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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.