Mountains mixed with artwork — where and how you’d least expect it.
- 2019: Aug. 23 to Sept. 24
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.
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.