MANILA, Philippines — It is an expansive, intriguing piece of land – 16 kilometers from east to west and 2.4 kilometers from north to south – unexpected within Japan. Welcome to the Tottori Sand Dunes and Sand Museum.
Located in the southwestern part of the country, the Prefecture of Tottori, some 200 kilometers from Osaka, is a quirk of mother nature and the area’s most visited peculiarity.
Take a leisurely walk and you will soon be distracted by the ripple patterns created by the erratic movements of the wind – big and small folds, some spiral in shape, others horizontal and vertical lines – and different steepness of the slopes.
Our tired feet made us opt for the horse- and camel-drawn carriage rides. Occasionally, we were overtaken by folks on bicycles with fat tires, ideal for the terrain. Around us, there were people sandboarding and, for the more adventurous, paragliding in the distance.
The Pier Piper of Hamelin and the children who follow him.
The Sakyu Center boasts a see-all observation deck where one can take in the impressive sweeping grandeur. The vistas mirror the seasons: blankets of snow in the winter, carpets of flowers during autumn. But from where we stood, all we could see was pure and raw sand for the summer.
On the other hand, the largest mounds provided fantastic picturesque views that extend from the coast on to the horizon. But we must warn the hopelessly romantic – as it faces north, don’t dream of a magical sunrise or an idyllic sunset.
The creativity and ingenuity of Japanese locals, mostly children, produced simple and childlike creations in the beginning, but now foreign visitors have come to create more complex, sophisticated and ambitious pieces.
As more artists became involved, the sculptures eventually moved into its own open-space building reminiscent of a large, empty warehouse with no posts or pillars, home to a plethora of detailed works, all shaped by tried and tested hands of collaborators from all over the world.
Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
As a compliment to the ever-changing nature of its medium, the displays are never permanent – the theme changes annually to reflect certain destinations. Past exhibitions focused on more than just the history and culture of the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the continents of Africa and South America. During our visit, the featured nation was the Federal Republic of Germany.
On the first floor of the building was an instructional series of photographs on sand sculpting techniques – a bucket is filled with fine and smooth sand together with a bit of water. It is then compacted and left to harden. The bucket is removed and additional tools such as trowels, spatulas, spools and chisels are utilized with surgical precision to scrape off excess grains and artistically breathe life into a spectacular three-dimensional work. Pictures chronicled the progress of the crew as they poured hard work and passion into this project.
The coronation of Charlemagne by the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican
Our past experiences with gigantic sculptures did not prepare us for what we saw on the second floor, a staging entitled “Travel the World through Sand,” composed of 20 distinct installations.
The centerpiece display was an imposing castle, complete with defense forts, sentinel towers, protective moats and connecting drawbridges. In front stood the powerful and influential members of royalty and aristocracy, in full regalia.
We marveled at larger-than-life depictions of German arts and culture, such as the coronation of Charlemagne by the pope, Johannes Gutenberg of printing press fame, Martin Luther and the Reformation, the legendary alchemist and suspected magician Johann Georg Faust and the genius Albert Einstein.
Martin Luther and the Reformation.
Recent past scenes like the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall, plus contemporary goings-on in German life, coupled with prolific personalities, musicians and writers provided a crystal clear contrast of the new and the old.
It seems everyone’s favorites were the popular children’s fairy tales of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, such as the frightening escapades of Hansel and Gretel and their own version of Cinderella, who hurriedly ran down the steps as midnight approached.
The Sigmaringen Castle, noted for its surroundings enclosed with water.
Another crowd drawer was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a character of local German folklore.
These were all executed with fine precision – each facial expression was lifelike, with detailed costumes showing the folds in each and every piece of clothing, and assorted paraphernalia all too good to be real.
As if this was not enough, the third floor was an indoor veranda which enveloped the whole interior and boasted an impressive bird’s eye view of the museum, while flaunting at a distance a picturesque vista of the faraway dunes.
Dr. Albert Einstein, the man behind the Theory of Relativity.
At the shop are curious sweet treats such as the Sand Chocolate of crunchy texture and sesame flavor, topped with kinako, soy flour which incidentally looked like sand sprinkles.
In keeping with the ephemeral nature of it all, it is quite sad to realize that one day, these will vanish and be replaced by new pieces – the fleeting nature of the exhibit, though a treasure in itself, has made a memory never to be forgotten.
A group picture of the crew behind the Germany exhibit.
Such is life, wherein no matter how great one is, one day, one’s grains will be blown away by the wind.
The venue’s executive producer, Katsuhiko Chaen, counted among the “100 Japanese Individuals the World Respects” according to Newsweek, has been quoted as saying, “The transience is the attraction and beauty of sand sculptures.”
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