Niigata’s Countryside is Infused with Art


The creative people of southern Niigata blend artworks, natural surroundings, technology, and tradition to create a continuously renewed outdoor art field. Scattered across 760 square kilometers of fertile rice fields, steep mountain slopes, gorgeous gorges, natural forests, and green plateaus are a vast collection of permanent and temporary artworks shaped by the hands and imaginations of acclaimed Japanese and international artists. This is the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field.

The House of Light

To immerse yourself in art-infused nature, you should spend the night in an artwork. James Turrell, the American artist who designed the House of Light, believes art is an interactive experience. In the House of Light, Turrell created an ever-changing experience using natural light and indirect lighting.

Visitors can walk through, meditate inside, and look out from the House of Light during the day. In the evenings, couples and groups adjust the indirect lighting in the room while spending the night in this unusual house that combines traditional Japanese architectural elements and natural light - with light displays of Turrell's conception.

Visitors often lay on the traditional tatami-matted floor of one room after pressing the button opening the retractable roof. During the day, clouds appear to float in the opening of a square-cut ceiling. The Milky Way's clarity through the open ceiling dazzles at night. Woods surround the House of Light, which perches on a mountainside outside tiny art-loving Tokamachi City. In remote Tokamachi, big city lights don't obscure the millions of brilliant pinpricks of starlight piercing the heavens. While watching the night display, just outside, fox, frog, and insect calls might serenade you.

In the morning, natural light filters through trees and pours through expansive windows into the bath. The bath is integral to daily life and culture for most Japanese people. Turrell installed a system of changing fiber optic lights in the bath area that create dreamlike illusions, especially in the evening. The house plays with our senses.

Exploring the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field

While exploring the creative cocktail of art, Japanese culture, and the fantastic geography exhibited in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, the House of Light is a convenient location to spend a night. Before or after staying there, you can plan a route to drive, ride bicycles, walk between artworks, or ramble impulsively and discover some of the more than 200 permanent artworks tucked in woods, on the edges of fields, within empty schools, and other surprising places. In addition, temporary artworks are also a part of this magical outdoor museum of art, culture, and nature.

During the 2022 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, curators of the art field displayed more than 300 artworks, each with a unique idea, feeling, and location. The Echigo-Tsumari Art Field is vast, but with so much art, one is never far from inspiration framed by unparalleled views.

For example, Nakago Green Park, located just a five-minute walk from the House of Light, has a whimsical but thought-provoking collection of four outdoor sculptures representing four meaningful stories. These eye-catching works are a tribute to author Rachel Carson, who wrote about the dangers of chemical pollution.

A pedestrian tunnel drilled through a mountain is the most popular of the Echigo-Tsumari interactive artworks. Oval spaces within the tunnel open to views of steep valleys, rocky slopes, and a snowmelt river sliding under clear skies. These spaces are perhaps the most Instagrammable locations in Niigata. For example, at the far end of the Panorama Station, the water pools to form a natural mirror, and the V-shaped cliffs plunging from the sky into the river are reflected on the water's surface. Visitors come from afar to take photographs of themselves within this marvelous reflection. This tunnel, called the Tunnel of Light, is a scenic 40-minute drive from the House of Light.

Snow Art

In winter, Echigo-Tsumari's powdery snowfall turns this region of farmlands and mountains into a wonderland of Christmas-white trees, family snow resorts, and snowshoe trails. For the Tokamachi Snow Festival, the locals transform this abundant snow into enchanting giant snow sculptures decorating the tiny city. Much less known than Sapporo’s famous Ice and Snow Festival, Tokamachi’ festival lacks the crowds, hype, and over-priced hotels while arousing wonder and amazement.

Admiring the skillful work of snow artists as snowflakes drift gently to the ground is soul-stirring. Craftsmanship, creativity, and artistry flow naturally through the fabric of Niigata culture.

Written by Greg Goodmacher

After living in five countries and traveling to about twenty-five countries, I have settled in Japan. Deep snows, refreshing Japanese sake, ancient customs blended with modern technology, regional cuisines, fantastic arts and crafts, unique traditions, and magical festivals combine to create a country that fascinates me so much that I may never return to my home country, the US. Japanese onsens, in particular, have a hold on me. So far, I have bathed in more than six hundred locations between Hokkaido and Okinawa.