Photo By: Open-arms
Region
Kanto
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Maebashi
Population
2,024,820

Nakanojo Biennale

Mountains mixed with artwork — where and how you’d least expect it.

  • 2019: Aug. 23 to Sept. 24
Turquoise rivers. Rickety wooden buildings. Cool fresh air — and, that’s just the beauty surrounding the Nakanojo Biennale, a bi-annual art festival that takes over a charming town in Gunma Prefecture and brings it life.

Nakanojo, a few hours north of Tokyo, is a somber onsen town deep in the mountains. However, every two years in autumn, this quiet town bustles with artistic brilliance during the event that brings in more than 150 artists and designers locally and from around the world.

With 2017 marking the festival’s sixth year, the Biennale attracts around 470,000 visitors. There, exhibitors offer an art and culture exchange enjoyed by curious travelers and art enthusiasts alike. The purpose of the exchange is to break away from the formal and rigid process of collaborating with curators or galleries. Instead, artists speak directly to the town’s people, shop owners and visitors in order to create interactive art.

Photo by: Saori Kanda “The Tale of the Hot Spring Mermaid,” painted in 2015 at the event.

Some exhibits occupy spaces such as an old butcher shop, an abandoned pharmacy and even school houses. By living and creating art exhibitions within the town of Nakanojo, artists secure bonds between their works and the town’s people and surrounding nature.

Meet the director

Tetsuo Yamashige is the director of the Biennale and has lived in (and been enchanted by) Nakanojo for more than 12 years. In an interview with GaijinPot Travel, he said that symbiosis is the theme throughout the works of art. Whether it’s between different cultures and countries or humans and nature, artists work together to create living art rather than offering visitors an experience of viewing it in a museum.

Before you go

With about 50 locations spread throughout the vast town, organizers make sure to have many locations close to the train station for easy access.

If you want to check out installations further away from the station, tour bus tickets can be purchased the day you attend.  For the ambitious visitors who are interested in stopping at all locations, Yamashige estimated that it takes about two full days. Staying at one of the surrounding ryokan (traditional inns) such as those found in Shima is a great way to get the full countryside experience that differs vastly from Japan’s city life.

With such an interesting event, you might think tickets would be pricey, but they are actually quite modest. The festival is an easily accessible view into Japanese community and art culture all wrapped into a mountain getaway.

To get even artsier, see Art & Design tourism spots all over Japan.

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Things To Know

2019・When and where

Dates: Aug. 24 to Sept. 23. It is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Locations: 5 areas of Nakanojo-machi(Nakanojo・Isemachi/Isama/Shima Onsen/Sawatari・Kuresaka/Kuni)Venues include Shopping Street, Onsen Town, Wooden School Buildings or Old Japanese-style Houses. See website for details

Fees

¥1,500 on the day; free for high school students and younger

Website

http://nakanojo-biennale.com/english

How To Get There

Address

806 Isemachi, Nakanojō-machi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma-ken 377-0423, Japan

By train

Take the JR Takasaki line rapid to Takasaki Station (1 hour and 43 minutes) and then the JR Joetsu Line to Nakanojo Station (55 minutes).

By bus

Take the highway bus from Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit to Nakanojo station (3 hours).

By car

About a 2.5 hour drive from Tokyo station.

Where To Stay

Sawatari Onsen Miyataya Ryokan
  • Kamisawatari 2163-3 Agatsuma-Gun Nakanojo-Machi, Gunma 377-0541
  • 8.1/10
  • 8.7 km
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Ryumeikan
  • Kamisawatari 2317-1 Agatsuma-Gun Nakanojo-Machi, Gunma 377-0541
  • 8/10
  • 8.8 km
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Shima Yamaguchikan
  • Shima 3876-1 Agatsuma-Gun Nakanojo-Machi, Gunma 377-0601
  • 7.5/10
  • 11.2 km
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Ikaho Onsen Todoroki
  • Ikahocho Ikahomachi 106 Shibukawa-Shi, Gunma 377-0102
  • 7.6/10
  • 11.3 km
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