Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2018

Artwork titled 'Welcome'

July 29, 2018 marked the opening of the 7th Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale (ETAT) which will run until September 17. The art festival is held both indoors and outdoors over 760 square kilometers of the Echigo-Tsumari region of Niigata Prefecture. Not only are the festival boundaries expansive, but with 378 works of art to admire and special events happening all 51 days of the festival, one day really isn't enough time to soak it all in. Nevertheless, that's exactly what I attempted to do.

Fortunately, I was able to drive from site to site which gave me a fighting chance to see many of the festival's spread out highlights. If at all possible, I highly recommend renting a car if you're a visitor to Japan and want to get the fullest experience. If driving just isn't an option for you though, the event organizers have put together a wonderful sample itinerary for travelers coming by train with Tokyo as a starting point. This itinerary and others can be found on their very informative website in English.

This year there are also six different bus tours available for 6,500 yen per course which include transportation as well as the event passport. ETAT2018 passports cover the cost of entry for all artworks for the duration of the festival and can be purchased for 3,500 yen at the main hub, Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art, Kinare.

Kinare is an ideal starting point if you're planning to buy a passport and is also located within walking distance of Tokamachi Station. I picked up my passport first thing in the morning and enjoyed this year's special exhibit of ten foot square huts that invite you to consider the role of architecture and art in our globalizing and homogenizing world.

The artwork called Palimpsest in the courtyard of Kinare

The special exhibit in Kinare of ten foot square huts

Look closely and you'll see the wood for this hut is really chopsticks

Next I headed north to the Nakago Green Park. There were quite a few artworks spread out on the green slopes, and it seemed like a popular spot for families to visit. Although I didn't choose to stop by, a well known permanent exhibit called the "House of Light" can be found neighboring the park as well.

A roadside exhibit on the way to Nakago Green Park

A new piece of art at Nakago Green Park called Echigo-Tsumari Rainbow Hut

Taking a walk through the Rainbow Hut

Some very expressive pigs that I could really relate to

With a little help from the information booth attendant at the park I was also able to track down a new exhibit situated in the hills above Kawanishi Dam. Interestingly, the artwork is divided into 6 different locations around Aramachi: in the mountain, above the dam, at a shrine, at a park, near a pond, and in the forest.

Even unmanned artworks were well marked with signs and had stamps available for marking your passport

The Aramachi artwork in the mountain

The Aramachi artwork above the dam

After locating the new Aramachi artwork, I was off to visit the Museum of Picture Book Art. The museum was once a functioning elementary school, but had to close down due to depopulation. This ended up being one of my favorite spots of the day, not only because it really did feel like walking straight into a storybook but because it successfully brought life back into a dying part of the city.

The Museum of Picture Book Art which was once an elementary school

What was once the school gym

The artist wanted to showcase what the school was like for its last three students

One of the goals of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Festival is to help people feel connected to nature and the artwork titled "Welcome" by Barthelemy Toguo perfectly matched that goal in my opinion. In order to reach his exhibit, visitors take a 1.5km hike down a gorgeous valley. At first my mind was focused on getting to the art, but soon enough I was simply enjoying the nature around me and by the time I reached his work I realized that had been the point all along.

A view from the path heading towards the artwork called Welcome

It was fun to spot the hidden art along the path

Shouldn't we all take a moment to sit and enjoy the gift of nature?

Although there were many tempting food options, I decided to try the satoyama buffet in the Matsudai Nohbutai Museum for lunch. The food is prepared by locals using farm fresh seasonal ingredients. As an added bonus, the restaurant itself is a piece of art with pictures of the farms on the ceiling that get reflected by the tables you dine at.

Matsudai Nohbutai's restaurant

Satoyama buffet

The fresh local ingredients were truly delicious

After lunch I made a quick stop at the Kyororo nature museum. There were many interactive zones in the museum as well as an impressively tall tower with a great view of the surrounding forest. Outside the museum, visitors can enjoy walking along the forest trails which also host many more pieces of art.

Inside the Kyororo nature museum

Throughout the festival special events were being held, including this woodcraft tutorial

The view from the top of the museum tower

My final stop of the day was to see the new artwork called "Light Cave" at the end of the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel. There are several openings along the length of the tunnel that offer nice views of the gorge. The opening of the light cave itself had a fantastic view and was a very satisfying finish to the day.

The entrance of the Kiyotsu Gorge tunnel

One of several alcoves in the tunnel that let visitors view the gorge and some artwork

The tunnel was lit with a variety of fun colors

The artwork called Light Cave

All of the Echigo-Tsumari region was absolutely beautiful and hard to say goodbye to at the end of the day