Art festivals in Japan sprung up quickly at the beginning of the 21st century with the primary goal of regional revitalization. A majority of them have taken the pattern of a triennial or biannual event.
Large-scale art festivals in Japan have expanded beyond galleries and museums, taking advantage of distinctive sites and landscapes throughout the country. Furthermore, these site-specific art fests and triennales frequently include special activities as well as rare opportunities to engage with artists, in addition to the exhibits themselves.
In this article, we'll discuss the 5 of the best art festivals in Japan, as well as upcoming triennales which you shouldn't miss.
This large-scale, international art festival in Niigata Prefecture strives to encourage the fusion of creativity, nature, and community in the scenic Echigo Tsumari region. Fram Kitagawa, the director of the Tokyo commercial gallery Art Front Gallery (AFG), established the event.
In an intentional and truly inadequate technique that clashes with modern society's fixation with precision, artworks are scattered over 200 communities. Exploring the sceneries and homesteads between each monument is designed to inspire guests to engage with the inhabitants, rejuvenate their spirits, and instill a sensation of wonderment.
The House of Light, which combines art and housing in a house with a movable roof and spectacular light displays, and the very moving The Last Class exhibition are two of the event's highlights. The festival is in full flourish this year, from mid-March to late June.
In one day, you can visit their artworks as you drive through the region. Here are the main attractions, as listed on their website's itinerary:
● "The Last Class" by Christian Boltanski and Jean Kalman at Higashikawa Elementary School
● "Birth of Stars" by FUNAKOSHI Naomi at Matsunoyama Elementary School
● "Step in Plan" John Körmeling at the Tokamachi/Matsudai area
● "16 Ropes" by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at the Matsudai History Museum
● Echigo-Matsudai Satoyama Shokudo located inside Matsudai Nohbutai
● 30 different artworks spread across the hilly Joyama area
● "Boys with Red Loincloths Returned"
● "The Human Re-Entering Nature"
● Hachi & Seizo Tashima Museum of Picture Book Art
● "Growing Tree in Tsumari" by Hong Sung-Do
● "POTEMKIN" by Architectural Office Casagrande & Rintala
● "LIKE SWIMMING," "ta no tama / shirahake" on the way to Kiyotsukyo Tunnel
● "Nakasato Scarecrow Garden" by Chris Matthews
● "Tunnel of Light" by Ma Yansong / MAD Architects
Many of their exhibits require pre-booking, so make sure to research the ones you're really interested in. Several of the installations and structures are open all year, and they host numerous exhibitions, workshops, and other activities, all of which are listed on their website.
Taking place in Autumn, this one-night-only art festival plans to create extraordinary experiences using Roppongi's diverse cluster of commercial and cultural facilities. This year's lineup includes outdoor installations, stage shows, cultural displays, discussions, and workshops. The stunning celebration takes over the neighborhood from dusk until far after midnight, with art galleries and museums in the region choosing to stay open all night.
Roppongi Art Night is a beloved annual art extravaganza hosted in Tokyo's Roppongi district. This lively neighborhood is transformed by artwork and performances, featuring everything from contemporary music, film, and performance works to massive sculptures strewn over the city. The organizers hope to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience that celebrates art and its ability to bring beauty and enthusiasm to daily lives.
The event was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it developed a special spin-off project in March, with the theme "Right now, can art rejuvenate the city?" You can expect it to return with extravagance this fall. This year, the theme is "Magical Adventure: Find Your Art of Wonder in the Town!"
The festival will take place around the city and online, everywhere from the Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown, Mori Art Museum, 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, Roppongi Shopping District, Suntory Museum of Art, and The National Art Center to other cooperating facilities and public spaces in Roppongi.
As of 2001, the Yokohama Triennale has been an international contemporary art exhibition held every 3 years, exhibiting new ideas and concepts that are affecting culture through a diverse range of artworks by existing and emerging international artists. Yokohama interacts with the rest of the world, contributing to the sharing of knowledge and mutual understanding.
In 2020, the festival took visitors on a journey through time and space under the artistic directive of Raqs Media Collection. Titled "AFTERGLOW," the exhibit aimed to describe how humans unwittingly encounter remnants of light emitted at the dawn of time.
Raqs Media Collective was interested in showing the cycle of destruction and care in current human behaviors. They referenced the Big Bang's destructive force that fueled creativity and gave birth to life in the universe and its radiation, which is both destructive and curative.
The Yokohama Sound Festival is a music festival focused on all genres of music. This event, also known as the Yokohama Oto Matsuri, debuted in 2013 and is celebrated every three years. The event is a passionate tribute to music's power to transcend cultures, languages and bring people together, with everything from rock to classical and everything in between.
Whether you're interested in contemporary artworks or musical masterpieces, you can find unique and inspired artists showcasing their talents at Yokohama's next art festivals.
Kinetic Spinner Forest, 2016(recreated in 2020)
©️ Nick Cave
Installation view of Yokohama Triennale 2020
Photo: OTSUKA Keita
Photo courtesy of Organizing Committee for Yokohama Triennale
A relatively new event on Kyoto's social calendar, the Artist's Fair aims to bring together artists and admirers in a forum in which both parties can be inspired by the other. They can interact with each other and present their work. The artist-led organization intends to develop a platform to enable future great artists to establish themselves via their artistic works.
The first version of this art festival in Japan, which took place in February 2018, included the work of emerging Japanese and foreign artists. The Museum of Kyoto Annex, an attractive Meiji era brick structure that combines the past with the present as only Kyoto can, was filled with predominantly contemporary art.
The event itself is limited to two days. Surrounded by vibrant canvases, artists and art lovers can roam and converse. The 2019 edition of this event expanded its installations to the old newspaper printing plant of Kyoto Shimbun. The previous edition was canceled as a result of COVID-19, but the festival returned with the appropriate precautions this March. Its satellite exhibitions even added more sophistication and accessibility to the event.
They recently embraced "ARCHI HATCH," a new documentation tool that lets visitors take 360° images of a location with a unique camera that can scan it in 3D and view it on the internet. People will be able to explore the works online and gain comprehensive information by clicking on the pieces they are curious about. Its notable artworks included:
● The dream of the embryo at Iori Machiya Stay's Sanbo Nishinotoin Machiya
● YOUKAN and CREAM at Bijuu gallery space
● TANATSU at ShinPuhKan courtyard
● seesaw seen at y gion
● In the inner part of the Yuba factory at Senmaruya
● convergence-boundary at AIR Kamo Nasu
● CONNECT at Fujii Daimaru
The islands of the Seto Inland Sea were formerly part of a bustling commerce route, and each had its own distinct culture that blended local customs with innovative ideas introduced by sailors. However, the area has been severely impacted by population decline and changes in transportation networks.
The Setouchi Triennale is revitalizing the tiny islands as a cultural crossroads and transforming the region into a "Sea of Hope" via the power of art. The amusing art, as well as the laid-back, simple rural attitude of the islands' communities and the elegance of the island scenery, undoubtedly captivate anyone who visits the region. The festival is similar to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in many aspects.
Intriguing and fascinating works blend the islands' natural scenic beauty and bring the sights into perspective through the medium of contemporary art and installations, attracting artists from all over Japan and the global community every three years.
The Setouchi Triennale is the highlight of Art Setouchi, a larger and ongoing project. The festival takes place over three seasons: one in the spring, one in the middle of summer, and another one in the fall, each with its own set of events and exhibitions.
The pieces of art can be found all around the islands. Some of them are in the open air, in fields, near the seaside, or in settlements. Others take advantage of various old homes that have been left vacant as a result of the population decline. The structures are used as exhibition halls or have been transformed into pieces of art. On Naoshima, Inujima, and Teshmina islands, there are also established museums and art locations. The installations are spread across 12 islands, namely:
● Uno Port (Okayama)
● Inujima (Okayama)
● Shamijima (Spring only)
● Ibukijima (Fall only)
● Honjima (Fall only)
● Awashima (Fall only)
● Takamijima (Fall only)
You can still see the public artworks maintained by Benesse, which includes the art on Naoshima and Inujima, as well as most of the art on Teshima, if you come on days other than the Triennale dates. Outdoor artworks can also be seen on any island. However, indoor artworks are not open to the public at the moment.
In 2022, you can visit the exhibits on the following dates:
● Spring: April 14 – May 18
● Summer: August 5 – September 4
● Fall: September 29 – November 6
Modern-day art festivals that focus on specific locations have been successful in attracting large crowds from all over the world, which can ultimately help the local economy thrive.
Rural arts festivals tend to concentrate on regional and local redevelopment and revitalization, with the goal of addressing social issues such as population reduction and increased elderly populations. On the other hand, urban and metropolitan arts festivals primarily focus on cultural development and renewal. Both are critical to social, cultural, and political stability.
Most of these festivals prefer the triennial style of celebration because they are more often organized in collaboration with the local government. This necessitates a significant amount of time between festivals to work through multiple responsibilities, various organizational structures, and other time-consuming planning protocols.
The iconic, rich, and renowned cultural elements of Japan draw thousands of tourists each year. Japanese artists have made a name for themselves on the global stage, and dozens of art festivals in Japan are held every month.
Hence, it is expected that the trend of art festivals in Japan will not cease as a momentary phenomenon but will continue to expand and flourish in the future, with more diversity and imaginative advancement.
Whether you choose to experience one of the Triennale's mentioned in our list or have another festival in mind, you're sure to have an unforgettable art trip.