My last Hidden Beauty for the tour is in the town of Omachi on Lake Kizaki, Nagano Prefecture. This unassuming lake hosts a multitude of modern and traditional art in surprising places. I spent the day exploring the area to find as many artistic works as possible... and there were a lot!
My guide for today was Sosei-san, an artist, ex-monkey chaser, and currently a resident in the area organizing art festivals. Our first stop was the lake itself. Lake Kizaki lies at the foot of the Japanese Alps mountain range, and is the largest in size (though not in water volume) of the Nishina Three Lakes.
On the far side of the lake, in among the trees, are various art installations featuring only natural materials from the Shinano Primitive Sense Art Festival. These blend in so well that if you didn't know they were there, you could easily miss them completely. I was lucky Sosei-san was with me, as I would never have been able to find them on my own!
The biggest season for the art festival is summer, and it is held every year. Most of the installations still around are either from 2015, or made of longer lasting materials, as those made of paper or more delicate mediums have already faded away with the change in season and year.
The beautiful colors in the forest were relaxing as we walked around installations.
From these forest paths we went to the other side of the lake for a different look.
Lake Kizaki is a famous rice-growing area, so this particular installation incorporates growing rice into the art.
The interesting art seemed to enhance the natural beauty of the lake... or maybe it was the other way around.
And in a random storehouse near the water and rice fields, was a wealth of amazing paintings transforming ordinary things found in the storehouse into the gods they hold.
There's not really a map of the locations of the art, but a visit to the Nishimaru-Shinya Memorial Hall (and gallery and cafe) can provide those interested with a wealth of information on the area...
...and as I've come to expect from everywhere I visit in this town, hidden art of its own: a basement with an amazing mural made of different colors of dirt.
Lunch was at the relaxing Wachigai, which not only features galleries of local artists in a traditional Japanese-style setting, but really delicious food! I even liked the udon noodles made not with the typical flour, but with natto.
And of course, in a storehouse behind the restaurant is yet another art installation. I really liked this one... it is made of delicate ceramic stems and flowers hanging from the ceiling in spiral shapes.
And finishing up the quick tour of town was an old hemp warehouse called Asagura, which hosts galleries and workshops as well as a cafe. Sosei-san even had some art featured there!
Walking back to the car, I wasn't at all surprised to look down and see art decorating the pavement. This is no chalk art... it's made with the same material white traffic lines are drawn with.
Our last stop for the day was up in the mountains a short distance from town. On the way, the scenery was so nice I had to stop a few times for pictures:
At last we reached the "Forest of the Next Millennium" which featured mini and full-sized tree houses that people can actually stay in. It's a bit too cold during this season, but is popular in the summer. The manager of the forest, Mr. Tomoshige, showed us around.
We saw a bunch of tree houses, but the most spectacular was the well-hidden "Little House" reached by car on a dirt road, then a forest path to a high point. It had spectacular views of the entire valley and lake area.
And on the way down the mountain was the last discovery of the day, which reminded me of wind and storms in shape.
At last, fulfilled with art, we returned to the Guest House Kaname, where I was staying. This guest house is a bit unique in that guests help with the cooking and cleaning while they stay at the house. The proprietor, Mr. Tatsumi Kazuki, makes everyone feel welcome!
The guest house has a very traditional feel, but I really liked the small touches that made it feel homey.
And with this last truly Hidden Beauty, I have come to the end of my blogging for the 2015 We Love Japan Tour. Thank you to everyone in Omachi for this last wonderful day, everyone on the tour team that helped me to and in each destination, and to everyone I've met on my entire Northern Japan route. Thank you for your curiosity, enthusiasm, and pride; for your time and your effort; and for your kindness and your helpfulness. In the end, I feel the true Hidden Beauty is the people of Japan. So thank you, everyone, from the bottom of my heart.
See you in Itoigawa!