JA­PAN UNDIS­COV­ERED: To­tally Tot­tori, sip­ping Matcha in Shi­mane, On Tap in Saké Coun­try

DINE and Destinations - - CONTENTS -

hold on tight! When mount­ing a camel, as it rises, it can feel like you’re that last piece on a Jenga tower. We be­gin our trek into the quiet of the desert, ac­com­pa­nied only by the hol­low echo of the wind. It’s hard to be­lieve that an ocean is just over the dune; that a city is min­utes away by car; that we’re not in the mid­dle of the Sa­hara; we’re in Ja­pan.

A mag­net for thrill-seek­ing sand-board­ers and para-glid­ers launch­ing off the cliffs and hurl­ing down the slopes, the Tot­tori Sand Dunes of­fer an adren­a­line rush with spec­tac­u­lar panora­mas un­like any­where else in the world. This unique 32-km² stretch of desert is an enigma within the sea- and wave-eroded geo-park that makes up the rocky crags of Ja­pan’s coast­line. Just out­side the dunes area is the world’s first sand mu­seum: Colos­sal struc­tures that make even the most in­tri­cate sand cas­tles look like they were made with a child’s sand pail set. Ev­ery year an in­ter­na­tional team con­structs in­stal­la­tions com­posed en­tirely of sand and wa­ter, cor­re­spond­ing to in­ter­na­tional themes such as the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance. Each artist fo­cuses on how light creates shad­ows, and where to chip to avoid col­lapse.

Strolling along the one-kilo­me­tre perime­ter walk­way eight me­tres above the ground at the foothills of Mt. Daisan is the Tot­tori Hanakairo Flower Park. Be­low, there lies 50-hectares of re­splen­dence. Western in­flu­enced with a dis­tinctly Ja­panese touch, the aim is to cre­ate a gar­den un­like any other in Ja­pan. Open year-round, on sum­mer nights one mil­lion light bulbs il­lu­mi­nate the land­scape. A cen­tral green house dome is a highly sought af­ter wed­ding space con­tain­ing 420 dif­fer­ent species of plants as well as sub­species within. Move over Kobe.

Ever heard of the Wagyu Beef Olympics? The event is held ev­ery five years. Ja­pan’s first cham­pion was Tot­tori’s prized Olein 55 brand wagyu. Richly flavoured and but­tery soft from its high oleac acid, if left at room tem­per­a­ture, it melts af­ter 20 min­utes. But who are we kid­ding? It al­ready melted 20 min­utes ago in my mouth. Good­bye diet; hello Tot­tori cat­tle. Graz­ing on the grassy slopes and vol­canic soils of Mt. Daisan, they also pro­duce the dreami­est, creami­est ice cream in the world, with flavours from vanilla to squid ink.

As we wind through the moun­tains into the lush for­est of Chizu, the fo­cus is on for­est bathing, and the quan­tifi­able ef­fects on our cor­ti­sol lev­els from walk­ing through th­ese woods. The smells, sights and sounds of na­ture are so revered that even the lo­cal kinder­garten is lo­cated out­side within the for­est.

At Mi­taki-en restau­rant we are lead down a wooded path to­ward an­other world. Doors slide open as we’re ush­ered to a lac­quered wooden ta­ble around which we kneel in an­tic­i­pa­tion. The ar­range­ment of in­gre­di­ents, beau­ti­ful in their or­ganic sim­plic­ity, is gath­ered from the woods upon our or­der. Moun­tain veg­eta­bles and mush­rooms are picked just be­fore our ar­rival. Daily-made tofu is nour­ished in the clean river wa­ter. We’d like some fish. With alacrity, our server hur­ries out to the stream, catches a river fish, grills it on a skewer and presents it with crisp tem­pura-fried leaves and rice with yam seeds.

An easy jaunt from Tokyo, each new dis­cov­ery re­veals a unique au­then­tic­ity within a land full of sur­prises.

Ev­ery step through this moun­tain re­gion of Ja­pan leads to an­other thrill, an­other ad­ven­ture for the senses By Adam Wax­man

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