Sand, in and of itself, seems to possess very little significance. But when gathered into massive dunes as tall as hills, or fashioned into huge and incredibly complex works of art, even these humble grains are enough to draw a chap like me all the way to a small city in western Japan – one that would have otherwise completely escaped my notice.
After an early check-out from my Matsue hotel, I walked to the main JR station where I was due to board the 05:58 Yakumo 4 limited express service bound for Okayama. Whilst waiting, I caught sight of JR West’s “Conan Train”: a KiHa 126 series unit decked out in colourful Meitantei Konan livery.
I’m of two minds when it comes to these decorated trainsets. On the one hand, the railfan in me is screaming for someone to scrape away all these accretions and reveal the unadorned beauty of the machinery underneath. On the other hand, the anime/manga enthusiast in me can’t help but feel delighted at seeing a small sliver of pop culture intrude upon the bland utilitarianism of the daily grind.
Okayama was the final stop of the Yakumo, but I wasn’t going that far. I got off the train at Yonago and connected to the 07:00 Super Matsukaze 2, which would take me to the coastal city of Tottori.
Today’s ride: a JR West KiHa 187 series DMU. No Green Car, but the interiors were pleasant enough for the 64-minute journey.
The seats didn’t leave much to complain about. As for the ride … well, that’s another matter entirely. I suppose it’s only to be expected on a diesel-powered train, but there’s no papering over the KiHa 187’s quite pronounced vibrations, which seemed powerful enough at times to make me feel as though there was no need to give my morning coffee a shake. (Just leave the cup on the table and let the train do the work, haha.)
Now for some breakfast.
I left my luggage at the hotel where I was to spend the night, then returned to the station to catch a bus bound for my next stop: the famed Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘, Tottori sakyū).
The sight of towering sand formations isn’t something one would ordinarily associate with this country, but here it was all the same: a large chunk of desert that could well have been carved out of the Sahara and dumped unceremoniously onto the wet and windy coastline of western Japan. The effect would have been even more stunning had I arrived on a dry and sunny day, but even the cloudy skies and the occasional splashes of rain didn’t completely rob me of the illusion of having left the Far East and, at the snap of a finger, materialising somewhere in Egypt or in the wilds of Arabia. (Provided I kept my gaze seawards and well away from the thickly forested hillsides nearby, that is.)
Climbing the tallest dune was well worth the effort (and the pain in my legs), though be warned that walking upon sand – particularly sand heaped up into quite a considerable elevation – is as difficult as one might expect.
With the dunes spread out across a large area, markers have been installed at evenly spaced intervals to allow visitors to easily pinpoint their location.
These towering hills of sand are very impressive indeed, but man won’t so easily allow himself to be beaten by the wind or the waves. Let’s have a look at what the skilled hand of the sculptor can craft out of the same material.
Not far from the dunes is The Sand Museum (砂の美術館, Suna no Bijutsukan), known for the massive – and extraordinarily detailed – sand sculptures housed within its cavernous main hall.
In keeping with the fragile, transient nature of the medium used in their creation, these magnificent works of art are destroyed at the end of each exhibition period, with new ones soon erected in their place. The theme changes every year: 2015’s (as featured in this post) consisted of famous scenes from German history and literature, whilst the current 2016 exhibition features South America.
The sand dunes were my main target of interest in Tottori, but the city was a castle town back in the Edo Period, so as a Japanese castle enthusiast I also made sure to visit the local feudal fortress.
Very little of Tottori Castle (鳥取城, Tottori-jō) has survived to the present day, with the moat and the stone foundations of its defensive turrets serving as the only reminders to its former glory.
A more recent addition (well, “recent” relative to the centuries-old walls anyway) is this European-style mansion, constructed on the castle grounds in the early twentieth century.
It was still fairly early in the day, but the rain and the summer heat made conditions uncomfortably humid, so I retreated to my hotel for a bit of rest. The next morning, I travelled on to one of Japan’s famous onsen towns, where I ultimately chose not to actually try bathing in the onsen…
…but we’ll have more to say about that in a future post.
Until then, cheerio.