Tokamachi / NiigataRural beauty and contemporary art in Tokamachi

“Tunnel of Light,” by MAD Architects, an installation at Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel (Photo: Osamu Nakamura)

Tokamachi is a rural city in southern Niigata Prefecture dotted with gorges, canyons, and rice fields. Tokamachi and neighboring Tsunan town have emerged as centers of art and culture thanks to the long-running Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which sets contemporary art among the picturesque natural setting. Although the event is only held once every three years, its popularity has created a welcoming tourism infrastructure so visitors can enjoy nature and culture year-round.

Embrace Tokamachi's vibrant contemporary art scene

Leandro Erlich’s “Palimpsest: Pond of Sky,” one of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field exhibits (Photo: Osamu Nakamura)

Many art lovers are drawn to Tokamachi and the surrounding areas to experience the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, which includes the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale event held at the Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art, KINARE. Inspired by the idea that “humans are part of nature,” the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field seeks to connect people to nature and each other. They encourage this link through approximately 200 modern artworks by international artists, dotted around 200 villages in the area, including Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art, KINARE.

“Tunnel of Light,” by MAD Architects, an installation at Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel (Photo: Osamu Nakamura)

Blending traditional and modern architecture, the Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art, KINARE was designed by Hiroshi Hara, an architect famed for Kyoto Station and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka. The museum is structured to blur the edges between indoors and outdoors, and natural and human design.

Yayoi Kusama’s “Tsumari in Bloom” is one of hundreds of artworks by international artists displayed in the area (Photo: Osamu Nakamura)

Tokamachi's year-round art prominence goes hand in hand with the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. This international art festival has been held here every three years since its inauguration in 2000, with the next iteration set for 2021. Visitors can enjoy between 100 and 200 new pieces of art at each festival.Note that you can still enjoy viewing the remaining art works in the years between this triannual event.

Year-round hospitality at Sansho House

Sansho House's dining area promotes shared experiences through classroom-style seating

Experience Tokamachi through communal warmth and local hospitality at Sansho House. The guesthouse is in a repurposed elementary school, a wooden structure built over 60 years ago. It sits atop a hill overlooking three villages: Kotani, Mizunashi, and Oarato. Sansho House's location in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field is within easy reach of many of the region’s natural and cultural attractions. The art extends inside Sansho House; it hosts an in-house installation by Argentine conceptual artist Leandro Erlich called "Lost Winter."

An installation by contemporary artist Leandro Erlich (Photo: Osamu Nakamura)

Sansho House offers 8- or 16-person dormitory-style rooms. There are no private rooms, and male and female guests room separately. A one-night stay costs 5,800 yen (for groups of 10 or more), including dinner and breakfast.

Guest rooms are furnished with communal bunk beds

These home-cooked meals use locally sourced, seasonal ingredients such as rice from rice terraces in the Echigo-Matsunoyama district nearby, hand-made pickles, and specialty miso. Meals at Sansho House take place in a common dining area that used to be a classroom.

Seasonal, locally sourced dining at Sansho House

Sansho House is accessible by taxi from Matsudai Station on the Hokuhoku line, a 45-minute ride from Echigo-Yuzawa Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen. It takes about three hours by car from Tokyo or two hours from Niigata City.

Sansho House is a guest house in a repurposed elementary school

Traditional activities and outdoor exploration

Snow brings a wealth of winter activities

Sansho House's community-focused experiences and activities range from calm and traditional to active. Mochi-making is a particularly popular indoor activity, as it promotes teamwork, and its end-product can be enjoyed as part of a meal at the guesthouse.

Community-based mochi-making at Sansho House

Outdoor activities during winter, when the surrounding play areas are covered in snow, include sledding and snowshoeing (snowshoes are available for hire). The Sansho House experiences for visitors from abroad are led by locals with English-language ability.

Outdoor winter fun includes sledding and snowshoeing

Guests at Sansho House can use the gymnasium space for free for such activities as racket- and ball-based sports. The space can also be booked out - for a fee - for special events, such as a seminar or film screening.

Access information

Getting to Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture:

The journey takes around three hours from Narita Airport via JR Tokyo Station, where you take the Joetsu Shinkansen to JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station, then switch to the Hokuhoku Line for the last part of the journey. The trip from Haneda Airport follows the same pattern after reaching Tokyo Station. From Niigata Airport, meanwhile, it takes around two hours via JR Niigata Station, where you use the above-mentioned JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station and Hokuhoku Line combination.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change. Unless stated otherwise, prices do not include tax.
*Unauthorized reproduction of material in this article is strictly prohibited.

About “Countryside Stays“

If you’re looking for a new way to experience Japan, sign up for a farm-stay experience through the Countryside Stays Japan program and participate in traditional rural-lifestyle activities in recommended countryside locations.

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