Artwork among the natural beauty of Niigata


There is art abound in Niigata! You'll of course find some of it in museums, but also outside, blended in with the already artistic landscape. Niigata hosts an art festival every three years in the Tokamachi Area, the "Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial", in which pieces are featured in various outdoor locations to be journeyed to and enjoyed as an aspect of the nature surrounding it. Additionally, the “Museum on Echigo-Tsumari, MonET" is a popular place for art enthusiasts, with large-scale, creative installations.

Tokamachi is well-known as an artistic area of Niigata, and at the center of that, you'll find the MonET. It stands for Museum on Echigo-Tsumari, and is a great spot to spend an afternoon. In addition to the art, there is also a hot spring, and a large souvenir shop next door, making it a popular destination for locals and travelers alike. The art installations are interesting, some thought-provoking, and all provide a unique artistic experience. The Tokamachi public radio station is also broadcast from here, and the cafe inside is a cozy place to unwind.

"Matsudai Nohbutai " open air museum is seated in a quaint countryside location along the Hokuhoku train line. The art installations are situated inside and outside the Nohbutai, encouraging you to discover them on your own. "The Rice Fields" by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov depicts the struggle of rice farmers in old times, and is immediately recognized from a distance due to the vivid colors of the statues used. A farmer and horse pulling a plow, others hauling the harvest on their backs, it's a very surreal but intimate depiction of how farmers were toiling in this very land to plant, maintain, and harvest the rice crucial to their livelihoods.

"Tsumari in Bloom" is also a strikingly colorful piece designed by Yayoi Kusama, a prolific modern artist in both Japan and abroad. The piece evokes imagery of a flower, but the multi-colored petals seem to be tendrils jutting out in all directions, as if it were a sentient being spreading its creation. The rest of the outdoor pieces are arranged on a course, inspiring you to adventure and discover the art for yourself. You can also rent electric bicycles to make the hills a little bit easier.

After enjoying the art, Echigo-Matsudai Satoyama Shokudo (restaurant) is on everyone's to-do list. The ingredients are all fresh and local, and the lunches that the crew of cooks come up with are unique according to the season. The most ordered menu item is a "teishoku" or set meal, and this is always going to be something slightly different depending on what ingredients they have. The flavors are heavier, using lots of soy sauce and pickled veggies, as this is usually the way food is prepared and stored in colder areas.

One of the three "great gorges" in Japan, the sheer cliff faces and beautiful surrounding nature is a work of art in itself. There is a long tunnel that makes its way along the gorge, and the tunnel itself is actually the attraction which people come to see. The architect group MAD Architects from China renovated the entire interior of the tunnel as an artwork. It's about an 750 meter walk through the tunnel dimly lit with yellows and blues, and the observation deck at the end gives an illusory view of the gorge below. A very shallow pool of water covers part of the room, creating a mirror-like effect of the gorge when the light hits it, and it appears that the people looking over the edge are floating in mid-air. Along the tunnel, there are creatively designed checkpoints, which also have their own lookout area over a portion of the gorge.

An example of a lone piece of art in nature is "for lots of lost windows". It sits solemnly yet beautifully in the remote Kikyobara Uruoi Park, and its curtains flutter in the gentle wind while it's on display. This is to show us once again the wonderful nature of this area by looking at the scenery through the "window", and is possibly meant to remind us of how we continue to lose nature in favor of development, and thus our windows as well. Although, as is the appeal of modern art, the way people interpret it can vary wildly.

If you visit Niigata, set aside some time to appreciate the artistic nature of the landscape, the museums, as well as seek out some of the art installations across the countryside.