Japan 1991: Tottori Sand Dunes & Hawai Onsen

Here’s another account of an onsen ryokan trip which Roland Petrov and I undertook at the beginning of April 1991. We went to Tottori Sand Dunes on our way to Hawai Onsen.

I have some slide photos somewhere which I want to convert to digital and post here, but as Roland and I are now engaged in an attempt to recover the details of our trips, I want to post this diary extract here without delay.

What I realize now as I read this account – and in the light of my chat with one of the employees (or was he the young owner) of the Sennentei ryokan at Hawai onsen last week – is that the Mido Resort ryokan was going through its terminal post-bubble decline when we visited it. The company that ran it went bust not so long after this trip and the Mido Resort no longer exists. We were enjoying the fleeting pleasures of a passing age of postwar prosperity when the money was no longer there for the metropolitan crowd to flock to Hawai, but just before the final collapse.

At Tottori we parted company so that I could visit the sand dunes while Roland visited an acquaintance he met last time he was there.

The Tottori sand dunes stretch for about sixteen kilometres along the coast, though the main dune only covers about one square kilometre. The wind ripples it into different shapes over night and the footprints of tourists transform it once again during the day.

It was a sunny day so I went down to the sea and splashed about, walking along the coast for about half a mile or so, becoming increasingly disenchanted with the litter and rubbish that strews the whole length of the beach. Do the Japanese really “not see it”? Doesn’t the local authority remove it and fine people who leave rubbish?

I walked back over the sand-dune, which is relatively litter-free, but I still angrily collected a handful of packets, throwaway cameras, cans etc to take off the dune.

Back at the station, Roland came rushing over several minutes late and somewhat intoxicated having knocked back a bottle of wine in half an hour at his acquaintance’s restaurant, and was full of the idea of going back there on Sunday evening.

We caught the train, hoping to get off at Togo lake, near a place called Hawaii. We could see our ryokan, a large complex overlooking the north shore of the lake. Our plan had been to get off at the little station and catch a boat across, but the chap sat next to us sucked huge quantities of air between his teeth and cocked his head a few times when we asked him if this was possible, so we proceeded to the next, larger, station.

I had the task of informing the ryokan of our whereabouts and we were collected by the hotel minibus. The driver was a cheerful chap, and chatted happily to us as we alighted. We felt certain that, had we phoned from the little station the management would have sent the little red boat that was docked at the little red landing platform just below our hotel window.

As soon as we arrived we were informed that there would be a Taiwanese Dancing Girl Show at eight o’clock, an attraction no other ryokan had offered us before. Our lady was a very pleasant woman, chatty without forever apologizing [see A Trip To Yunogo Onsen for this reference]. Roland presented her with an omiyagi [souvenir gift], which is apparently the thing to do.

Then there was the bath. While the Yunogo bath takes the biscuit for its [outdoor] setting, this one won first prize among all the indoor baths we’ve been to. The  bath house is set over the lake in front of the ryokan. Inside, the pool was large, immaculate, the water steaming and brimming over its marble walls, while the windows, which occupied two sides of the men’s half afforded panoramic views of the lake and at times it was difficult to distinguish between the lake and the onsen, as the water, tapped from the centre of the lake, reflected in the glass and seemed to flow back to it forming one undivided expanse.

The dividing wall [between the men’s and women’s baths] was constructed of large rocks from which the piping hot water appeared to issue, as if from a natural spring.

We had expected the bath to be quite crowded judging from the size of the ryokan. However, at no time were there more than three people in the bath with us, and much of the time we – who always seem to spend more time than anybody else in the bath-house – were alone.

Our evening meal was laid out in a vast expanse of dishes when we returned to our room, and we were sated with as much crab as we could swallow. There was so much food that we were late for the Taiwanese Dancing Girls, which was a shame because it was a marvellously sensual show, tastefully performed with thigh-length splits in the dresses, fans, full throated voices. Yet for all this we were the only members of a rather spartan and geriatric audience who seemed to enjoy it.

All too soon the troupe left and a competent but by no means comparable performance began – very Japanese and angular where the Taiwanese had been curvacious, and monotonous where they had been melodious.

A local character of the north coast, a dim-witted shrimp fisherman, stole the show with his conjuring of fish from nowhere.

There’s another fellow whose story gaily decorated the sight screens of a building site. He was a god or a monk who, wandering along the beach, saw a shark jump out of the water and scare a rabbit out of its skin. He made another skin for the rabbit and has been remembered ever since. [This is the tale of Okuninushi – thanks to Wikipedia!]


The next day we moved on to Matsue. I’ll post my diary jottings about that another time.

David Hurley