5 Best Contemporary Art Festivals in Japan that you can’t miss

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5 Best Contemporary Art Festivals in Japan that you can’t miss

Japan attracts millions of visitors each year for its rich and iconic cultural elements. But have you ever thought of visiting Japan for a foray of modern art? Japanese artists have put their names out there on the international stage, and now every month dozens of art festivals take place all around the country. We’ve picked out the best 5 here for you to plan an amazing art journey to Japan.

Setouchi Triennale

 © Glyd App

©Glyd App

Started in 2010 to help revitalize the Seto Inland area suffering from growing depopulation over the years, it has quickly rose to fame for its creative and daring use of housing and installing artworks with abandoned houses or even islands. The festival lasts for three seasons; one in spring, one in the midst of summer, and one more in the fall, each with many different agendas and exhibits.

Highlights include Teshima Museum, housed in a single concrete shell and showing only one single art piece; The Inujima project, involving an abandoned refinery; Megijima, where natural caves are made into use for art installations; and Chichuma Art Museum, a concrete slab palace showcasing subangular beauty of the building itself aside from art. Visitors can easily spend a week or so exploring all the participating sparsely populated islands, combining nature with modern art. Regardless of seasons, on any good day you can just find a spot to relax near the coastlines and see the artworks facing the blue, stunningly beautiful open sea.

Next edition: 2019

No. of Artists: 117

Dates: 3/20-4/17 (Spring) 7/18-9/4 (Summer) 10/8-11/6 (Autumn)

Prefecture: Okayama

Website

Echigo Tsumari Triennale

 ©Echigo Tsumari Art Field

©Echigo Tsumari Art Field

Held in the eponymous art field deep in the mountains of inland Niigata, the art festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, Japanese and foreign to this rural region of the prefecture every three years. Held since 2000, it has grown into one of the largest of its kind in the world. Utilizing the beautifully designed Satoyama Museum as a base and HQ, it stages a myriad of exhibitions.  Thanks to the remote nature of Echigo-Tsumari, the event space is spread out and there’s an omnipresent element of “connecting with nature”.

It’s emphasis of a community building up the festival has been widely acclaimed and dubbed the “Tsumari Approach” by medias; the Triennale has organized homestays, arranged school lectures and even invited local farmers for workshops. And above all, the scenery in the famous Japanese Alps is breathtaking.

Next Edition: 2021

No. of Artists: ~200

Dates: 7/27-9/17

Prefecture: Niigata

Website

Biwako Biennale

 ©Onestory Media

©Onestory Media

Held around the largest lake in Japan since 2001, the Biwako Biennale utilizes the ancient castle town of Omihachiman and its streetscape as a platform for international artists to showcase their works. The historic district had faced a period of neglect and decline; organizers team up with volunteers to tidy up many abandoned old houses and turn them into art spaces in an effort to preserve the rich architectural heritage of the town.

Strolling through Edo period streets while enjoying avant-grade installations in the wooden residences. For those who love to explore more, join a weekend night tour of the festival grounds or hope on a boat and cruise around the old canals of this beautiful Shiga town.

Next Edition: 2020

No. of Artists: 78

Dates: Happening now! Biwako Biennale 2018 runs till Nov. 11. Contact us for tickets if interested.

Prefecture: Shiga

Website


Yamagata Biennale

 ©iyahaya.com

©iyahaya.com

Yamagata Prefecture , tucked up north in Japan’s Tohoku region, promotes itself as a laid back alternative to the bustling metropolises in Kanto or Keihanshin—the “other side” of Japan. Held on the ground of the Tohoku University of Art and Design, the Yamagata Biennale showcases the very best of domestic Japan creativity in all fields of arts. Cutting edge conceptual art are shown alongside indigenously-inspired projects throughout the length of the festival, under a different, well-thought theme. Expect a lot of Japanese being shown and spoken, and enjoy a unique adventure into the mountains of the great Japanese North.

Next Edition: 2020

No. of Artists: ~120

Dates: 9/1-9/24

Prefecture: Yamagata

Website



Roppongi Arts Night

 ©Cinra

©Cinra

True to it name, the much anticipated event in the center of Tokyo will run from dusk till dawn for three days in the tip end of May. An annual nocturnal celebration of all things art, it shows a Tokyo district like one’s never seen before in the dark.  Line-up of outdoor installations, art events, live performances, cultural exhibitions and more are to be expected. Have a real life Night at the Museum experience hopping between museums in the middle of the night, and then wait for the beautiful sunrise above the Tokyo skyline to see how this city comes back from sleep to another day. Their slogan is “The city dreams of art”—and they surely mean it literally. It’s probably going to be the most unforgettable sleepless night of your life.







Next Edition: 2019

No. of Artists: 63

Dates: 5/26-5/27

Prefecture: Tokyo Metropolis

Website



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Rice: The Staple of Japanese Food Culture

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Rice: The Staple of Japanese Food Culture

Introduction

 Rice mixed with rice seasoning .  ©TOKI

Rice mixed with rice seasoning. ©TOKI

Imagine a steaming bowl of soft, fluffy rice with pickled vegetables on the side, and a hot cup of tea. Crack an egg over it and add a bit of soy sauce to prepare an ultimate Japanese comfort food, tamago-kake-gohan (卵かけごはん). In Japan, rice has a history of over 2000 years. It is the staple of the Japanese diet, and with its long history comes an irreplaceable importance to the culture and daily lives of the people. One name for rice, “gohan” ごはん, is also the word used to refer to a “meal.” In fact, “breakfast” (asagohan 朝ごはん), “lunch”(hirugohan昼ごはん) and “dinner” (yorugohan/bangohan 夜ごはん•晩ごはん) all contain the term “gohan.” Yes, rice, rice, and more rice, usually three times a day! To many, rice and Japan seem an inseparable existence. However, rice was not always this widespread and readily available in Japan as it is today.

 

Brief history

Rice was first brought to Japan from Southeast Asia, either during the Yayoi period (300 BCE—300 CE) or Jōmon period (13,000—400 BCE). Before that, Japanese people were nomadic, relying on hunting and gathering for food. It was around the time rice was introduced to Japan that the nomadic people switched to an agricultural lifestyle, enabling them to settle in villages. Some say it was rice that changed the way Japanese people lived. People even started raising koi (carp) in the water of the rice paddies, which provided extra nutrients for the rice plants, as well as protein for the family in the winter.

Rice was difficult to grow, as the process was tedious and involved a great deal of time, water, and manual labor. Farmers generally planted rice in the spring (April) and harvested it in the fall (September). The workforce of a single family was often not enough, so families that had good relationships with each other worked together in the same rice field. Working well together was key to having a productive farm, and some believe that this is the origin of the strong Japanese group mentality. With each grain of stickiness, rice brought people together. Not only was rice the core of Japanese food, but valued as a currency.

“ricepaddies”,

Rice paddies in June. ©福島の自然写真館

How rice is enjoyed today

There are many ways to enjoy rice. Sometimes, rice is eaten plain as an accompaniment to a meat or vegetable dish, while other times it is seasoned and made into its own dish, as in kamameshi (rice steamed with other ingredients such as vegetables and meat). The diverse ways in which rice is prepared are vast;

Sushi (寿司): One of the most popular Japanese delicacies, sushi refers to rice that is mixed with vinegar and combined with raw fish, vegetables or a sweetened egg, and is sometimes wrapped in nori, or seaweed.

Sake (酒, Japanese rice wine): One of Japan’s most famous varieties of alcohol, sake is made by fermenting polished rice in a process similar to that of brewing beer. 

Onigiri/omusubi (おにぎり・おむすび): Lightly salted rice balls formed into a triangular or cylindrical shape with various fillings, often wrapped in nori (のり, seaweed). Some common fillings include cooked salmon, katsuo-bushi (かつお節, dried bonito flakes), ume (梅, pickled plum), and konbu (昆布, seasoned seaweed). Onigiri is simple to make and easy to carry around, so it is commonly taken for lunch or breakfast on the go. 

Mochi (餅): These chewy and sticky rice cakes are a favorite among the Japanese, and are made from pounding “mochi gome” (もち米, mochi rice) into a paste. Mochi is commonly eaten with red bean paste and kinako (きな粉, roasted soybean flour). It can be found in many desserts, drinks, and even savory soups.

Tsukemono (漬物): There are many ways to prepare tsukemono (pickled ‘things’), but one common method is to pickle vegetables in roasted rice bran or sake lees. Tsukemono are served as appetizers with almost every washoku (和食, traditional Japanese dish) meal. Common tsukemono include radish, cucumber, Japanese plum, eggplant, cabbage, and ginger.

Senbei (せんべい): A common rice cracker snack made from pressed rice that is baked or fried to perfection. Japanese rice crackers can be found in various shapes and sizes, and though usually savory, can also be sweet.

Rice is best eaten fresh, right after the harvest season in the fall. Why not visit Japan to enjoy shinmai, the freshly harvested rice of the year?

 Rice used to make sushi is prepared by mixing the rice with vinegar. ©TOKI

Rice used to make sushi is prepared by mixing the rice with vinegar. ©TOKI

 Vegetables are pickled in rice bran or sake lees to make  tsukemono.  ©TOKI

Vegetables are pickled in rice bran or sake lees to make tsukemono. ©TOKI


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