If you want to go off the beaten path in Japan, Tottori—the prefecture with the smallest regional population—is about as far off as you can go.
Visitors to Tottori usually come for the famous sand dunes or to visit the hometown renowned manga artists born here, but there is more to see besides these well-known destinations. Surreal art museums, ancient historical sites and an abundance of nature await.
Public transportation to these little-known destinations is sparse, but guided tours, local taxis and rental cars supplement the needs of travelers.
If you are ready to explore this rural corner of Japan, here are five places where you can begin your journey.
Shoji Ueda Museum of Photography
Surrealist photographer Shoji Ueda (1913-2000) is one of Tottori’s most influential artists. Although he insisted he was an amateur photographer, his work gained fame worldwide.
The Shoji Ueda Museum of Photography introduces Ueda’s photos in rotating exhibitions. In addition to perusing these works, museum visitors can spark their own photography passion through hands-on exhibits.
Create your own surreal photos by posing with props in front of a view of Mount Daisen, or experience some photography history by stepping inside a giant camera obscura (a precursor to modern cameras).
Mukibanda Historical Park
This 170-hectare park was once the site of a massive settlement from Japan’s Yayoi period (about 300 BCE to 250 CE), predating the country’s written history.
In this park, visitors can glimpse what Japan looked like before it was Japan. Reconstructed buildings, original excavation sites and preserved burial mounds await along outdoor trails. Meanwhile, the on-site museum offers multilingual exhibits on the site’s significance and hosts workshops that teach skills like fire starting and stone knife making.
In 1990, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment named Daisendaki one of the country’s top 100 waterfalls. Located in Mount Daisen’s forest, the trail to Daisendaki leads hikers on an adventure down steep staircases, across a suspension bridge and down into the falls’ basin with the help of a chain embedded in the ground.
At the start of the falls’ trail, Ikkoganaru Campfield offers spaces for tent and car camping. Rental gear is available to those who don’t have their own, and the campsite also offers “nature sauna” facilities to overnight and day visitors.
Daisen Makiba Milk no Sato
Western Tottori has a long history of raising livestock, and Daisen Makiba Milk no Sato offers a chance to learn about the region’s farming culture.
Here, you can have a meal made with local meat or dairy products, shop for souvenirs, see free-roaming dairy cows in scenic pastures or join a workshop that teaches skills like how to milk cows and make ice cream.
This pass is considered one of the best viewpoints on Mount Daisen’s southern side. Here, the mountain peak is framed by sky and one of the largest beech forests in western Japan.
From this viewpoint, visitors can watch the forest change from green in the spring and summer to a sea of orange and red in the fall. It’s a photography hotspot and a popular stop for guided tours and road trips.
Have you visited any of these places? Let us know in the comments!