A Quick Introduction to Echigo-Tsumari, Where Seasonal and Artisan Beauty Abound (Part 2)

Ever heard of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale? We've written about it once before, in an article where we introduced the three main sites of the 2019 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. This second and final part will suggest some unique places to stay in the region, artworks that blend in with the natural world, and wonderful seasonal events to experience. Once you've read both articles, you're sure to want to take your own art vacation to Echigo-Tsumari!

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*If you want to read part 1, which details all the main art exhibits, click here.

Recommended Places to Stay

House of Light

House of Light was conceived when James Turrell, an American artist who works with space and light, was commissioned to design a "meditation hall" in the Echigo-Tsumari area. Turrell was deeply impressed by the book In Praise of Shadows by Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, which talks about the ancient Japanese sense of beauty. House of Light was born by unifying the light inside and outside the building, creating a space where residents can live with the light.

Take in the view of the towering mountains in the distance as you come up the stairs and move through the second floor corridor. Inside the room, you can prepare food in the open kitchen while enjoying each season through the changing scenery. You can also relax on the tatami floors, watch the slow changes of light on the ceiling, and take in the repeating interwoven forms of light and shadows that enter the room. Everyone can enjoy and spend time in the space in their own way.

A Japanese-style room called the Garden Space is located downstairs on the first floor. From this room, you can look out at the stone-adorned veranda and rich greenery outside, all of which gives a sense of being in the forest, surrounded by nature.

At night, you can experience a "light fantasy" in the bathroom. The bathtub is filled with fiber optic lights so that you can bathe in red, blue, and green lights.

House of Light perfectly blends natural and artificial light, which makes it seem full of traditional Japanese atmosphere while at the same time giving off a sense of the near future.

Sansho House

Tucked away in a quiet space on top of a hill, Matsunoyama Sansho Primary School had over 200 students in the 1940s. Residents moving away and a declining birth rate meant that this school was eventually forced to close in 1989. Local residents preserved the wooden building, which was full of memories for the town, and looked for an effective way to repurpose it.

In 2006, the residents took the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale as a chance to turn the building into an accommodation, bringing it back into the limelight as the Sansho House. Now, it's a gathering space for all to enjoy.

While its style has changed, Sansho Elementary School will continue to watch over the village of Matsunoyama, just as it did in the past.

Let's learn a little more about the facilities! 

Inside the two-story school building, former classrooms have been transformed into guest rooms. Sansho House can accommodate up to 80 guests in 16 four-person rooms and two 8-person rooms. The rooms are divided by gender, and as you can see in the photos, are furnished with bunk beds. Each bed has a curtain, electrical outlet, and reading lights. In the winter, the beds have not just comforters but electric blankets, too!

In the dining hall, guests can enjoy delicious Echigo-Matsunoyama-grown rice and dishes made with plenty of seasonal ingredients. Other light meals and bento boxes can also be arranged for group bookings. This space isn't just used for meals, but also meetings and other events as well. Whether enjoying the outdoor terrace in the summer or warming yourself by the wood stove in winter, you can luxuriate in the seasons during your stay here.

Next to the dining room is a communication room, which is decorated in warm wood tones. Lost Winter, an artwork by Leandro Erlich mentioned in part one of this series, is on permanent display here. Depending on the season, you can look out the window to see spring arriving a little sooner to the Matsunoyama mountains than elsewhere. You can also see your shadow reflected on three sides of the small ceiling, which has a mysterious feeling. You may need to see it in person to fully understand the effect! All the art in this space is based around the theme of spring. No matter what time of the year you visit, you will get a wonderful sense of spring here.

Staying overnight in Sansho House brings to mind fond memories of living in student dorms and summer and winter camps as a child. Even a short stay is sure to bring back happy memories of your student days. 

Dream House

Dream House is a work by Marina Abramović, an artist from former Yugoslavia often called "the grandmother of performance art." Her most well-known work is The Artist Is Present, a performance piece that took place at MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art) in New York in 2010. In this work, Abramović spent 7 hours a day, 6 days a week, sitting in silence inside the museum. She sought to test the limits of the theme, which involved looking intently at another person for long periods of time.

To learn more about this artist, please watch the documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present. Then, head to the Echigo-Tsumari region to experience an experiential artwork in the form of a stay at a renovated 100-year-old house. This will deepen your understanding of her work.

This artwork was created with the concept of facing your true self in this restless modern world through dreaming.

There are some unusual rules for staying at the Dream House. First, you must purify yourself in a copper bathtub filled with herb-infused water, then change into a colorful garment designed by Abramović. After changing, you can head to a "dreaming room". In these rooms, there are no usual furnishings like sofas or televisions. Instead, there is only a coffin-like bed bathed in a curious, faintly-colored light. When waking in the morning, you must write your dream down in the Book of Dreams.

This work has been exhibited since the first Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in 2000. The Book of Dreams now contains countless dreams and stories written by visitors of the Dream House.

In 2012, a collection of 100 carefully-chosen dreams was published. It also contains notes and testimonies written by Abramović and people connected to the project, as well as valuable photos - all of which serve to provide full documentation of this artwork.  

Just like the concept suggests, if you are able to "sincerely face your true self" at the Dream House, then maybe your stay here, and even your sleep itself, will become a type of artwork, too.

Recommended Artworks

Tunnel of Light

Kiyotsu Gorge is one of Japan's three largest ravines. It's a very popular scenic spot in the Echigo-Tsumari area. This beautiful gorge and its terrain with columnar joints has been registered as a site of scenic beauty and a national monument in Japan.

It is a part of Joshin’etsukogen National Park. Completed in 1996, the Kiyotsu Gorge Valley Tunnel allows visitors to safely view the gorge from a distance.

For the 2018 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, Chinese architect Ma Yansong and his architectural firm, MAD Architects, transformed Kiyotsu Gorge into an even more magical space. The project added a cafe at the tunnel entrance, a foot bath, and a reconstruction of the 750-meter-long tunnel.

The space was transformed using the theme of the five elements (wood, earth, metal, fire, and water).

Located in the second viewing area, Invisible Bubble features a mirrored capsule-shaped structure in the center of the space. Visitors to the space are sure to be curious about what's inside!

Open the door to discover a "sightseeing bathroom"! Yes, you can visit the bathroom while taking in the view of the ravine. This capsule is designed on the principle of a one-way mirror. So, anyone who tries to take a peek through the surface to see what's inside is actually completely visible to whoever is inside.

Drop is located in the third observation area. Many convex mirrors cover the space's arched wall, reflecting the surroundings and viewers alike. The mirrors are backlit with flame-colored light so that they appear to be burning, deepening the sense of mystery in the space.

Mirror Pond, located at the fourth observation area at the end of the tunnel, reflects the changing seasonal scenery of the ravine on the water's surface. The two semi-circles of the mirrored pond and the end of the tunnel are beautifully interwoven to create a perfect circle. This breathtaking scenery is sure to fill your heart with joy.

Tsumari in Bloom

You shouldn't underestimate the amount of snow the Echigo-Tsumari region gets! In the winter, many of the artworks are covered in snow, and some are closed until the festival period begins again. These works can be viewed again when the snow melts and spring arrives. In other words, the spring introduces the art to us.

Tsumari in Bloom, a giant flower sculpture, is a perfect illustration of this. Located on a small hill close to Matsudai Station, this artwork is characterized by the bright colors of the stem, petals, and leaves, as well as the cute roundness of its shape.

Who created this work? One glance should tell you! Of course, it's the queen of polka dots, Yayoi Kusama. The life force and sense of movement in this work seems to naturally radiate energy.



For Lots of Lost Windows

A towering window stands above Nakasato's empty fields. The white gauze hung from the window frame flutters in the wind. This artwork is called For Lots of Lost Windows, and was created by Japanese artist Utsumi Akiko. 

Climb the staircase in front of the window to take in the rural scenery. Recalling the poetic name of this artwork brings a nostalgic feeling to the work. You may think back to the views you once saw through the windows in your childhood home or other places you lived.

Whenever and wherever you are, it's important to appreciate the scenery in that place and time. So, please take the time to really absorb the view that you can only appreciate in each present moment.

Interesting Seasonal Events

There are other official seasonal events that are held outside the art festival period. There are one-day bus tours and other travel packages available, so no matter the season, it's easy to travel around the area and enjoy all Echigo-Tsumari has to offer.

One notable event was the Winter SNOWART event, which was held from January 19 to March 24 in 2019. This event featured attractions like colorful snow fireworks and a special Yukimi Feast.

Winter SNOWART: Snow Fireworks

The main event of Winter SNOWART, Gift for Frozen Village 2019, featured Echigo-Tsumari "snow fireworks". Designed by artist Takahashi Kyota, millions of tiny LED lights were buried in the snow-covered field. The field, inlaid with "seeds of light" in seven colors, turned the landscape into a beautiful, fantastical world.

Each evening at 7 pm, the quiet night sky suddenly transforms to a lively display. 

When we went, the colorful fireworks seemed like ever-changing paintings in the sky above. The sky and the field of lights below seemed as though they were illuminating each other on a black canvas. It was such a beautiful scene, it felt a shame to even blink. The seeds of light on the ground stretched up to the sky to create fireworks, with each new burst warming the heart. It was a night where even the freezing cold was forgotten in an instant.

Winter SNOWART: Yukimi Feast

Matsudai History Museum is located by Nohbutai in a 140-year-old residence built from zelkova wood. The building remains in its original form, and the museum displays tools and materials that have close connections to the Matsudai lifestyle.

Visitors enjoyed the Winter SNOWART's Yukimi Feast in the traditional atmosphere that still richly remains in this building. The atmosphere, meal, and the people here were all truly amazing.

When arriving at the venue, local elderly women wearing aprons waited to give a warm greeting and welcome guests inside.

The women working here treated guests to traditional local favorites and their own handmade dishes infused with each cook's individuality. The hosts also served sake and additional helpings of vegetables, and took the time to explain the ingredients and cooking methods for every dish. This allowed everyone who visited to savor the taste of Echigo-Tsumari, leaving with their stomachs and hearts full.

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The Wide, Beautiful Landscape of Echigo-Tsumari

After reading these articles, why not come and be healed by the natural mountains and fields of Echigo-Tsumari? Once you enjoy the works to be seen in the region, you'll find that appreciating the arts isn't difficult at all! Enjoy art and nature through a whole new travel experience to the home of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale.

If you missed the first part of this series, be sure to check it out below!

If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!

Chubu Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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Dawn Cheng
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