Explore Japan’s Hidden Art-Filled Mountains
Find Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, Carsten Höller and more in Tokamachi
Only a few hours by train from Tokyo, Niigata is where you’ll find most people headed for a weekend of skiing during the winter. But come summer, when the snow melts away, a hidden world of art comes to life on this canvas of lush green landscapes.
Tokamachi, in the south of Niigata Prefecture, has been home to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale since 2000. During which time, national and international artists like Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell and Carsten Höller have all come through its doors.
Though getting there is easy – a direct train from Tokyo Station gets you to Tokamachi in a few hours, then take a short train south to Echigo-Tsumari – the best way to explore the art is by car or taxi (both of which can be found not far from the station). In total, there are more than 500 works to see, but here are our pick of five not-to-be missed pieces.
James Turrell House of Light
Built for the 2015 Triennale, James Turrell’s House of Light is an artwork-cum-hotel with insane views over the Kawanishi valley. The house itself is made from local wood and has a retractable roof that can be opened at sunrise and sunset – or for casual cloud watching on a sunny day. And with the beautiful basement pool lit with dim neon lights, it’s worth spending a few nights here.
Yayoi Kusama Tsumari in Bloom
In the grounds of the Matsudai Nohbutai base—a gallery and event space where you can learn about local culture—Yayoi Kusama’s 2003 work sticks out into the blue sky like an oversized flower coming into bloom. With her characteristic bright colours and big painted dots it’s impossible to miss.
Casagrande and Rintala POTEMKIN
This artwork was created by Finish architects Casagrande and Rintala, and sits on the banks of the Kama River. A former wasteland area, the architects turned the junk yard into a modernist passage-way that leads you past ancient rice fields and the river to a Shinto temple.
Richard Deacon Mountain
British artist Richard Deacon’s recognizable metal sculptures take on a whole new life against the backdrop of Tokomachi’s landscapes. He used images and shapes of the Swiss Alps to form the basis of this work, which sits in the village of Kiriyama overlooking a valley with a mountain in the distance.
Akiko Utsumi For Lots of Lost Windows
In 2006 Akiko Utsumi created this window in the village of Kikyobara. Originally from rural Kobe, she wanted to create a work that didn’t detract from the surrounding landscapes. With her huge window – complete with flowing curtains – she wanted to give viewers a new frame through which to see nature and the surroundings.