What countries would you say come to mind if I said the words "riding a camel across some sand dunes"?
I'd probably say before living in Japan, the first (and most likely only) country that would spring to mind would be Egypt. I can totally picture riding a camel with the pyramids in the background, across a sandy landscape.
My mind was consequentially blown when I found out that not only do sand dunes exist in Japan, but you can ride camels there - and there's also a sand museum where they make the most interesting and intricate displays annually! The picture above of me and my husband is in Tottori prefecture, where the sand dunes are one of the biggest tourist attractions!
The Sand Museum is pretty incredible - each year they take on a different theme (usually a geographic region of the world) and then do sand sculptures that fit that particular theme. The year we went had a Russian theme, and there were sculptures of the Kremlin, and Russian icons in music such as Tchaikovsky, literature like Tolstoy, and even a tribute to the Trans-Siberian railway amongst other fascinating sculptures. Here's one of the sculptures I saw on the year we went - the intricate details were just incredible. Other themes they've done include Germany, South America, South East Asia and Italy.
The website for the sand museum can be found here:
Getting to Tottori is easy by plane - we flew from Haneda to Tottori and the flight time is just a touch over an hour. If you have a JR rail pass and you're visiting Japan, the closest train station is Tottori, but I've heard that the entire route isn't covered on the JR pass due to some of the lines used to get there being on non-JR rail tracks. Bear that in mind if you're a JR pass user!
Also, if you're the patient money saving type, there are some overnight buses that depart from Shinagawa station in Tokyo and head to Tottori City - it's about a 9-10 hour drive, but it's a lot cheaper than paying for plane tickets or the full cost of a train fare if you don't have a JR pass.
Tottori is another prefecture that doesn't seem to get the tourist numbers of some other places in Japan - but give it a try if you have time, we really enjoyed our time there, and it's certainly a unique experience and landscape getting to see the sand dunes!