Japan Modern | Places


Japan’s only system of sand dunes stretches ten miles along the Sea of Japan in the country’s least populous prefecture, Tottori, in the San’in region. Over one hundred thousand years old, the dunes appear in Japanese literature and today attract millions of tourists.

Both Shiotani Teiko and Ueda Shoji were born in the region and remained closely tied to Tottori throughout their careers. The broad expanse of the sky and shore inspired Shiotani to experiment with composition and printing techniques to produce abstract studies of perspective, form, and light. A student of Shiotani, Ueda often used the dunes as a backdrop to pursue a unique surrealist style of photography unlike the social documentary approach that emerged in the 1930s and prevailed after the war. Against the stark landscape of Tottori and farther south along the coast, he created dreamlike, enigmatic scenes, frequently including family members and village children as his subjects.

Today, Japan is working to preserve the dunes in Tottori, which are shrinking due to reforestation and changing currents.