Japan Alps Art Festival at Omachi, Nagano

June 30th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience


Located at the foot of the 3000+ metre Kita Alps mountain range in the Northwest of Nagano Prefecture in the town of Omachi, The Japan Alps Art Festival (JAAF) is conceived to showcase unique and imaginative natural artworks, commissioning many international artists, that complement and highlight the region’s epic natural landscapes and features. Planned to continue on a triennial basis, the inaugural 2017 event is currently nearing the midway point of its approximate 7-week course (June 4-July 30) and is on  track for over 20,000 attendees.

Being a proud Omachi resident of 3 years, I was invited to join the bloggers tour for a day sampling some of the art installations (and 1 or 2 local restaurants). The exhibition is far too large to see every exhibit in one day – there are 38 primary exhibits [you can preview the complete catalogue at the JAAF website] distributed all over Omachi in 5 separate sections {eastern mountains, three lakes, headwaters, dam, downtown} – transport of some kind is required – with a private car, progressing through the exhibition sequence at a relaxed enjoyable pace, we were able to see about a dozen exhibits over 8 hours. For visitors, at least two and probably three days is recommended to see it all comfortably. A special bus and a special taxi servicing the entire span of exhibits runs daily for the duration of the festival. Car rentals are available, offering more flexibility and time efficiency. (These require an international driver’s permit for foreign visitors).

Following is a small sample of a few of the exhibits we have seen thus far. We will cover the remainder over the remaining month of the festival.

Pre-opening jazz music act:


Exhibit 30:

Tangible Landscape by Japanese artist












Exhibit 33:

Bamboo Waves by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky







Exhibit 15:

Arc ZERO is by Australian “Land-and-Light” artist James Tapscott (who, we were astonished to learn, hails  from our former suburb back in Australia – quite a coincidence in this part of the World.)


Exhibit 16:

Trieb – Forest in Rain by Japanese artist  Toshikatsu Endo


Exhibit 34:

Hameau d’ellipes by Swiss artist Felice Varini


Exhibit 29:

Located at Reishoji Temple, a collection of fantastically ornate wood sculptures and a sound+light show by the highly accomplished local Omachi resident artist Sadao Takahasi.













Exhibit 14:

Tatsu by Italiian artist Patrick Tuttofuocu











Special thanks go to the many, many organizers and volunteers from the Omachi community and to the various local, regional, national and even international corporate and government sponsors of this impressive event – in its inaugural instance, the Japan Alps Art Festival appears to have exceeded all expectations and bodes well for a burgeoning tenure in the years and decades ahead.

Hot Springs and Waterfalls in Matsukawa Gorge

June 29th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

The Matsukawa Gorge is especially beautiful during autumn.

The Matsukawa Gorge is a secluded area behind Takayama Village in Northern Nagano, and is a great stop for a day outdoors in nature. The steep walls of the valley hide a number of hot springs and waterfalls that are fed by mountain streams and volcanic activity, and the high altitude keeps the area cool even in summer.
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Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 to End 30-July; Omachi’s Rich Culture and Beautiful Alpine Scenery Endless.

June 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information

The Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 is taking place in Omachi City until 30-July.  Produced by Furamu Kitagawa (creator of the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale), Omachi’s festival is also planned to take place once every 3 years.  For its inaugural exhibition, the Festival sure managed to attract some world class artists for some absolutely stunning art installations.  Some pieces will likely remain permanently, but you’ll have to come before 30-July to see all the artwork.

What makes Omachi’s art festival so unique is the way the artists incorporated local material and cultural heritage into the make-up and thematic design of the art.  While enjoying the visual and emotional beauty of the art installations, visitors get new perspectives and appreciation of Omachi’s Alpine beauty as well as it’s rich culture.

I was invited to take place in a Go-Nagano bloggers tour of the art festival, and would like to share some pictures and thoughts on Omachi.

Among the various festival locations spread out throughout the city, our first stop was Takagari Mountain.  Located to the east of the city’s center, the 1164-meter tall mountain features a lookout point at the top featuring a panoramic view of the Northern Japanese Alps across the valley.  Taking advantage of this trademark mountain vista is arguably the most noteworthy artwork of the festival, Mé.  This is a typical old-fashioned farmhouse with white plaster walls and ebony posts and beams, where the walls have morphed into elliptical shapes engulfing the wooden frame in such a way as to draw your eyes to the beauty of the Alps in the distance.  I really hope this is one of the artworks that will continue to exist after the festival ends, as it is a visual treat, especially the way it pays homage to Omachi’s Alpine vistas.

Nearby Mé is “Windy” by Taiwanese artist Kuei-Chih Lee.  Taiwan and Japan share a proneness to typhoons, and the artist used materials found in the forest to make this typhoon-like swirl.  Majestic ferns were left in place and the existing trees used to support the structure.  See if you can resist the temptation to run around the verdant vortex!

Besides being the site of these Art Festival installations, Takagari Mountain is also a Lover’s Sanctuary, with the Northern Alps as a romantic backdrop.

After Takagari Mountain, we descended down to the Yasaka area, to enjoy the “Bamboo Waves” installation by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky.  Inspired by waves in ukiyo-e prints, the artist teamed up with area residents to use the locally-abundant bamboo.  Yasaka was apparently the main supplier of bamboo to the lord of Matsumoto Castle, and boasts some seriously huge bamboo.  Some used in this installation were 18-meters long!

Note the hills in the background used as “Borrowed-landscape”

The master craftsman demonstrating how the artist described the intended shapes

Collecting stamps at each installation.

Also on the east side of town are two other amazing installations:

“Hameau d’ ellipe” by Swiss/French artist Felice Velini, a series of psychedelic ellipses superimposed on 3 old farmhouses showcasing one of Omachi’s many tiny hamlets, and

“Corridor to Buddhist Temple” by local woodworking artist Sadao Takahashi whose pieces that combine wood carving and lacquer art majestically expound on the spacious interior of Reishoji Temple.  (The temple’s intricately carved gate is art in it’s own right.)

After that inspiration, we descended back down to central Omachi City, first to the Omachi Onsen District, where our tour of art complementing history and culture continued.  For example, “Invisible City: Long Goodbye” is like an ode to Omachi’s crystal clear winter nights as well as the town’s historical Salt Road roots,

and Maaria Wirkkala’s work “ACT” embraces the musical arts that so often take place on the Forest Stage.

One other thing the Japan Alps Art Festival also does so well is to highlight Omachi’s culinary heritage as well.  After all, viewing art work is bound to make one hungry.  As part of our tour, we had a lunch that featured bamboo shoots at Iroriya Yasaka (the place appropriately famous for bamboo)

and 3 o’clock tea ‘dolce’ infused with salt at the Omachi Salt Road Museum aka Choujiya.

If you want to see all 38 of the installations, make sure to come by 30-July.  However, Omachi’s historical, cultural and culinary heritage will proudly continue on.

NOTE:  For getting around, using a car is highly recommended.  Rental cars available at Shinano Omachi Station.  Regarding footwear, some of the installations are located in rugged areas so sturdy shoes would come in handy.  However, please keep in mind that several locations require removing your shoes and changing into slippers.

(Special thanks to Ogawa-san from Nagano Prefecture for the insightful tour.)