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Come face to face with art in the satoyama, Japan’s traditional rural landscape

Niigata Prefecture contains some of the snowiest parts of Japan. Here, you can still find lovely traditional satoyama* landscapes, where people live in harmony with nature. Tokamachi, which holds the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which is a fusion of contemporary art with the beautiful terraced rice field landscapes of the satoyama, and the Yamakoshi district in Nagaoka, famed for bull wrestling and where the brilliantly-colored koi carp, termed “swimming jewels,” originally came from, are popular with visitors as regional where you can still find many of Japan’s traditional landscapes. An Art Triennale is held every three years, but there are also a lot of permanent exhibits. The satoyama provides a sense of nostalgia you can’t get in the big city, and make a wonderful setting to encounter beautiful landscapes and art.

*Satoyama are those areas where there is still some untouched nature even though humans live there.

A classic facility you won’t want to miss, offering the chance to see the permanent exhibition for the art festival of the earth


The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale is one of the world’s largest international art festivals. Beginning in 2000, it has been held once every three years in Echigo-Tsumari (Tsunan-machi, Tokamachi City), one of Japan’s snowiest areas. Using art as signposts in areas where traditional rural satoyama lifestyles remain, this journey through the satoyama is becoming quite well known both within Japan and around the world. From 2016, mini “Art Field” festivals were started to suit each season. Unlike the main Triennale, these smaller events allow you to move around at your own pace. The following major facilities are recommended for first-time visitors.


  • 1Mr. Takuya Kojima of the Arts Festival Planning Desk, Tourism and Exchange Section, Industry and Tourism Department, Tokamachi City

Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art (Kinare)

The main stage for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, where you can enjoy art to your heart’s content


2“Tunnel” by Leandro Erlich.

3Dining Bar Echigo Shinanogawa

This art gallery is distinguished by its dynamic corridors and soaring ceilings. Its permanent displays cover works from all parts of time and space, from prehistoric Jomon flame-design pottery to contemporary art. The gallery also houses the Akashi-no-Yu, a day-use hot spring facility, and the Dining Bar Echigo Shinanogawa, a restaurant serving healthy local foods.

  • 1In addition to its permanent exhibitions of contemporary art, the gallery also holds a range of regular exhibits.
  • 2“Tunnel” by Leandro Erlich. A bizarre space that makes use of perspective.
  • 3Enjoy a meal surrounded by art at Dining Bar Echigo Shinanogawa.


  • [Location] 6 Honcho, Tokamachi City
  • [Access] 10-minute walk from Tokamachi Station on the JR Iiyama Line or Tokamachi Station on the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line
  • [Phone] 025-761-7767
  • [Hours] 10:00 to 17:00 (last entry at 16:30). Others vary by facility
  • [Closed] Wednesdays (the following day if Wednesday is a holiday)
  • [Prices] Adults: 800 yen; Elementary and Middle School Students: 400 yen; Preschool children: Free. *May change for special exhibitions. Akashi-no-Yu: Adults (middle school and older) 600 yen (500 yen after 17:00); Children (elementary school) 300 yen
  • [Parking] 300 cars

Matsudai Nohbutai

Fun surprises everywhere! Enjoy satoyama and art

1“The Rice Field” by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov. (Artwork sponsor: Benesse Holdings, Inc.)

2“Blackboard Classroom” by Tatsuo Kawaguchi

3“Tsumari in Bloom” by Yayoi Kusama

This hub facility combines a gallery, restaurant, shops, and more. The classroom, with floor and ceiling made from blackboards, the round irori (floor hearth) room which is designed to represent the night skies of the satoyama, and other unique surprises are hidden within. The satoyama landscapes surrounding the buildings are home to more than thirty artworks by world-class artists like Yayoi Kusama. This is the area where you can experience the satoyama landscapes and art most closely.

  • 1The observation deck has sweeping views of “The Rice Field” by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov.
  • 2This room even has the floor and ceiling made into blackboards. You can draw pictures on them using chalk.
  • 3Yayoi Kusama’s colorful and alluring “Tsumari in Bloom.


  • [Location] 3743-1 Matsudai, Tokamachi City
  • [Access] 5-minute walk from Matsudai Station on the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line
  • [Phone] 025-595-6180
  • [Hours] 10:00 to 17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
  • [Closed] Wednesdays (the following day if Wednesday is a holiday)
  • [Prices] Adults 600 yen; Elementary and Middle School Students 300 yen; Preschool Children Free (joint ticket with the Matsudai History Museum). Entry to the restaurant, shops, and observation deck is free.
  • [Parking] 40 cars

Matsudai Nohbutai Echigo-Matsudai Satoyama Shokudo

Taste the local ingredients in satoyama cooking




This restaurant is located inside the Matsudai Nohbutai hub facility of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field. The entire restaurant is an artwork and inside it you can enjoy dishes made with generous amounts of seasonal local ingredients. These ingredients are either bought from local farmers or grown in the restaurant’s own garden. Their stock and seasonings are even free of additives. The restaurant boasts a wide range of different local dishes lovingly made using traditional recipes handed down for generations by the local mothers.

  • 1The spacious restaurant offers views of artworks and rice fields.
  • 2The mirrored tables reflect the photos of Matsudai landscapes placed on the ceiling.
  • 3The buffet-style lunch, emphasizes on twenty types of local vegetables.


  • [Location] 3743-1 Matsudai, Tokamachi City (inside Matsudai Nohbutai)
  • [Access] 5-minute walk from Matsudai Station on the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line
  • [Phone] 025-595-6180 (Matsudai Nohbutai)
  • [Hours] 10:00 to 16:30 (last orders) (Lunch: 11:00 to 14:00 (last orders))
  • [Closed] Wednesdays (the following day if Wednesday is a holiday)
  • [Seats] 60 seats
  • [Prices] Satoyama Buffet (weekends and public holidays only): Adults 1,500 yen; Elementary School Children 800 yen; Infants 400 yen
  • [Parking] 40 cars

Kyororo (Echigo Matsunoyama Forest School) Bijin-Bayashi Forest

Try your hand at making craft pieces from natural materials




This natural sciences museum presents the nature and culture of Matsunoyama. Here you can learn about the appeal of the satoyama “snow villages” and see butterfly specimens displays. In the aquarium, you can see local water animals living in Tokamachi. You can also try your hand at woodworking. The area is surrounded by beech forests, rice fields, thatched houses, and other elements of the satoyama landscape. The beech forest beside the area is known for the beauty of its trees, hence the name “bijin-bayashi” or “beautiful ladies forest,” and makes a wonderful place for a walk.

  • 1There are more than 3,800 butterfly specimens in the collection.
  • 2The view from the observation deck of the Kyororo forest and Bijin-bayashi is amazing.
  • 3An original piece of wooden art you created yourself makes the perfect souvenir.


  • [Location] 1712-2 Matsuguchi, Matsunoyama, Tokamachi City
  • [Access] 15 minutes by bus (and 35-minute walk from the bus stop) from Matsudai Station on the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line
  • [Phone] 025-595-8311
  • [Hours] 9:00 to 17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
  • [Closed] Tuesdays (the following day if Tuesday is a holiday)
  • [Prices] Entry: Adults 500 yen; Students 300 yen. Craft fees (materials): from 300 yen. *Admission from 10:00 to 16:00
  • [Parking] 100 cars

Hachi & Seizo Tashima Museum of Picture Book Art

Stories of children and monsters unfold in an abandoned school




A closed-down elementary school has been transformed into a picture book art gallery created by the picture book artist Seizo Tashima. The entirety of the old school building is used as a spatial picture book as the memorable story unfolds, telling the story of the last three pupils at the school and the monsters that lived in the building. The piece de resistance is the hundred or so objets d’art made from driftwood. The life of the old school is recreated vividly.

  • 1The story created by Seizo Tashima unfolds throughout the entire school building.
  • 2The objets d’art are made from driftwood, nuts and so on. They are painted with natural paint.
  • 3The attached Hachi Café offers a place to enjoy food made with local ingredients. *Photos for illustrative purposes.


  • [Location] 2310-1 Sanada Ko, Tokamachi City
  • [Access] 20 minutes by car from Tokamachi Station on the JR Iiyama Line or Tokamachi Station on the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line
  • [Phone] 025-752-0066
  • [Hours] 10:00 to 17:00 (café hours: 11:00 to 16:00 (last orders))
  • [Closed] Wednesdays and Thursdays (closed for winter from late November to late April)
  • [Prices] Adults 700 yen; Elementary and Middle School Students 300 yen; Infants Free (200 yen discount for adults with infants). Free entry for overseas visitors with passport. *Extra charges apply for special exhibitions
  • [Parking] 40 cars

House of Light

Bathe yourself in beautiful, delicate light art

1James Turrell, “House of Light”

2James Turrell, “House of Light”

3James Turrell, “House of Light”

James Turrell, known as an artist of light, has created a work of art you can actually spend the night in. Inside, it is filled with all sorts of indirect lighting and ways to bring light in. In particular, the beautiful light from the sky that shines through the skylight in the living room, constantly changing, will make you forget the passing of time as you lie back and relax on the tatami mats.

  • 1Some of the lighting is designed to show off the colors of the sky at dawn and sunset.
  • 2The house is located on a hilltop, so the views from the corridor will cleanse your soul.
  • 3A work of art where the movement of natural light and artificial light weave together.


  • [Location] 2891 Ueno Ko, Tokachimachi City
  • [Access] 15 minutes by car from Tokamachi Station on the JR Iiyama Line or Tokamachi Station on the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line
  • [Phone] 025-761-1090
  • [Hours] Visiting: 11:30 to 15:00 (subject to change) / Overnight: check in at 16:00, check out at 10:00
  • [Closed] Irregular
  • [Prices] Visitors: Middle School and Older 500 yen; Elementary School Children 250 yen / Overnight guests: 20,000 yen per night + 4,000 yen for adult use (2,000 yen for elementary school children and free for preschool children)
  • [Parking] 8 cars

Immerse yourself in Japan’s traditional crafts and ancient landscapes at Yamakoshi/Yamakoshi’s rice fields

Terraced rice fields: Japan’s ancient landscape




These rice fields, rising like great steps up the mountainside, were designated as an Important Cultural Landscape Site in 2003 as they are a rare remnant of the original landscapes of rural Japan. The area is dotted with great sites to take shots, and very popular with photographers. After the rice is transplanted each May, baby koi are released into the fields, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to see koi swimming through the landscape.

  • 1The numerous rice fields look like steps carved on the hillside.
  • 2Here you can enjoy beautiful scenery in each season. Dawns and sunsets are particularly spectacular.
  • 3Koi are raised in the flooded rice fields.


  • [Location] Yamakoshi District, Nagaoka City
  • [Access] 30 minutes by car from Ojiya Station on the JR Joetsu Line
  • [Phone] 0258-59-2343 (Yamakoshi Tourism Association)

Bull wrestling

You can’t miss these heroic battles of power and technique




This is a traditional event that has been passed down in the Yamakoshi District for generations. This form of bull wrestling is noted for how the two bulls don’t actually win or lose, but withdraw right before the end. The battles, with two bulls butting their horns against each other, and before you realize it, your palms will have been sweating with tension. Only in Yamakoshi can you feel such thrills. There is a gallery by the arena which tells you about the history of Yamakoshi and its bulls, which you can visit even on days when there are no fights scheduled.

  • 1The awesome sight of two bulls crashing their horns together in a titanic struggle.
  • 2Battles are held a dozen or so times a year, from May to November.
  • 3Experience the pride of the local people, who have maintained this tradition for a thousand years.


  • [Location] Nanpei area, Yamakoshi, Nagaoka City (Yamakoshi Bullfighting Arena)
  • [Access] 20 minutes by car from Ojiya Station on the JR Joetsu Line
  • [Phone] 0258-59-2343 (Yamakoshi Tourism Association)
  • [Date] May to early November
  • [Hours] Arena opens at 10:00 and closes at 13:00
  • [Parking] Available
  • [Prices] Adults: 2,000 yen (children under middle school age accompanied by adults are free)

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