Lonely Planet Writer

Writing messages in the sand at this popular Japanese attraction will get you fined

A region in Japan famous for its sand dunes is doubling down on its campaign to ban tourists from writing messages and other “annoying acts” along its coastline.

Authorities in Tottori are doubling down on their anti-sand graffiti campaign. Image by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty

The Tottori sand dunes (Tottori-sakyū) is a completely unexpected landscape that offers visitors a hint of the Sahara along the Sea of Japan coastline. Referenced in literature and popular culture, the towering dunes in San-in Coast National Park welcome thousands of visitors every month. Ten years ago, Tottori’s local authorities issued a ban on visitors drawing messages up to 10 square meters or larger in scale throughout the park in an effort to curb vandalism. Such acts see perpetrators faced with potential fines of up to  ¥50,000 (£350/$452).

Drawing letters 10 sq m or larger in scale is prohibited. Image by Getty

Lately there’s been an increase in the number of “sand graffiti” acts as the region attracts more foreign visitors. The prefectural government says up until March 2019 they have recorded 3,334 incidents of “sand graffiti” in total, with fiscal 2018 alone witnessing 228,” according to Mainichi Shinbun. Earlier this year, a couple was ordered to erase a 25-metre-long message that read “Happy Birthday Natalie”, according to the Guardian. Similar sprawling messages and patterns have also been erased by local clean-up groups. Measures to improve tourists’ awareness of the rules are being put in place with foreign-language signage asking them to refrain from vandalising the coastline. Littering and fireworks are also prohibited.

The sand dunes of Tottori Prefecture. Image by Kampol Muenyong / EyeEm / Getty Images

While writing messages in the sand may seem like a harmless beach tradition, there is concern among locals that the manmade designs are an eye-sore and bruise the natural beauty of the area. Locals are fiercely protective of their landmark tourist attraction and volunteers regularly hit the beach to clean and weed the area to keep it pristine.

Last year, authorities also issued a ban on floodlights and laser beams in an effort to keep the skies clear for stargazing. It’s part of a tourism initiative called “Catch the Star”, which is promoting Tottori as a place for dark sky tourism where the Milky Way can be viewed.