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Coastal scenery and hiking trails in western Japan

Exploring the Sanin Kaigan Geopark along the Sea of Japan

Like a tale as old as time, the Sanin Kaigan Geopark in western Japan offers visitors a look into the region's natural history. The geopark is located along the Sea of Japan and extends about 120 kilometers across three prefectures: Tottori, Hyogo and Kyoto. It has been designated as a Global Geopark since 2010. Additionally, geopark activities such as education, conservation and promotion were made official by UNESCO in 2015 - making it a UNESCO Global Geopark. One of the biggest characteristics of the Sanin Kaigan Geopark is its jagged ria coastline with cliffs, sea caves and unique rock formations showing the changes in sea level, underwater volcanoes, and land and tectonic plate movements.

A network of about 30 hiking trails in the Sanin Kaigan Geopark provides the opportunity to see the coastline and geological formations up close as well as the small coastal towns and the local flora and fauna. Hiking along the coast of the geopark from one end in Tottori to the other end in Kyoto is possible, but note that this expedition is likely to take at least one week. Hot spring towns in the geopark offer nice accommodation options along the way and fresh seasonal seafood from the Sea of Japan can be enjoyed too.

There are numerous interesting and fun places to visit in the Sanin Kaigan Geopark, and traveling from one end to the other visiting all the sights would be an epic adventure lasting weeks. For those who are short on time, below is a selection of scenic and fun spots to visit in the Sanin Kaigan Geopark. Note that a rental car is recommended to get around the geopark as some spots are inaccessible by public transport.

Tottori Sand Dunes (Tottori Prefecture)

The Tottori Sand Dunes are one of the largest sand dunes in Japan, and Tottori Prefecture's biggest tourist attraction. The sand dunes measure more than 15 kilometers along the Sea of Japan and consist of three large sand dune ridges, two of which are over 50 meters tall, and an oasis. Unique sand patterns caused by winds and dune flora and insects can also be seen at the Tottori Sand Dunes. The biggest highlight at the Tottori Sand Dunes is without a doubt walking across the seemingly endless and vast hills of sand. Additionally, joining activities like sandboarding, paragliding and camel riding to name a few can make for a memorable visit to the sane dunes.

It is recommended to visit the Tottori Sand Dunes Visitor Center in addition to walking on the sand dunes to learn more about the area. Inside the free to enter museum, there are exhibits pertaining to the formation of the sand dunes and sand patterns, the local flora and fauna as well as information about the efforts of those who have contributed to conserving the sand dunes. English information about the exhibits can be obtained by joining the center's local network and scanning the available QR codes.

Iwado and Uradome coasts (Tottori Prefecture)

The Iwado Coast is a ten minute drive or an approximately one hour coastal walk east from the Tottori Sand Dunes. A number of highlights include seeing the Tottori Sand Dunes from a distance, as well as a short hike on one of the trails which lead to dramatic views of the coast, including a waterfall.

Along the jagged Uradome Coast lies the Sanin Kaigan Geopark Museum of the Earth and Sea. The compact but comprehensive museum outlines the natural history of the Sanin Kaigan Geopark, and has exhibits about the different types of rocks, marine life and land animals found in the geopark. There is also a well done 3D movie screened at the geopark, and reservations can be made to watch the movie in English. Finally, a hands-on area where visitors can look at rocks, sand and fossils through a microscope round up a visit to the museum.

Shiroyama Park (Hyogo Prefecture)

Shiroyama Park is a lookout point from where one can look down the town and port of Moroyose and to the Sea of Japan. The port of Moroyose was one of the ports where large ships known as kitamaebune plying Japan's most important old shipping trade route between Osaka and Hokkaido stopped at. Kitamaebune typically transported goods like textile and ceramics, and food like salt, rice and sugar. A bird's eye view of both the new and old ports can be seen from Shiroyama Park, and the coastal town of Moroyose also contains a number of historic spots relating to the kitamaebune and the shipping route.

Hamasaka hot spring town (Hyogo Prefecture)

The hot spring town of Hamasaka is a ten minute drive or an approximately one hour walk on the hiking trail from Shiroyama Park. The town is where Kato Buntaro, a celebrated solo mountaineer known for his enthusiasm for scaling new heights, was born in 1905. There is a monument and a memorial museum dedicated to him in his hometown of Hamasaka. Kato died an untimely death at age 31, during a snowstorm on one of his climbing expeditions. In addition to learning more about Kato Buntaro, visitors can see old houses and stone walls on a walk through the old town of Hamasaka. There are a number of hot spring facilities in Hamasaka Onsen, some of which are open to day trippers.

Amarube Station (Hyogo Prefecture)

Featuring a train station in a geopark filled with hiking trails may sound a little unusual, but Amarube Station has a history that is both glorious and tragic. An iron trestle viaduct measuring 309.4 meters long and with bridge supports measuring 41.5 meters high connected Amarube Station to the next station and was completed in 1912, after a construction period of three years. It opened to great fanfare and was one of the main highlights of the JR Sanin Main Line which uses the tracks.

However, tragedy struck in 1986 when strong winds toppled the train off the bridge, killing six people - five employees in the fish processing plant below and one train conductor onboard - and seriously injuring another six. Today, the iron bridge has been replaced with a concrete one. A part of the former iron bridge remains as a reminder of the tragedy and visitors to Amarube Station can see the old tracks and bridge supports. Hiking trails around the station allow for panoramic views of the "station in the sky" in combination with the Sea of Japan and the surrounding mountains, a sight not to be missed.

Hiyoriyama Onsen (Hyogo Prefecture)

Hiyoriyama Onsen along the Sea of Japan coast is a hot spring area not far from Kinosaki Onsen, a hot spring town easily accessible from the major cities of Osaka and Kyoto. An overnight stay in a ryokan accommodation would serve well to soothe tired muscles from hiking and nourish the belly with the delicious bounty of the sea. Hotel Kinparo is a highly rated ryokan in Hiyoriyama Onsen and offers staying guests scenic ocean views and delicious seasonal seafood and local dishes during meal times. Short trails around the hotel lead to lookout points from where guests can see the sunrise as well as the rock formations in the sea.

Kyogamisaki Lighthouse (Kyoto Prefecture)

Cape Kyogamisaki is located at the northernmost point of Kyoto Prefecture, and the Kyogamisaki Lighthouse stands at its tip warning passing ships of the rocky coast. Inaugurated in 1898, the Kyogamisaki Lighthouse stands about 150 meters above sea level on a cliff and uses a first-order Fresnel lens, which measures over 2.5 meters tall - only four other lighthouses out of the many lighthouses in Japan use the same kind of lens. Additionally, the lighthouse was designated an industrial modernization heritage in 2008, making it a doubly special one to see. Visitors to Kyogamisaki Lighthouse can appreciate the classic lighthouse and its beautiful lens in conjunction with the Sea of Japan.

Kyotango Coast (Kyoto Prefecture)

Along the approximately five kilometer stretch of coastline between Cape Inugamisaki and the tiny Shiroshima Island lies a number of interesting rock formations. Hiking trails connect the spots and take one through sights like a fishing town, tateiwa, which is a large rock made of columnar jointing in the sea, ancient burial mounds, byobuiwa, which are large rocks that resemble folding screens, and numerous beaches. Along the way, visitors can stop for a break at the Michinoeki Tenki Tenki Tango, a rest stop that contains a small information center about the nearby sights and beaches.

Yuhigaura Beach (Kyoto Prefecture)

Yuhigaura Beach is a scenic spot along the Sea of Japan for viewing the sunset as evidenced by having the Japanese term for sunset, yuhi, in its name. There is a nice boardwalk along the beachfront for visitors to enjoy a sunset stroll or cycle, and during the warmer months from spring through autumn, a large wooden swing is erected on the beach for all to enjoy. The beach is also a stone's throw from the Yuhigaura hot spring resort town, which is a convenient place to spend the night after seeing the sunset.

Access

A rental car is the best way to travel to the spots in this article, and do some light hiking on the trails in between. The closest airports are Tottori Airport in Tottori Prefecture and Tajima Airport in Hyogo Prefecture. Rental car outlets can be found at the airports.

This project is part of the "Global Content Creation through Sports Project" implemented by the Japan Sports Agency.