Ohara Museum

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The Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture, was the very first museum in Japan that exhibited Western and modern art. It is a private museum founded by Ohara Magosaburo to commemorate Kojima Torajiro. Kojima was a talented western-style painter who dreamed to open a museum and to support young artists in Japan. Ohara became his patron and sponsored him to study in Europe. He collected art works for the museum from all over Europe, including the masterpieces of El Greco, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Renoir, which are displayed in the Main Gallery of the Museum.

Kojima focused on the essence of art and he had a spirit typical of Meiji Era, struggling for a supreme ideology between western art and Japanese aesthetic sense. Kojima’s works can be seen in the Torajiro Kojima Memorial Hall. Other extended sections of the Ohara Museum are: the Annex, the Craft Art Gallery and the Asian Art Gallery. The Museum also organizes regular events including Art Lectures and Gallery Concerts by world-class artists and musicians.

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Tottori: The Desert of Japan

Yes, the following photo was taken in Japan.

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This area is called Tottori Sakyu or Tottori Sand Dunes.  These hills of sand are 16 kilometers long from east to west and 2 kilometers wide from north to south. Located in the Northeast of Tottori prefecture they face the Japanese Sea. The ocean wind that blew from the Sea of Japan created these dunes over a period of almost a 100,000 years.

I came here with a group of friends in September. During this time Japan is still warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt, compared to some European countries. A member of our group heard about the dunes and wanted to see them because we were in the area. I was very surprised to learn of their existence as even some of our Japanese friends had not heard of the dunes. Even if you’re more of a “forest and lakes” person, this unique sandy area makes a big impression.

The area really feels like a different country and the locals play into that atmosphere by providing camels – yes, camels – to ride on for a fee. If camels aren’t your thing, you can also ride a horse that is decorated like it came from North Africa.

When you thought you had seen it all, I give you camels in Japan
When you thought you had seen it all, I give you camels in Japan

The dunes are a popular spot for paraglading and sandsurfing or for swimming in the ocean. During the summer, the sand gets nice and warm making relaxing on your beach towel feel like visiting a spa. But what’s truly amazing is the view. The contrast between barren desert and lush green hills in the distance is truly spectacular. The dunes are actually slowly disappearing because of reforestation efforts in Tottori prefecture. Even if it might take a long time before they’re completely gone, don’t miss the chance! You will amaze all your friends by saying your photos of the dunes were taken in Japan.

The Japanese Sea
The Japanese Sea

After seeing the dunes you can visit the local Sand Museum that displays sand sculptures from artists all over the world. The exhibitions change annually so be sure to visit regularly if you’re into sand art. Near the sand Museum is a shop that sells juice made from the famous Tottori pears. Japanese pears are round like apples, and the ones from Tottori  are highly valued.

Tottori pear snacks
Tottori pear souvenirs

The area is truly unique in Japan and a must-visit when you are near Tottori. The area is easily accessible with hourly busses from Tottori Station.

Read also: Picturesque Japan: The Tottori Sand Dunes and check out our Picturesque Japan series for other photogenic places to visit.

Access:

Local Bus : 20 minutes from Tottori Station, take the bus bound for Tottori Sakyu and get off at the last stop.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Japan`s World Heritage Sites: Itsukushima Shrine – Hiroshima

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Itsukushima Shrine: The Japanese Benchmark of Beauty

Of all Japan’s cultural heritage sites, Itsukushima Shrine is perhaps not just the most beautiful, but the most important for understanding the traditional Japanese concept of beauty.

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Known by its 16-meter brilliant vermillion otorii gate that seemingly floats amidst the Seto Inland Sea at high tide, this Shinto shrine sits along the crescent beach of Itsukushima Island, just 10-km southwest of Hiroshima City.

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Founded in 593 – as the island’s Mt. Misen was worshiped as the highest mountain of the region – powerful warlord Taira no Kiyomori commissioned its grand expansion in 1146, both worshiping here and attributing his political success to it. It reflects the Shinden aristocratic palace architecture adopted during the late Heian era (1185), with its characteristic main shrine in the center, and side buildings connected via symmetrical kairo passage ways.

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Over the years, new buildings were added, including the five-story pagoda (1407), two-story pagoda (1523), as well as the country’s only Noh stage built upon the sea (Edo era). In 1996, its 20 buildings, most of which date to 1241, along with the nearby surrounding forest land and sea, were registered as Japan’s sixth cultural heritage site. 

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The main shrine and its kairo passage ways viewed from the side, with the 5-story pagoda in the background.

Yet long before UNESCO ever existed, Confucian Scholar Shunsai Hayashi from the Edo era selected this area as one of Japan’s three most beautiful sceneries (Nihon Sankei). Since then it has often been referred to as the traditional standard by which all other sites are measured – with the shrine itself even having been called the “ultimate Japanese building” – largely for two reasons.

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First, most Shinden-style palaces had a garden in front to be used as a stage for performances and ceremonies, along with a pond. Itsukushima Shrine’s designers boldly placed not just a garden and pond in its foreground, but wooden platform stages combined with the vast Seto Inland Sea. The result is a majestic sight, with the otorii gate, main building and its extensive kairo passages appearing as though buoyed upon the waters.

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Second, this area perfectly captures what has come to be known as the “trinity of Japanese beauty”: a man-made structure sandwiched between sea in the foreground and mountains in the background. The colorful contrast of Mt. Misen’s verdant lushness at 530 m, the bright scarlet shades of the shrine, and the reflective blue sea superbly integrates natural and man-made beauty. This harmony is of utmost importance for Shintoism – grounded in nature worship – which has deeply shaped the aesthetic values of Japan.

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You’ll want to leave plenty of time for your trip here, since the gradual rising and falling of the lapping tides drastically changes its ambiance. A walk up close to the otorii gate during low tide is the best way to appreciate its massiveness, but the view by ferry during high tide allows you to take in the full panorama of the shrine and island’s divine beauty.

One word of advice, however, is to not leave your bags unattended while taking your photos or selfies, as the many deer – considered sacred in the Shinto religion – roaming freely on the island will soon descend upon your bag to look for anything to chew on!

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Access: A 10-min. ferry ride from Miyajimaguchi Pier to Miyajima Pier. Miyajimaguchi Pier is a 5-min. walk from JR Miyajimaguchi Station. Or, take a 45-minute World Heritage cruise from a jetty at the Peace Memorial Park.

World Heritage (6): Genbaku Dome

l_158685Genbaku Dome: Hiroshima’s Relic of Hope

Exactly 100 years ago, visitors flocked to admire the newly-built Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall – a proud symbol of modernism with its European-style dome. Now, people from all over the world gather to gaze in wordless wonder at its preserved remains after the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima that ended World War II 70 years ago.

Now known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or Genbaku (“Atomic Bomb”) Dome, it represents the people’s prayer for peace.

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Erected in 1915 by Czech architect Jan Letzel, this 25-m tall brick building with a five-story central core and elliptical copper dome was a rare sight when most buildings in Hiroshima were only two stories and made of wood.

The serenity of the park is a stark contrast to the devastation of the area 70 years ago when the first atomic bomb was dropped by an American air force bomber on Aug. 6, 1945 at 8:15am. Its location almost directly below the hypocenter (just 160 m southwest) of the blast accounted for its miraculous survival. Thanks to three restoration projects since then, its weathered walls and hollowed iron skeleton still preserve a surreal glimpse of this horrific event – and staring silently in awe of it will surely move you.

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The Genbaku Dome therefore is unlike the majority of the world’s 802 cultural heritage sites, which are selected for their aesthetic or architectural beauty. Registered in 1996, it is one of just four, chosen for the “negative heritage” it testifies of, alongside the Auschwitz Nazi Concentration Camp, prison center Robben Island, and the slave trade Island of Goree.

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Yet, as Japan’s most sobering cultural heritage site, it equally embodies the country’s enduring spirit and beauty. With hardly any other traces of such a massive disaster, this revitalized city has now become synonymous with world peace and nuclear disarmament. The hope it conveys is why it has become one of the most popular tourist spots in all of Japan, ranked in the top 3 on TripAdvisor for the past several years, with the number of visitors doubling in the past three years.

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Though entrance into the building is not permitted, walk around its fenced perimeter for a solemn view during the day or night. Also, no trip here is complete without also heading across the nearby Motoyasu River, to the expansive Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to prayers for the victims. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum within the grounds is filled with numerous artifacts and photos, which will further bring the history here to life.

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Access: A 1-min. walk from JR Genbaku Dome-mae Station (Hiroshima Electric Railway)

Picturesque Japan: The Tottori Sand Dunes

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Sand, camels, and…a refreshing sea breeze

Surrounded by rippled sand dunes that sparkle with the reflection of the sun, you mount a camel and gaze upon what looks like an oasis in the far distance. Strangely enough though, you are not in a desert. And yes, you are still in Japan.

While featuring practically everything one expects from a desert, the Tottori Sand Dunes fail to officially qualify as one.

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The total size of the Tottori Sand Dunes is about the same as 140 baseball stadiums. That may sound like quite a lot, but unfortunately falls short to qualify as a real desert. The Sahara Desert for example, is 24 times the size of whole Japan!

Everyone knows that deserts are supposed to be dry. This is due to a serious lack of rain and the absence of a sea or river in the area. The Tottori Sand Dunes, however, are located right next to the Japan Sea (yes, that’s the oasis I was talking about)…another fatal flaw in the pursuit of being a true desert-ness. 

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Though the sand may look dry on the surface, if you start digging, you will notice that this is in fact nothing more than some “desert makeup”, as the sand becomes watery after just a few digs. So, point taken, the Tottori Sand Dunes may look like a desert, but only on the surface, literally.

Still, it is easy and a lot of fun to pretend. You get to experience the whole package including camels and an oasis without having to worry about dehydration! And Tottori, which is the least populous prefecture in Japan, can still pride itself on having more sand than any other prefecture in Japan. 

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: Yakushima

Spot Information

Name: Tottori Sand Dunes

Location: Fukube-cho Yuyama 2164-661, Tottori, Tottori

Access: A 20-min taxi-ride from Tottori Station (JR West).