Just one of many, many pieces of sand art, the majority of which are in motion.

So long as it’s sunny, November’s not a bad time to go to the beach. That’s when you get to see it without anyone else around, and all that lingers are footsteps in the sand. I went to Kotogahama in Oda city futher west in Shimane, and though my friend are I were the only living beings in plain sight, there were little echoing sounds following our footsteps.

These are exactly the sounds we came for–the singing sands! Kotogahama is one of the top three beaches in Japan for this curious phenomenon. When you step on the dry, clean sand, it is said to sing or cry (the Japanese name, 鳴き砂 (nakisuna) is written with the character for singing like a bird, but it is synonymous with 泣き砂, “crying sand”).

There is a legend about that on this particular beach. Back in the epic partly historical, partly legendary Genpei War, one of the gravest naval battles, Dan-no-Ura, took place in 1185 on the western tip of the main island of Honshu. Amidst the confusion, a princess of the defeated Taira clan was lost at sea, but washed up on the shore here. The villagers nursed her back to health and took care of her, and she would express her gratefulness to them and her sorrow at the defeat of her clan by playing her koto at the beach. When she died, everyone was so sad that even the sand began to cry. She is remembered as Kotohime (Koto Princess) and the beach was named after her (Koto beach). This is the basic version of the story, but there are numerous variations.

The sand itself is a lot of fun to go stomp around on, and makes the clearest sounds when you step directly downward on it rather than sliding around. You can also put it in a bowl and make it sing with a pestle.

Not far from the beach is the Nima Sand Museum, and the glass pyramids are quite noticable from the highway. This museum played a prominent role in the hit shoujo manga and live action drama “Sunadokei”/”Sand Chronicles.” You wouldn’t think a museum about sand would be so interesting, but we spent a long time there because there was so much to see and do.

Samples of sand from the western shores of Shimane

Samples of sand from around the world, including garnet sand from the South Pole and “Sand of Disappointment”!

Microscopes set up to get a better look at samples of sand from around the world

There was a whole line of timers set up to show how long it takes other phenomenon around the world to occur.

The museum is most famous for its largest hourglass, which times a whole year. Not only is this the largest in the museum, but it is the largest in the world. Every year they recruit roughly 100 people who were born in the year of whatever zodiac animal is coming up next, and five minutes before the new year they start pulling the ropes to rotate the enormous glass. There are many factors may affect the rate at which sand falls, such as the temperature of the glass. If the top portion of the glass is warmer, the sand will fall more quickly, and if the bottom is warm, the sand falls more slowly. Therefore, in order to maintain accuracy, it must be kept in an environment with climate control, which is why you don’t see hourglasses of this size outdoors (or anywhere else, for that matter).

This is how much sand falls per day

This is the size of the tiny nozzle through which it falls

Although the singing sands of Kotogahama get a special focus in the museum of sands of the world, they do not use sand from Kotogahama in this hourglass (yearglass?). Instead, they use the much finer grain sand of Osodani in Yamagata Prefecture. If they used the large grain sand of Kotogahama, the hourglass would need to be three times as large, and current technology is unable to make an accurate hourglass of that size possible!

The museum is filled with different kinds of sand art, as well as a basement area of optical illusions and a handful of areas to experiment with some sand and non-sand art yourself. There are is a Bohemian arts center next door that offers glass-art classes as well. I came away with a much deeper appreciate than I had ever had before for a part of the world I never think about much, and now the twinkling sound of squeaking sand will never leave me.