Tottori: Majesty of French Culture on Display in Sand

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Statues created by skilled artists are on display at the Sand Museum in the Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori.

TOTTORI — A unique museum in Tottori that exhibits sculptures made from sand is holding an exhibition linked to France, to mark the year of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics.

The exhibition at the Sand Museum in Tottori Sand Dunes, titled “Travel around the World in Sand, France,” displays 18 sand sculptures depicting the turbulent history of France and its glamorous art and culture. The exhibition will run until Jan. 5, 2025.

This is the 15th exhibition since the museum opened. The previous one about Egypt attracted a record 580,000 visitors.

“We’ll be able to hold this exhibition without limiting the number of visitors as we did during the coronavirus pandemic,” said a staff member. “We hope visitors fully appreciate the many delicate and beautiful works of art.”

Twenty sculptors from 12 countries created the works.

A reproduction of the Palace of Versailles of King Louis XIV, is the largest work in the exhibition, measuring 22 meters wide by five meters high. It expresses the grand scale of the Baroque architecture with meticulous attention paid to detail. The way the Greek sun god Apollo is depicted riding a carriage is reminiscent of paintings on the ceiling of the palace.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Notre-Dame Cathedral

A sculpture of Notre-Dame cathedral is created at a majestic 20:1 scale. The actual World Heritage site dedicated to the Virgin Mary is currently being restored from a 2019 fire, and the sculpture is based on its pre-blaze facade.

A sculpture depicting the coronation of emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is based on Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting hanging in the Louvre. The rearrangement of the direction and position of each figure from the painting creates realistic sensations, heightening their impact.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A sand sculpture depicting Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting “Napoleon’s Coronation”

Other works depict the King of the Franks Clovis I, the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), French national heroine Jeanne d’Arc, a scene from Victor Hugo’s classic novel “Les Miserables,” the scenery in Paris, French fashion and food culture.

Executive producer and sand sculptor Katsuhiko Chaen said, “By all means, come and see the powerful works produced by top-notch sculptors.”

Record number of visitors

The Sand Museum was opened by the Tottori city government in November 2006 as a new tourist attraction at the famous Tottori Sand Dunes. Chaen has been in charge since its first exhibition “Italy/Renaissance,” with artists from overseas. The two-month-long “Italy/Renaissance” exhibition attracted 110,000 visitors.

Works had initially been exhibited in a temporary tent set up outdoors, but a permanent indoor museum was completed in 2012. The fifth exhibition, with the theme of the United Kingdom, held that year attracted over 500,000 visitors.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Statues from the previous exhibition, “Travel around the World in Sand, Egypt”

The 14th exhibition —“Travel around the World in Sand, Egypt” —that ran through January featured giant sand sculptures of the Pyramids and the Sphinx, attracting a record 585,762 visitors. A questionnaire showed that 91.2% of the visitors came from outside Tottori Prefecture, and the economic effect for the prefecture was calculated at a record ¥17.12 billion.

Until then, the sixth exhibition with the theme of Southeast Asia, which ran from April 2013 to January 2014, had the highest economic effect of ¥13.36 billion and a record 555,355 visitors

How to get there

The museum is a 20-minute taxi ride from JR Tottori Station. Local buses are also available. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (entry until 5:30 p.m.) on weekdays and holidays. Admission is ¥800 (¥600 for groups) for adults and ¥400 (¥300 for groups) for elementary, junior high and high school students. A passport valid for the entire exhibition period is available for ¥1,400 for adults and ¥700 for elementary, junior high and high school students.

The Japan News