Echigo-Tsumari Triennale 2018

Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2018

The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale returns this summer, with over 300 artworks displayed across its vast outdoor arena in the mountains and forests of Niigata.

Echigo-Tsumari’s international art festival has been held once every three years since 2000 in the cities of Tokamachi and Tsunan in Niigata prefecture in northern Japan - and is the world's biggest open-air art festival.

The Triennale provides an opportunity to present projects and initiatives that are being developed in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, a concept that sees the whole area as one giant experimental outdoor art canvas. These projects aim to highlight the existing assets of the region using art as a catalyst, at the same time as helping to revitalize it.

“In summer, cultivate the fields; in winter, cultivate the mind.”

Yayoi Kusama Photo by Osamu Nakamura

The Echigo-Tsumari region is known across Japan for its heavy snowfall in winter. However, the harsh, isolated winter environment also motivates cultural and artistic creativity and ingenuity, a state of affairs that is encapsulated by the Japanese expression, “seikô udoku, kakô tôdoku”, which can be translated as, “In summer, cultivate the fields; in winter, cultivate the mind.” 

Based on the concept “humans are part of nature”, the Triennale sees more than 300 artworks by local and international artists exhibited outdoors across an area of more than 760 square kilometres. Sculptures, paintings and other installations are dotted around the region’s satoyama landscape area, set against a bucolic backdrop of rice fields, forests, former schools and vacant old traditional houses that have been renovated into museums, cafes and inns.

The way that the exhibits are displayed, with the festival artworks scattered across such a wide area, encourages visitors to Echigo-Tsumari to wander off freely into the wide, unspoilt nature of Niigata and explore its pristine landscape in the hopes of discovering yet another colourful or eye-opening artwork tucked away in an unsuspecting corner. 

The artworks are dotted across approximately 200 locations rather than displayed in a single event space, an “absolutely inefficient” approach that is purposely at odds with the rationality and efficiency of modern society and the urban environment. In this way, the founders of the festival hope to enable and inspire artists and visitors alike to recover the power of art to connect people to place and people to people - a power that they believe has become isolated and weakened as art has ailed along with the city.

Akiko Utsumi Photo by H.Kuratani

As well as providing an opportunity to reassess our relationship with nature, the Triennale also aims to present a model for regional revitalization, encouraging visiting artists and festival participants to interact and build relationships with local people at the same time as they explore and appreciate Niigata’s wild nature.

Each Triennale sees artists from around the globe participating, with past artists hailing from places as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia, France and the UK. From the UK, previously Grizedale Arts sent seven artists (a tribute to the "seven samurai") who undertook an art residency for over a month, presenting the resulting works at the Liverpool Biennale on their return. 

Contributing artists have no choice but to site their artworks on local landowners’ land, requiring interaction with the locals in order to gain their permission and approval. The artists’ passion and openness to learning in turn inspires the local people, allowing them to engage with the artworks not as just spectators but as collaborators.

The Echigo-Tsumari Triennale has been described as unique in its quality and scale by overseas media and is highly regarded as a new model of art festival around the world. Echigo-Tsumari’s approach to community building through art has drawn international attention as the “Tsumari Approach”, and has been referenced by curators and art industry professionals in the US, Europe and Asia as well as by local governments and international conferences and symposia.

Echigo-Tsumari Triennale 2018


This year’s Triennale will run for 51 days, from Sunday 29 July to Sunday 17 September, 2018. It will see artists from far and wide participating, including Leandro Erlich from Argentina, Lee Bul from South Korea, Christian Boltanski from France, Yukihisa Isobe from Japan, Xu Bing from China, Neon Dance from the UK, and more.

This year’s edition seeks to examine the role of architecture and the power of art, beginning the journey with the Hojo-ki, An Account of My Hut, a Japanese literary classic from the thirteenth century in which the author, poet and essayist Kamo-no-Chomei attempts to view the world from the titular ten foot square hut.

It will also feature a special exhibition returning to the origins of humans, including renditions of primitive artworks such as the Lascaux and Altamira cave paintings and presenting the way of life of the people who created them. 

From the ancient origins of humankind to the present - the festival will also present fifty selected site-specific artworks for the anthropocene, fittingly located in Echigo-Tsumari, as an area where humans have coexisted with nature and developed a way of life described as ‘satoyama’ over the centuries.

Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2018

The best way to enjoy it is to take at least a two-day trip with an overnight stay and join one of the small group tours. These enable visitors to discover the artworks, enjoy the beautiful scenery of the satoyama woodlands and rice terraces, and try traditionally prepared seasonal food made from fresh and local ingredients sourced from nearby farms.
Tickets cost ¥3,500 / £24 for adults (advance purchase ¥3,000 / £20.57) and ¥3,000 / £20.57 for students (advance purchase ¥2,500 / £17.14), while children aged under 15 go for free! They can be purchased from the Echigo-Tsumari Online shop, from Echigo-Tsumari art festival Hubs, and ticket sale agencies.

If your dates for going to Japan don’t match up with the Triennale, don’t worry - in between Triennales, a series of cultural and artistic events and programs runs throughout the year, including a summer festival, “Daichi-no-matsuri” (First Festival), and the winter “Snow Art Project”, through which visitors can also learn about and experience local art, life and culture.

Find out more about the world’s largest outdoor art festival here: