Seems like a strange topic to write about twice, but despite how much I enjoyed the sand museum in Shimane, when most people think of sand in the San’in region, they’ll think of the Tottori Sand Dunes first. In fact, around the country when they think of sand dunes, Tottori will probably come up first–after all, they are Japan’s largest.

Why yes, that is a lot of sand. It’s been that way for over 100,000 years, but due to governmental intervention they’ve shrunk a bit this past century. In a new form of governmental intervention, they’re trying to reverse that to save a popular tourism spot.

Located just north of Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture’s capital, it is also very close to Hakuto Beach, where the White Hare of Inaba was said to have arrived on the mainland.

Rather than hares, however, you’re more likely to see camels.

They’re there for rides, of course, but the weather was cool so my friend and I decided to forego ride and walk. For the lazy who don’t feel like riding directly on an animal, there are also horse carriage rides to and from the best view points. For the more adventurous people, there are is a seasonal sand boarding course (I’d have been most interested in this!), hang gliding, and paragliding.

Of course, if you need a cheap thrill, you could always run down the dunes.

As for the way up, however, it’d be difficult to go quite as fast.

With all that sand, you’re going to attract more than just thrill seekers–you’re going to attract sand artists. In fact, The Sand Museum right across from the street from the dunes attracts an international team of artists every year for its “Traveling Around the World in Sand” sculpture exhibits. Each year, they focus on the history and culture of a different part of the world.

Previous exhibitions

The theme for 2014 (running until January 4, 2015) is Russia, and they had a team of 20 artists from 11 countries coming together to creature 21 Russia-themed scupltures, all but one of which are kept indoors to control the climate and lighting.

Lighting is very important with sand sculptures, as the shadows are what show the details. Hence, I didn’t take many photos–it wouldn’t be like seeing them in real life anyway, and I’d have to take blurry shots without flash in order to see anything. As you can see, the lighting source makes a big difference:

With flash

Without flash

With Tchaikovsky playing in the background, it was nice to stroll around, read the bilingual captions for each piece, and enjoy all the different angles, both high and low.

I think is my favorite face among all the sculptures.

My friend and I enjoyed a breezy day here and chilled out at a sand-dune themed cafe near JR Tottori station, but maybe next year I’ll go back to see a new exhibition and be a little more adventurous out on the sand. There’s also more singing sand to find nearby at Idegahama Beach! Not to mention a large collection of onsen… next time, Tottori! Next time!

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.