2024.01 Japan’s Art Festivals in 2024: Top Upcoming Art Exhibitions
ENESS, Airship Orchestra, Photo by Ben WEINSTEIN
Journey Across Japan’s Creative Landscape
For many, hearing the words “Japanese art” may bring to mind historical relics from bygone eras, centuries-old Buddhist statues and “ukiyo-e” woodblock prints on display behind glass in a museum. There’s more to Japanese art than a rich legacy however – the country also has a thriving modern art scene on many levels.
Venues for modern art aren’t limited to urban galleries, either. Art festivals are held throughout the year in towns across Japan, integrating the works on display into the community by displaying them in outdoor environments or by giving abandoned buildings a new lease on life as hosts for creative events. By drawing visitors and presenters from around the world, the gatherings foster local pride and cultural exchange alike. Read on to learn about some of the top modern art festivals taking place in Japan in 2024.
Sapporo International Art Festival 2024: Exploring “LAST SNOW” and the future
Beautiful art installations using digital technology will be featured at the Sapporo International Art Festival’s Future Theater.
Quayola, Remains: Vallee de Joux, 2018 Photo by Franz WAMHOF
Every three years, Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido, hosts the Sapporo International Art Festival. The next iteration, from January 20 to February 25, 2024 will be the first time the festival is held in winter. Titled “LAST SNOW,” artists contemplate the meaning of the word “last,” which can mean “final,” “the latest” or even suggest that something will continue, all within the context of snowfall, the world we live in today and the landscape of the future.
The festival will be spread out across six primary indoor and open-air venues, displaying works by artists hailing from Japan and ten other countries. Indoor venues include the Future Theater, which focuses on the coming century, and the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, which reflects on the last hundred years through its collection of artwork and contemporary pieces. A vision of a futuristic snow city will be displayed outdoors at the Sapporo Snow Festival’s Odori 2-Chome Site, and visitors to Moerenuma Park will be invited to take part in conceptualizing and playing futuristic sports inspired by snow, art and technology.
The Sado Island Galaxy Art Festival: Bringing art to Sado’s ports
This installation piece is made out of a tub boat and oar traditionally used for coastal fishing on Sado Island.
Yayoi Deki, Donburacocco Donburacocco ♪, Production year 2018, ⒸYayoi Deki, A N O M A L Y, Sado International Art Promotion Organization, Sado Island Galaxy Art Festival
Over the centuries, Sado Island off the northern coast of Japan’s Niigata Prefecture was a remote exile site and the location of one of Japan’s largest gold mines. These days, the beautiful bucolic community has become a hidden travel destination gem, welcoming visitors to the annual Sado Island Galaxy Art Festival.
Ryotsu Port, the primary gateway for visitors arriving by ferry, hosts the majority of the installations, but not all of them. Others can be found at historical buildings and scenic sites of the natural landscape elsewhere on the island, rewarding those who take the time to venture further into a part of Japan most tourists never see.
The Galaxy Art Festival is more than a purely visual celebration of the arts, too, as the program has included Sado’s unique folk songs and “onidaiko,” a dance and drum performance by a masked musician dressed as an oni, a ferocious demon or ogre from Japanese folklore. This “demon drumming” is a Sado tradition that dates back centuries as a means of warding off evil and giving thanks for good harvests, making it a perfect fit for the Galaxy Art Festival, whose goal is to introduce and preserve the island’s culture.
Forest Festival of the Arts Okayama: Celebrating northern Okayama Prefecture’s bountiful nature through art
Makido Cave will be even more breathtaking during the Forest Festival of the Arts Okayama.
Photo Credit: ©Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation
Okayama’s most famous attractions, like Okayama Castle and the canals of Kurashiki, are in the southern part of the prefecture. Head north into the mountains, though, and you’ll be ensconced in beautiful mountain woodlands, where the Forest Festival of the Arts will take place from September 28 to November 24, 2024. Through its featured exhibits, this festival shines a light on forests and Japanese nature as a source of inspiration for community engagement. This cooperative nature of the festival aspires to create a “new form of capital” that enrichens the local area.
A wide genre of domestic and international creators that include artists, musicians, dancers, architects, designers, flower artists, chefs and more will showcase their work at the festival, which will be spread across a dozen venues in the towns of Tsuyama, Nagi, Niimi, Maniwa and Kagamino in the Chugoku Mountains of Western Japan. These installations will transform and further enhance the already stunning locales, including Tsuyama’s historic Joto district, Niimi’s Makido Cave and Kagamino’s Okutsu river valley, famous for its vivid autumn colors.
UBE Biennale: Sculpting a legacy of art and community
The Ari no Shiro (“Ant Castle”) is a beloved symbol of Ube.
Photo Credit: The 29th UBE Biennale International Sculpture Competition, 2022
Finally, Ube in Yamaguchi Prefecture has the honor of being the first city in Japan to hold a large-scale outdoor sculpture exhibition. Started in 1961 as a citizen-led project to beautify the town with greenery and public art, the Ube City Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition has been held every two years since and eventually evolved into the UBE Biennale. The city has amassed a collection of roughly 400 pieces, which remain on display in Ube’s plazas, public facilities and airport.
Perhaps the most scenic location of all is lakeside Tokiwa Park, where several of the largest and most noteworthy installations are on permanent display. This is also the customary viewing venue for new award-winning sculptures. With the festival’s upcoming 30th iteration scheduled for October 27 to December 22, 2024, visitors taking a stroll around Tokiwa then won’t just be going for a walk in the park, but a walk through 60-plus years of contemporary sculpture on vibrant display.
More opportunities to immerse yourself in Japan’s artistic and natural beauty
In addition to the above, there are many more art experiences on offer in 2024. Omachi, Nagano Prefecture, will be opening the triennale Northern Alps Art Festival between September 13 to November 4, with artists drawing inspiration from the beautiful natural resources of the mountain town. Niigata Prefecture’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, from mid-July to early November, incorporates the town’s traditional architecture and rural landscape into the featured artists’ works. Finally, Miyakawa International Art Triennale, located between the cities of Fukuoka and Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture, breathes life into the town’s abandoned school buildings through art during the three-year festival, which began in July of 2021 and is currently ongoing.
The view from this stunning installation changes with the seasons.
Photo Credit: Northern Alps Art Festival
Sapporo International Art Festival
Sado Island Galaxy Art Festival 2024
Forest Festival of the Arts Okayama: Clear-Skies Country
UBE Biennale International Sculpture Competition
Northern Alps Art Festival
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale
Miyawaka International Art Triennial