Travel Around the World in Sand
It is not entirely unlikely that you have heard of the Great Dunes of Tottori (and even if you have never heard of them, you may have read about them in one of my recent postings when I was mentioning Kaori Mizumori’s “Tottori Sakyū” – which just means “Tottori Dunes”). I am going to tell you more about them in the near future.
However, the “Sand Museum” right next the dunes seems to be less famous. And, I have to admit, when I first heard about this museum my image of it was a rather tacky and touristy one. How wrong I was! Believe it or not: The Sand Museum is quite something!
The Sand Museum (砂の美術館 / すなのびじゅつかん) of Tottori (鳥取 / とっとり) has its own slogan: “Travel Around the World in Sand”. And it has abided by this motto since its foundation in 2006 (until 2012 it was housed in temporary buildings – and since then in the spacious hall that was built for it) in quite a variety of ways. The grand exhibitions of giant and yet delicate sand sculptures are changing every year and are usually devoted to one particular region on the globe. So far the following topics have been covered:
- Italia/Renaissance (2006/2007)
- World Heritage of Asia (2008)
- Austria (2009)
- Africa (2010)
- United Kingdom (2012)
- Southeast Asia (2013)
- Russia (2014
- Germany (2015).
During my visit to Tottori I had the chance to see the last exhibition that was dealing with the South American continent, its history, its nature and its culture (exhibition period: April 16, 2016 to January 31, 2017). I would like to get into a little more detail about this exhibition, while taking the official descriptions given for each exhibit into consideration.
The grand sculptures to be seen at the Sand Museum are actually (and really!) just made of sand and water – other substances (e.g. to increase stability) are not being used. A rough description of the process of preparing the sculptures can be seen on the picture below (click to enlarge).
And should you want to know the artists behind this magnificent works of art, have a look, here they are:
But let’s have a closer look at the exhibits. Click on the images to enlarge them and to enjoy them in greater detail – you’ll find out: They are really amazing!
1) Animals of the Amazon
The region of the Amazon forms the largest rain forest of the world. It covers an area that stretches from Brazil to nine countries and accounts for half of all the rain forests of the earth. With that the Amazon Basin is the “green lung” of the world, and might deliver as much as a third of our planet’s oxygen. The thick forests with their humid environment are the perfect habitat for all sorts of animals.
The aquatic and land animals of South America have adapted to their specific environments during the course of evolution. Top of the food circle is the jaguar – it is not only a fast hunter, but is also able to follow its prey up into the trees. The sand sculpture shows the sleek cat of prey, but also the exotic toco toucan with a beak so beautiful that it is even called “jewel”, and the colorful Macaw are drawing their circles in the sky. Also in our days there are still new species being discovered in the Amazon Basin – the treasure chest of the world’s living creatures.
2) Iguazú Falls and the Indios
Since my first trip to South America the Falls of Iguazú are – for me – among the most impressive places on the face of this earth. They are also being considered the largest in the world. Have a look at a photo I took during that trip:
The Falls of Iguazú transport 65,000 tons of water – every second! These water masses are cascading gigantic walls of rocks and moisten the tropical rain forest in their area. Here is were Indios live together with their animals and plants. They have collected exquisit knowledge about life in these forests over hundreds of years and have adapted to the dangers that lurking from the jungle. The Idio’s hammocks are as much part of their “survival techniques” (as they protect them from insects living on the ground) as their weapons, e.g. bow and arrow.
The various tribes distinguish themselves by jewelry in their noses and ears, but also by characteristic folk costumes. Even though the Indio people were dramatically decreased during the “Age of Discovery” and its western invasions, there are tribes remaining until the present day. Recently Indios have continued to develop their original culture again, surrounded and influenced by the rich nature under the rainbows of the Falls of Iguazú.
3) Coffee Cultivation and Salto Ángel
During the first half of the 18th century coffee and its cultivation techniques were brought by the Europeans to South America, via the West Indies and the Carribean Islands. Before long coffee became one of the major economic factors for some of South America’s countries. Tropical areas with changing seasons with lots of rain and dry periods are the perfect environment for growing coffee. And coffee grown in the highlands is supposed to be of particularly high quality. The Guayana highlands stretch over six countries in the northern part of South America. One of the best known areas for coffee cultivation is the Salto Ángel in Venezuela. The sand sculpture shows coffee workers in the highlands with Salto Ángel in the background.
4) Modern Architecture in Brazil
The new capital of Brazil was founded 1960 in the Brazilian highland: Brasilia. The plan to relocate the capital actually dated back to the days of the Portuguese colonial period – but it took 200 years until it eventually was put into reality. While building this town from scratch, there was a strong will to sweep away old images and to create a new Brazil. Major buildings of the city like the National Congress Building or the Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia were designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The usage of curves and geometry is characteristic of the design. This neo-futuristic architecture expresses the thoughts of the people looking toward a new Brazil and a bright future.
5) Machu Picchu – City in the Sky
Machu Picchu is located on the top of a mountain 2,430 metres above sea level over the Urubama valley in southeast Peru. The city had been lost (or unknown) for a long time – only about 100 years ago, it was re-discovered by the US-American archeologist Hiram Bingham when he was exploring this area (at least that’s the official version of Macchu Picchu’s discovery). Nowadays this mystical city is world famous. And since it cannot be seen from the foot of the mountain, but only from above, it is called “City in the Sky”.
It was part of the Inca empire that flourished in Cusco, Peru. The terraced fields that account for about the half of the five square kilometres large area were used as agricultural land, while the approximately 200 buildings were used as temples, palaces and residents. But since the Inca civilization did not have letters or other ways of documenting its culture and history, it is veiled in mystery when and for what purpose the buildings were constructed.
In present times, the city is a major tourism spot in South America and attracts crowds of tourists that search for its mysterious stone ruins and beautiful scenery. In 1983, Machu Picchu and the historic district of Cusco were registered as world heritage.
6) The Townscape of Cusco
Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire, is located in a highland 3,400 metres above sea level – hence, 1,000 higher than Machu Picchu, the “City in the Sky”. It is said that the footprint of the city’s historic centre resembles the shape of a puma, if seen from above. The reddish brown of the roofs’ tiles dominate the city’s apprearance.
Together with the mighty walls built by the Inca they tell us about the city’s shape in those old days.
The Plaza de Armas (located in the centre of the city – as in most of the South American cities) and the Santo Domingo church that was built on the foundation of the Qurikancha Temple from the Inca period, let us feel the appearance during the Spanish colonization period.
It is assumed that the Inca empire with Cusco in the center was built by the Quechua, an indigenous people of the Andes with colorful folk costumes characteristic for them. Also the traditional folklore music is originated in the Andes and its representative song “El Condor Pasa” is probably the one almost everybody in the world knows.
7) Lake Titicaca and its Native People
Lake Titicaca, the largest in South America, is located at the border between Peru and Bolivia. Almost at the centre of the Andes, up in a height of 3,812 metres, there is no higher place on earth where you can actually do shipping. Besides the “Island of the Sun”, the core of the legendary empire of the Inca, the lake has quite a number of islands that are home to different ethnic groups. One of those are the Uros who are living on floating islands made of a local kind of bulrush. Through the centuries the people learned to cultivate this kind of plants which were necessary for building and maintaining those islands. The blue of the sky and the water provides a lively contrast with the yellow of the islands and the blue and red the traditional costumes of the Uros. If you look at them today, you might feel transported into a painting.
8) The Cathedral of Santiago de Chile
The cathedral of Santiago de Chile is not only the biggest, but also the main church of the Roman Catholic country. The grand neoclassic building melts perfectly into the historic scenery of the surrounding Plaza de Armas. Its present appearance is the result of various reconstructions which became necessary to heal damage done by earthquakes.
The sculptures in the cathedral, the tall columns and the gorgeously decorated ceiling stunned me when I visited Santiago de Chile in 1988. The grandeur of the church and its peacefully quiet interior form a breathtaking contrast to the lively atmosphere on the Plaza de Armas. For the people of Santiago this is a very special place.
You don’t know Santiago de Chile’s magnificent cathedral? Here it is – as seen back in 1988:
9) Discovery of the New World
The middle of the 15th century marks the beginning of the age of discoveries. Spices and other exotic goods were rather precious in Europe at that time, as the (mainly) Portugese had to ship them around Africa from Asia. The Spanish had the idea of looking for a short-cut in western direction – as suggested by Christopher Columbus. That, in the end, led to the fact that he and his men landed at the South American “West Indies” in 1492 – the “New World” was discovered. The Europeans colonised the largest parts of the American continent. One could say that this was the “turing point” in the history of America, that been populated by its native inhabitants only. The Spanish explored the South American continent and finally discovered the unknown world of the empire of the Inca.
10) The Inca Emprie
The Inca originated from a tribe of Quechua indios around the year 1200 AD. Step by step they conquered the neighbouring regions and countries – and by the middle of the 15th century their empire covered an area that is now occupied by Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. During its “golden era” it was home to 80 different people and had a total population of about 16 million. The Inca worshipped the sun and their emperor was believed to be the incarnation of the sun – the supreme authority in all religious and political matters. With the death of the 13th emperor, Atahualpas, a steady decline of the empire began which, eventually, led to its complete collaps.
In recent years the old Inca ceremonies are being revived as folk festivals. Its events try to re-create the glory of the colourful life of the Inca.
11) The Search for Gold
The “Conquistadores” in the days of discovery had big dreams and phantasies of treasures of gold and silver, to be found on the bottom of lakes, of buildings and complete villages decorated with gold. Their hunger for gold was stronger than the dangers travel brought in those days. Without disclosing their true ambitions of conquest, they got in touch with the Indios.
For the Indios their first contact with people with white skin was quite a challenge. On the one hand they were cautious. On the other hand, the fact that their supreme divine being was of white skin as well, puzzled them. That may also explain why the invasions by the “Conquistadores”, led by Pizarro were so successful. Spanish soldiers with state-of-the-art weaponry followed. The Indio’s simple weapons were no match for them. The massacres that were committed during the course of the occupation of the continent are among the most horrible in the history of mankind.
Virtually nothing of the Indio’s culture and civilisation remained. But Spain acquired the gold of the new continent, flourished under the influence of this huge fortune and developed into a superpower.
12) The Legendary Town of “El Dorado”
The myth, that there was a “land of gold on the other side of the ocean” had attracted both, explorers and adventurers alike. But there is an actual root to this myth – it is founded on secret ceremonies that were practiced until the 16th century in the mountainous region of the Andes.
Deep in the valleys of the Andes in Colombia, at the lake Guatavita, the chief of the Indios used to cover his body with gold dust and took a ritual bath in the lake, in order to pray to the gods and to offer them treasures. Tales of treasures on the ground of the lake, of glittering dust of gold were passed on from generation to generation for centuries and turned in to the famous tale of “El Dorado”, the country of legendary gold.
Later, when the Spanish conquerors came into the country, they were – of course – particularly keen in uncovering the treasure. In their imagination South America was a world full of gold, and they had a firm believe that they would get tremendously rich in no-time. No way was too long, no path to steep to stop them.
The tale of “El Dorado” that put everybody under its spell has become part of human history and is living on in numerous mysteries.
13) The Propagation of the Christan Faith
With Columbus’ discovery of the New World a chapter in human history was opened that was everything but beneficial to the indiginous people of the continent: the propagation of the Christian Faith. Order was given by the Pope in Rome in the 15th century to disseminate the Christian Belief and to regain power in such regions where it had been lost before. The missionaries from the “Old World” were driven by the eagerness and the belief that they not only had the right to spread their alleged superior culture, but were also obliged to convert non-Christians to their belief. Any refusal or resistance was deemed a declaration of war – even if the indigenous people could not even understand the language of this missionaries. Further, the missionary works were justified by preaching the teaching of Christianity to the converted people and pushing the colonization in the name of protection. Thus, Christianity spread over all parts of the continent and the number of the indigenous people decreased steadily. In present days, the westernization of South America has reached a proceeded state and 70% of the people are Christians.
14) Statue of the Reedemer of Corcovado
For a long time, Brazil was a Portguese colony, until it became independent in 1822. Even in our days this is event of proud memories for the Brazilian people. To remember the cenentary of this happy event the erection of the statue of the Redeemer was commissioned and finally completed in 1931.
As the majority of the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro are of Christian faith, most of them have a deep affection to the statue. With its “open arms” it is a symbol for the all-encompassing spirit of hospitality and togetherness of the people of the world.
The gigantic statue lends mental support to the people and is watching the city of Rio de Janeiro (one of the most beautiful locations for a city – at least to my mind) from the top of the Corcovado.
15) Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
The world famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is being celebrated every year, and it is said to date back to the year 1723. It was the Portuguese settlers that brought the carnival tradition from their home country. In Rio it melted with the Samba rhythms of the slave workers.
The Samba parade, the most important element of the carnival, is a competition. The best teams that made it through the semi-finals compete with each other..
The dancers are called “passista” – they wear gorgeous feather costumes and show lots of naked skin. As the dances are individual plays, the dancers need improvisational talent and expressive power. The showy and thrilling Carnival in Rio is an expression of the positive Brazilian traits and the passion of the people. This festival developed together with Brazil, that in 2016 finally was the hosting country of the first Olympic Summer Games on the South American continent.
16) Monoliths: God Statues Standing Beside the Ruins
This statue of a god, the original made from one single piece of rock, was – even though it wasn’t even the greatest in the exibition – the one that had the most tremendous impact on me. The original of the statue is located in the World Heritage of Tiwanaku – where I personally got “acquainted” with it many years ago. The advanced civilization of Tiwanaku flourished in the highlands of Bolivia, near Lake Titicaca for more than 12 centuries from its foundation in the 3rd century BC.
The formidable techniques for stone-constructions led to such extraordinary buildings as the “Sun Gate” and the other buildings on the grounds of Tiwanaku – they even influenced the Inca culture that blossomed much later. The statues and walls of the ancient city are covered with displays of man-like creatures, symbols of cats, snakes, condors and geometric lines. One might actually think that the statues have guarded the temple’s ground for all those millennia.
Do you want to compare the sand sculpture with the “real thing”? I’ll give you the opportunity:
Below see the “original” made of stone as well as the original “Sun Gate” of Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaku – depending on which kind of writing you prefer) mentioned above, as I saw them on the occasion of my visit in 1988.
17) Inca Trail and Andean Nature
The Inca trail was built during the time of the Inca empire. It starts at Cusco and, with a length of more then 40,000 km it reaches all the corners oft the gigantic empire. It actually was the “network” that made it possible for the Inca government to stay in touch with all regions and to impart information as well as orders. And as it also was the main route for the transportation of goods, it played a significant role in the development of the empire. Llamas, the symbol animal of the Andes, provided the major mode of transportation. These animals are just like made for this terrain: They are enduring, they can carry heavy loads and they are used to the thin air in great heights. The Andes are also the habitat for various other animals – just to mention the condor, the puma and the Andean mountain cat. The condor might be the one that plays the most important role among all those animals, as it was regarded a sacred animal in local myths. Also the condor might be called the symbol animal of the Andes.
Should the pictures of the sand sculptures have impressed you, please keep in mind: These grand works of art are by far more impressive in reality.
The first three months of this year will be needed to turn down the old sculptures and to build the new ones for the next exihibition. And that will be opened on April 15, 2017 under the motto of “United States of America”. You’ll be able to see this year’s exhibition until January 3, 2018. Don’t miss it!
Address of the museum:
The Sand Museum
2083-17 Yuyama, Fukube-chō
Daily from 9 am to 6 pm (last entry. 5:30 pm)
Adults: 600 Yen
Student (elementary school to high school): 300 Yen
(There are discounts for groups)
How to get there:
I’ll limit myself to a journey by train – those approaching the area by airplane will (most likely) land at the nearby airport of Tottori. And those who travel to Tottori by car, will be equipped with a navigation system.
From the Hiroshima (広島)/Okayama (岡山) Region
From Okayama station (岡山駅) take the “Super Inaba” Limited Express to Tottori Station (鳥取駅) and head for the Tottori Sand Dunes Information Center “Sandpal” there.
From Tottori city it’s about 20 minutes by taxi.
The train from Okayama takes about 2 hours.
From the Keihanshin (京阪神) (Kyōto-Ōsaka-Kōbe) Region
Take the “Super Hakuto” Limited Express to Tottori (鳥取) and head for the Tottori Sand Dunes Information Center “Sandpal” there.
From Tottori city it’s about 20 minutes by taxi.
The train from Ōsaka takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Should you wish to learn more about the fascinating Tottori prefecture, why don’t you also have a look at the following:
– The town of white walls and red roofs
– Stucco plasterers of the world – watch out!
Tottori: Wakasa (鳥取･若桜)
– A gem, hidden in the mountains
Tottori Folk Crafts Museum (鳥取民芸美術館)
– Have a look and be amazed – thanks to Shōya Yoshida
Tottori: Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘)
– The Sahara, in the middle of Japan?