Photo By: WikiCommons/ Drivephotographer
Region
Chugoku
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Tottori
Population
613,229

Tottori Sand Museum

Places across the globe, seen through sand sculptures in local Japan.

By Joshua Meyer

The Tottori Sand Museum is the world’s only indoor museum dedicated to the art of sand sculptures. Though Tottori is Japan’s least populous prefecture, its Sand Museum has become a hotspot for sculptors from around the world, featured in global news outlets like The New York Times.

tottori sand museum

Photo by: www.japan.travel A Tottori highlight.

The installations are made with leftover sand from the nearby Tottori Sand Dunes, a national park with camel photo ops and dunes so steep that climbing them might feel like impromptu training for a Mount Fuji ascent.

Around the world in sand

tottori sand museum

Photo by: www.japan.travel Previous sculptures have depicted scenes from different regions of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

The Sand Museum opened in Tottori in 2006 with an outdoor exhibition with Italy and the Renaissance as the main theme. Since then, it has kept up the transnational focus, graduating from tents to an exhibition hall that traditionally hosts eight-month “Travel Around the World in Sand” events. Previous sculptures have depicted scenes from different regions of Asia, Austria, Africa, the United Kingdom, Russia, the United States, Nordic countries, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

These are more than just “sandcastles,” though the museum once offered a trip through German history, complete with realistic castles from that country.

tottori sand museum

Photo by: www.japan.travel The current exhibit runs until 2024.

During the 2016 Summer Olympics, its South America exhibition included sculptures of Rio de Janeiro and the carnival in Rio. The current exhibition which is Egypt themed runs until early January 2024.

In the summer months, the museum’s sand sculptures provide a warm alternative to the snow and ice figures seen each winter at the Sapporo Snow Festival. They’re detailed and impressive, with the same sand recycled each year to build new sculptures. The transient nature of these intricate works makes every annual visit to the museum a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The brainchild of Katsuhiko Chaen

tottori sand museum

Photo by: www.japan.travel In the museum, you’ll see a life-size photo display of the international team.

In keeping with its diverse vision, most artists who craft sculptures at the Tottori Sand Museum hail from places outside Japan. In the museum, you’ll see a life-size photo display of the international team. At the center of it is the museum’s executive director, Katsuhiko Chaen, a Kagoshima native who spearheaded sand festivals in his hometown before city officials enlisted him to bring his skills to Tottori.

Chaen personally chooses sculptors for the Sand Museum, and they work with designs they’ve adapted from him. He’s a world-champion sand artist who has created sculptures for the Japanese royal family, the official promotion of Star Wars, the 2006 Torino Olympics and everything from Pinocchio to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

While such things might not be the first thing you think of when you come to Japan, the Tottori Sand Museum makes for a memorable visit that provides a window to the world, executed with a local Japanese vision.

Things To Know

Hours and fees

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.) and is ¥800 for adults, ¥400 for students. 

How To Get There

Address

By train

Tottori station is reachable from Kyoto, Osaka or Sannomiya station in Kobe via the “Super Hakuto” Limited Express. The ride from Kobe lasts about 2 hours, 15 minutes.

By bus

From Tottori station, take the Kirinjishi Loop Bus or a regular Sakyu Line bus to the Sakyu Kita-guchi or Sakyu Center Tenbo Dai bus stop.

By car

The Tottori Sand Museum is about an 8-hour drive from Tokyo station.


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