
It’s no surprise you don’t have to look far to find great seafood. All the freshest fish from the day’s catch can be found at the fish market next to the port. Our visit coincided with crab season and Sakai Fishing Port’s famous long-legged snow crab and the red snow crab were on sale everywhere.
Want your fish really fresh? At both ends of the market, the fishmongers allow you to pick your fish and they’ll prepare sashimi on the spot. You can sit down and eat it there and then.
If you prefer to dine somewhere more comfortable, there are restaurants like Kaiyoutei inside the fish market. It offered some wonderful seafood donburi dishes. I indulged in a crab rice bowl that overflowed with fresh crab meat. It was utterly delicious. Also, many of the restaurants in Sakaiminato are run by fish brokers who source their fish directly from the fishing port.
Information relating to the Sakai Fishing Port Guided Tours
This article is the second in this series. Follow our Facebook account for notifications on the latest articles.