Japan Alps Art Festival Brings Art to the Mountains

JAAF banner

Modern art, local food, and the great outdoors loom large at the first Japan Alps Art Festival (JAAF), taking place in the stunning alpine surroundings of Omachi, Nagano, from June until the end of July.

The inaugural JAAF festival will bring art to Japan’s mountains this summer, running for 57 days from 4th June until 30th July, 2017. The festival will be based in Omachi, a mountain town nestled at the foot of the magnificent Japan Alps with spectacular scenery of mirror-like lakes, gently undulating foothills, and endless clear blue skies.

Reflecting the central importance of Omachi’s natural surroundings in the lives of its local people, the festival’s theme is “wood, water, soil, sky”. Thirty-six works of art based on the theme will be displayed across five areas in the town, including works by both domestic and international artists. Works by Japanese artists such as Tadashi Kawamata, Toshikatsu Endo, and Tomoko Fuse, will sit side by side with contributions by international artists such as Finnish visual artist Maaria Wirkkala and Filipino-born, Australia-based couple Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan.
The new art festival is curated by Fram Kitagawa, an experienced festival director and head of the Art Front Gallery in Daikanyama. Under the official title of “Shinano-Omachi Food and Art Corridor”, JAAF seeks to unite local “food”, which represents the everyday lifestyle and culture of the region, and “art”, which has the power to help Omachi rediscover its values and creative side, as a means to revitalize the town.

Waterfield, Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan, Photo Tsuyoshi HongoCredit: Tsuyoshi Hongo; Japan Alps Art Foundation (JAAF)

Omachi is a lively and well-visited town best known as a jumping-off point for hiking and mountain climbing in the northern Japan Alps and as Nagano prefecture’s entrance to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a spectacular and unique mountain sightseeing route connecting Nagano and Toyama prefecture across the backbone of the Japan Alps. Located at the gateway to the Japan Alps at an elevation of 700 metres above sea level, it has a flourishing tourism scene and, with a population of 28,000 people, it is still a healthily-sized town. 

However,  in recent years ageing and depopulation have become a problem, and it has been identified as a town at risk of disappearing due to decreasing population. The new JAAF art festival is intended not only as a way to entice more visitors to the town but also as a vehicle for globally promoting the area’s resources - food, art and culture born at the foot of the Japanese alps.

On the Other Side of the Veil, Caitlind R.C. Brown & Wayne GarrettCredit: Tsuyoshi Hongo; Japan Alps Art Foundation (JAAF)

Highlights include quirky and innovative “art sites” or installations such as a storage room full of virtual snow; a footbath in the shape of a 1/40th scale replica of the Kurobe Dam; an air-themed installation of a field full of colourful propellers; vacant houses covered with a huge veil designed to highlight the problem of abandoned houses in rural Japan; a fleet of small boats on Lake Kizaki made from reclaimed objects and driftwood; a paper rock garden by origami artist Tomoko Fuse; and a song and light performance at 125 metre tall Nanakura Dam.

However, one of the most eye-catching works is sure to be the giant pair of all-seeing green dragon’s eyes installed on a hillside overlooking one of Omachi’s three lakes.

Tatsu, Patrick TuttofuocoCredit: Tsuyoshi Hongo; Japan Alps Art Foundation (JAAF)

In keeping with its double focus of “art and food”, the festival also offers culinary delights aplenty. During the festival period, twenty-three of the town’s restaurants will be offering limited edition festival menus made using local food, from soba (buckwheat noodles) and farmer’s cafes to bistros and trattoria. 
For some lucky diners, their meal will also be served on a very special dish - an original plate created as part of the “welcome plates project”, which aims to turn crockery into conversation starters. The project sees small side plates made and fired by local ceramics clubs and hand-painted by local children. The unique receptacles are designed to spark conversation between diners and restaurant staff.
During the festival period, there will also be a whole host of collaborative projects staged in conjunction with the main festival events, including the following:

  • Various art exhibitions in local galleries throughout the festival period
  • All-night taiko performance (29-30 July)
  • “Alps Book Camp” book and camping goods festival at a lakeside campsite (28-30 July) 
  • Firefly watching along the Takase River (1-9 July)
  • Special mystery guided tour by the festival director Fram Kitagawa (1 and 23 July)
  • “Art x Kurobe Dam” Instagram campaign (4 June-30 July)
  • Art installations at Kuroyon Royal Hotel: a 12-metre tall traditional kokeshi doll; a “street corner library” by popular Taiwanese illustrator and picture book writer Jimmy Liao; two art concept rooms, a Japanese-style tatami room with walls by Japanese plasterer Syuhei Hasado, and a western-style room with woven artworks and lampshades by Tomoko Fuse
  • Northern Alps Grandfond 2017 70-150 km cycling event
  • Nyakuichi-oji Shrine Festival (22-23 July) including horseback archery competition by young boys in period costume
  • Omachi yukata festival (29 July)
  • Mask-making and pin badge-making workshops
  • Live taiko performances every Saturday during the festival period
Individual art sites cost 300 yen to enter, but for visitors intending to visit more than eight of the 36 art sites then purchase of the “Art Fest Passport” is highly recommended. The Passport costs 2,500 yen for adults (1,500 or 500 yen for schoolchildren) and allows one visit to each art site during the festival period - that’s a massive saving of 8,300 yen if all 36 sites are visited! 

What is more, Passport holders can also revisit any of the sites at a discounted rate of 200 yen per site. The Passport can be purchased at Omachi’s three information centres, including one right in front of Shinano-Omachi station. Most installations are open 10am to 5pm during the festival period.

Kumoyui, Yasuaki IgarashiCredit: Tsuyoshi Hongo; Japan Alps Art Foundation (JAAF)

Omachi is around 1 hour’s journey from Matsumoto or Nagano cities in Nagano prefecture, or around 2-4 hours from Tokyo or Osaka. While it may not be suitable for casually dropping in for the day from Tokyo or Osaka, the art festival is ideally placed for a refreshing weekend mountain getaway. 
For those inspired to escape the city and head for the hills, then the journey is well worth the effort for the reward of being able to spend a blissful and carefree 48 hours exploring Omachi’s pristine alpine scenery, fresh local food, and the festival artworks, carefully placed to blend in with or accentuate the town’s breath-taking natural surroundings.
If you’re still not convinced, then watch these amazing drone videos to get a feel for what you can expect at the art festival and check out Omachi’s stunning natural scenery for yourself.

Visit Japan Alps Art Festival's website for information about the festival's background, the different areas of the festival, the artworks on display (Japanese only), ticket information, how to get there, and the town of Omachi itself.

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