Follow the White Rabbit

Posted by on Dec 13, 2011 in Tottori, Travel Volunteer Journey | 7 Comments
Follow the White Rabbit

These days, unless you’ve got a degree in history, and a PHD in archaeology and an agreement with the Department of Antiquities and half a dozen other bits of paper, then it’s unlikely you’re going to be a bonafide treasure hunter. Of course, 100 years ago it was very different: people – moneyed Europeans and Americans, mostly – were running around the world, pillaging all kinds of hidden gems.

That there are so many regulations these days is no doubt better for historical purposes, but it’s not much good for old-fashioned fun. The treasure-hunting spirit has never really gone away which is, I think, part of the reason that the very modern practise of geocaching has got to be so popular.

I first found out about it two and a half years ago, while doing some research for a travel story. The idea is that people log onto the central geocaching site, put in a location and pick a cache to hunt. They then take a note of the GPS coordinates and an encrypted clue, then head off to try and find the stash, which is typically hidden in a public place. Thus the process of treasure seeking for the modern man.

If and when they find the cache, they’ll likely discover a small, waterproof container with a logbook and perhaps a small token. If you take the token, you’re supposed to leave something of similar value in its place – you’re not going to get rich from this game, but you are likely to have a lot of fun doing it.

In 2009, there were around 800,000 of these little prizes hidden all over the world. Today when I logged on to the site to see if there were any caches in this part of Tottori prefecture, I was amazed to see that the number has doubled to over 1.6 million, with almost 10,000 in Japan. That’s a lot of hidden trinkets.

The rise of GPS-enabled smart phones has doubtless pushed its popularity. Now you don’t need to take a note of any coordinates; apps come with live maps installed, and even a compass to help you on your way. The secret code is cracked with the tap of the screen. It’s no doubt made the whole thing a lot easier, and thus more popular. Which is a good thing especially as the cache we decided to try and track down this afternoon was only hidden in August of this year.

Although it wasn’t the closest geocache to our Tottori City hotel, we decided to jump back on the local train and head out to the coast to try and track down the White Rabbit Shrine cache. Rather than follow our app’s route to the letter, though, once we got off at Suetsune station we decided to head to the shore.

Alongside it being free, harmless fun, one of the great things about geocaching is that it gets you out and about to parts of town that you wouldn’t ordinarily see. Certainly the lone fisherman we stumbled across was surprised to see two gaijins so far off the beaten track. The sun was shining and the surf rising as we picked our way through the driftwood and assorted junk from Russia and China that littered the shore. A kilometre or so later, we headed back onto the road, and back onto the trail of our geocache. It was around then we started to see the white rabbits. We were getting close.

White rabbits have a cultural significance all over the world. While for us they’re synonymous with Alice in Wonderland (and later The Matrix) here in Tottori they’re part of a Shinto legend, about a smart-mouth conie who got his comeuppance at the hands of some heroic sharks. (Interpretations of the story may vary, but as a shark-lover, that’s mine.)

The shrine dedicated to the fluffy little dudes is set a couple of blocks back from the coast road, along a path strewn with stone bunnies. We checked and double-checked our flashing map, which assured us we were near. Under the trees within the shrine grounds, however, the readings became a little wonky. We abandoned the technology and instead we followed the clue. With some geocaches, these hints can be explicit instructions on how to find the stash; with others it can be a cryptic riddle. The White Rabbit Shrine cache said simply: “Red.”

The shrine is a relatively simple affair, and only had a couple of worshippers milling around in front of a nearby pond. Without many people to disturb, we set to our task, looking for any and everything red. Our eyes were immediately drawn to a red metal box attached to the side of a wooden building. Its hinges were rusty, but we forced it open, sure we’d find our treasure inside. Nothing but a small fire hydrant. The door squealed as we shut it again.

Nearby there was what looked like the red remains of a traffic cone, but there was nothing inside that either. A few metres away from that, there was a red sign with a little bowl underneath, but no sign of a cache. Growing desperate, we noticed another badly-faded fire box. At one time it may have been red, so we yanked it open too, but only succeeded in bothering a pair of sleepy spiders.

We were at a loss. And that’s the thing about geocaching: there are no guarantees. Because the caches must be hidden in public places, any number of things can happen to them: marauding animals or children can take them; they can be tossed away by janitors (or in this case Shinto priests); or they can be claimed by the elements. Although user “masaaki” had only placed this cache in August, no one else had found it since – perhaps it was gone already?

We considered making a mad dash along the coast to try and find another cache, but something drew Katy back to the first red box we’d opened.

I’m not sure if Shinto shrines are supposed to be serene places, but the victory-yelp that our intrepid photographer unleashed on discovering the cache was enough to send the birds from the trees. Cunning masaaki had hidden his cache in a magnetised metal business card holder and stuck it to the bottom of the metal box. We dutifully filled out the logbook, giggling with excitement.

I’m sure some people would tut-tut at the nerdiness of all this. Does enjoying it make us a pair of otakus? We’d prefer to think of ourselves as a pair of Indiana Jones, but either way: we’re geocachers, and proud!

















  1. Eric
    December 13, 2011


    That sounds excellent and really reads like an adventure!

    But tell me Jamie… you still haven’t found the hairdresser?! :-)

  2. Kim
    December 13, 2011

    I did Geocatching a while back here in England, and I was driving like mad over Liverpool to all of the open areas to find these little boxes.

    The trinkets don’t matter most of the time, it’s just getting your name into that little box to show your hunting skills :P

    Although I’m sure the trinkets in Japan are much different to the UK, maybe it would be worth leaving your own Geocatcher before you leave Japan?

  3. Joe Lafferty
    December 13, 2011

    No chance of him going to a hairdresser now Eric. He’ll soon be back in the frozen north and his excuse will be that he’ll need all the hair he has to cope with the bitter cold!

  4. Nicola Jones
    December 13, 2011

    It looks like you two had a fun time in Tottori!
    I never knew about this exciting treasure-hunting game…I wonder if there is anything hidden in the Oki Islands??!!
    Enjoy the rest of your trip along the Sea of Japan coastline.
    We all miss you here in Nishinoshima.

  5. James
    December 14, 2011

    Very cool. Really enjoyed that.

  6. Violet
    February 5, 2012

    I think this is my favorite post! I like this kind of travel. You got to see a historic shrine but the added adventure gives it more significance to you, I’m sure!

  7. Dara Connolly
    October 12, 2012


    I just came across your excellent blog today – it’s a fantastic resource for someone like me living in Japan. It seems like you have travelled to and written about almost everywhere in Japan!

    We’re planning to go to Tottori tomorrow to see the dunes, so I enjoyed reading about your experiences there. I am a geocacher also so I’m looking forward to visiting the White Rabbit Shrine.

    I wasn’t able to find information that explained what your trip was about or what a Travel Volunteer is, but it sounds like you had an amazing 100 days!