The Sand Museum in Tottori City, Tottori prefecture, has become well-known around the world for its incredible sand castles and the unbelievable detail they involve. In 2012, visitors have marveled at the latest exhibition theme, inspired by the Olympics.

An idea that has grown from sand castles on the dunes to huge sculptures inspired by Michelangelo, the Sand Museum at Tottori is a grand celebration of both the skill of the craftspeople who make it and also that of its cultural theme.

In 2012 it was the Olympic Games in London – and the fact that the world’s eyes would be on the British capital this summer – that moved Katsuhiko Chaen, active sculptor and producer of the exhibition, to invite 15 sand sculptors from around the world to work with him on elaborate designs that would, he hoped, honour the cultures and traditions of the UK.

Tottori Sand Museum

Chaen first came to Tottori on the invitation of Shinji Tsutsui, a passionate local tourism officer, who was searching for something special for an exhibition in 2006. Tsutsui had been fascinated by the Renaissance works of Michelangelo, whose Pieta, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, he had visited and fallen in love with.

Tsutsui begged Chaen go against his instincts – he felt that no artist could possibly replicate the work and that it would be impossible – and finally persuaded him to make it happen.

The Italian Renaissance show in 2006/7, the Pietra at its heart, was such a success that over the following years Asian, European and African inspired exhibitions with sculptures of animals, UNESCO World Heritage sites and architectural masterpieces have graced the museum, ever increasing in popularity and drawing talented sculptors from around the globe.

Sand sculpture

Sculptors say the sand is perfect for their needs. Compressed with a little water it forms blocks which can be carved – in the right hands – into anything from the Palace of Westminster to the bust of William Shakespeare or Charles Darwin. It is hard to believe that with just sand and water – and quite some talent – such creations can exist. Kids with their buckets and spades on the beach have something to dream of and work towards!

The current exhibition, “United Kingdom” runs until January 2013, after which the sculptures will be destroyed and sand returned to the dunes of Tottori. See the Sand Museum website for more information. Entrance to the museum, in Tottori City, is just 600 yen for adults and 400 for school students.