World in grains of sand

Tottori’s dunes and museum pair nature with artistry, writes WILLIAM YEOMAN

Sand dunes are not what you’d normally associate with Japan. Or camels, for that matter. But travel south-west to Japan’s Chugoku region, then north to the Tottori prefecture, then to Tottori City, then to the coast of the Sea of Japan and you’ll come face to face with the sprawling, majestic, slightly surreal Tottori Sand Dunes (Tottori Sakyu). These are the biggest dunes in Japan and the jewel of the Sanin Kaigan National Park.

It’s really something to walk from the visitor centre, with its chairlifts and camel rides, over undulating expanses of glistening granules to the azure ocean. I set off, leaving the ice-cream vendors behind, seeing other people far in the distance, mere specks on an ever-shifting canvas repainted by winds and tides. The view of the sea and nearby mountains awaits.

The nearby Sand Museum holds a themed exhibition of sand sculptures between April and January each year. The current exhibition, Travel Around the World in Sand — South Asia, subtitled Religious Devotion, Diverse Cultures, and the Road to Peace, features nearly 20 massive sculptures hand-carved in compacted sand by an international team of sculptors.

There is Buddha’s Origin and his Enlightenment. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Patan Durbar Square. The Taj Mahal. Ablution and Prayer in Varanasi. The Love Story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. Mahatma Gandhi. The Death of Buddha. This is an awesome exhibition. You wonder, as you wander, at the skill and patience of the sculptors. You are also reminded of some of humankind’s greatest achievements of the past.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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