At the mention of art exhibitions, most people would imagine doing it in the confines of a nicely designed museum with high ceilings, big spaces, and in air-conditioned comfort. However, have you ever wanted to do the same while being surrounded by nature? If so, Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県) has the perfect event for you this autumn which combines the elements of the sea, the mountain, and the arts. Join me to find out more about KENPOKU ART 2016!
The KENPOKU ART 2016 (茨城県北芸術祭) is a 65-day-long art showcase taking place in the northern part of Ibaraki Prefecture which includes six cities i.e. Hitachi (日立市), Takahagi (高萩市), Kitaibaraki (北茨城市), Hitachiota (常陸太田市), Hitachiomiya (常陸大宮市), and Daigo-machi (大子町) from 17 September to 20 November 2016. These cities offer a unique combination of natural sights in the scenic coastal area and lush mountainous area. While being deeply immersed in traditional culture, the region is also influenced by the latest modern technology and arts due to its proximity to the capital of Japan.
Traditionally, the area around Hitachi had a flourishing mining industry since the end of the Edo era (江戸時代), while the region around the Izura Coast (五浦海岸) had deep links to the development of modern Japanese art thanks to Japanese scholar Okakura Kakuzo (岡倉天心) and Japanese artist Yokoyama Taikan (横山大観) who were based here. Although Ibaraki is more known for its scientific and technological prowess thanks to the presence of various research institutes and the University of Tsukuba (筑波大学), it is also gaining a reputation for being an artistic hub due to several much-talked about art exhibitions and projects such as The Umbrellas by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
In order to highlight the region’s innovative spirit in the artistic realm and integrate it with modern science and the natural sights, the KENPOKU ART 2016 was then conceived. It does not restrict itself to just paintings and sculptures but also showcases media art which uses science, biology, and philosophy to display the expected changes in later generations and inspire people to think about the future. Through touring around the Kenpoku region, visitors can also develop a keen interest in Japan and experience the charm of the area’s natural sights. Approximately 100 artworks and projects by artists from 17 different countries and regions will be featured. As such, the theme of the festival is set to “Sea, Mountains, Art!”
The exhibits are located in four main areas within the Kenpoku region as shown in the picture above:
- Izura/Takahagi seaside area (五浦・高萩海浜エリア – around Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art, Ibaraki and the seaside area of Takahagi City)
- Hitachi Station area (日立駅周辺エリア – around the JR Hitachi Station on the Joban Line)
- Oku-kuji clear stream area (奥久慈清流エリア – along Kuji River in Hitachiomiya City and the area in front of Hitachi-Daigo Station on the JR Suigun Line)
- Kujiragaoka area in Hitachiota (常陸太田鯨ヶ丘エリア – along the streets of central Hitachiota City)
To access these four areas, it is recommended on the festival’s official website that you begin your journey from Mito (水戸) either by train or car. Compared to the inland mountains, the coastal areas i.e. no. 1 and no. 2 on the list above are more accessible as they are approximately 50 minutes away by train and car via the JR Joban Line and Joban Expressway, respectively. Meanwhile, the Kujiragaoka area in Hitachiota is about 35 minutes away from Mito Station by train, while the Oku-kuji clear stream area is about 80 minutes away. Although the routes to drive on are provided on the website, the expected travel time is not. As such, you may wish to plan your itinerary accordingly and spread your visit over at least two days so as to enjoy the exhibits without rushing around.
However, if you are tight on time, you may wish to consider the day-trip digest bus tours (Japanese only) which are held on weekends and public holidays. For a price of 5,000 yen per adult and 4,000 yen per child (junior high and below), you can see the exhibits which you are interested in with lunch included as part of the package. Note that for children who have not started school yet, they will not be charged for participating in this tour so lunch will not be provided for them.
The three tour options include the Jikkuri Yama Course (じっくり山コース) i.e. mountains only, Kirameki Umi Course (きらめき海コース) i.e. coastal area only, and the Umi mo Yama mo Tokimeki Course (海も山もときめきコース) which combines the best of both worlds. Besides looking at which places these tours will stop at, you might also need to consider where the tour starts and ends so that it is more convenient for you. The Jikkuri Yama Course begins and ends at Mito Station while the other two tours begin at Hitachi Station and end at Hitachi Civic Center.
During the festival, there are many events taking place at the exhibition venues so you may wish to check out the events page as well before planning your trip. Note that the English version of the website is not as updated as its Japanese version so you should refer to the latter for more recent information.
There are two main categories of tickets i.e. the single site admission tickets which allow you to access exhibition venues individually and the passport which gives you access to all venues. If you are planning to check out a few places only, the individual tickets might suit you better. Generally, students and the elderly who are 65 and above will get discounted rates while bulk discounts are only given at the Ibaraki Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art (茨城県天心記念五浦美術館). Children who are in junior high and below get free entry, while those who have the handicap notebook and one of their companions will also be able to do the same. However, at some places, you would need to pay an additional entrance fee on top of the exhibition ticket i.e. Rokkaku-do (六角堂) which is a Buddhist temple, Fukuroda Falls (袋田の滝), and Morinoideyu (森林の温泉) and Tacchan no Yu (竜っちゃん乃湯) which are hot spring facilities. As such, you might wish to consider the all-access passport instead.
For a price of 2,500 yen per adult and 1,500 yen per student/senior, you can get access to all the exhibition venues. Even for the four above-mentioned places that require the additional entrance fee, you will be able to get a discounted rate ranging from 50 to 100 yen per ticket. To get the passports, you can buy them from various information centers in Ibaraki.
Alternatively, if you are outside of Ibaraki, you can buy the exchange vouchers from convenience stores and online ticketing portals such as Ticket Pia (Japanese only), CN Play Guide (Japanese only), eplus (Japanese only), 7 Ticket (Japanese only), and Lawson HMV (Japanese only) before exchanging them for the passport tickets at the following locations:
- Ibaraki Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art
- Kitaibaraki Tourism Information Center at Isohara Station on the JR Joban Line
- Takahagi Yasundettei (高萩やすんでっ亭) near Takahagi Station on the JR Joban Line
- Information Exchange Plaza Puratto Hitachi (日立駅情報交流プラザ ぷらっとひたち)
- Roadside station Hitachiota (道の駅 ひたちおおた)
- Roadside station Hitachiomiya Kawa Plaza (道の駅 常陸大宮 かわプラザ)
- Roadside station Miwa Miwa Furusatokan Hokutosei (道の駅 みわ みわ☆ふるさと館 北斗星)
- Daigo-machi Tourism Association at Bunka Fukushi Kaikan Main (大子町観光協会)
- Mito Tourism Information Center (水戸観光案内所)
The benefits of holding a passport ticket do not end here as you can get discounts, free gifts, or privileges at various merchants in Ibaraki when you present this to them. These merchants include sightseeing spots, leisure facilities, hotels, restaurants, souvenir and local produce shops, and even rental car companies! Be sure to download a copy of the list (Japanese only) before your visit.
Last but not least, for people who want to stay overnight somewhere in the six cities hosting this festival, you stand to receive a coupon for your hotel or ryokan stay. Note that you cannot be an Ibaraki resident to receive this 2,500 yen discount coupon (1 per person) and that you have to book your stay via these three travel accommodation booking websites i.e. Jalan (Japanese only), Rakuten Travel (Japanese only), and Rurubu Travel (Japanese only).
As there are so many exhibits showcased during the art festival, I would like to introduce just 3 of those which I think are quite interesting. For a full list of the exhibits, please visit here.
1. TetraPad by Nitipak Samsen (Area 1 – Takahagi Coast)
Samsen who was born in Thailand and is now based in the UK found the tetrapods meant for dissipating waves along the coastline interesting when he visited the Kenpoku region for research prior to the art festival. Although the tetrapods are usually criticized for being a visual eyesore, Samsen decided to take a humorous approach to make them more appealing by creating colorful artworks from materials used to make beach balls. Although the intention was to allow the public to touch this work at first, the organizers decided against it due to safety concerns.
2. Kanshousuru Fuyuutai (干渉する浮遊体) i.e. Interfering Floating Bodies by Hackathon (Area 3 – Shopping street in front of Hitachi-Daigo Station)
As we all know, bubbles burst and disappear in no time, but this exhibit challenges that notion. With a mixture of expertise from various fields from a group consisting of a sculptor, designer, architect, musician, scientist, programmer, and engineer, the team Hackathon came up with this exhibit where the bubbles in the glass container will float in mid-air without falling and bursting. The movement of the bubbles also change with the music and lighting.
3. Ochitekita Sora (落ちてきた空) i.e. The Fallen Sky by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Area 1 – Takahagi Coast)
The Kabakovs who were born in Ukraine and are now based in the US explained that they came up with this artwork after hearing about a story on an aviation enthusiast who painted his house inside out like a sky but a part of his house was blown away due to a typhoon. Although they were skeptical about the story, they wondered if this really happened and how the blown-off part of the house would look when it lands on a beach. As such, they decided to show this on the beach and demonstrate the dynamics of the earth, ocean, and atmosphere in the beautiful surroundings.
Other than looking at the exhibits and enjoying the festival’s activities, there is a lot more to explore and do in the six Kenpoku cities during this period. Why not swing by these places as well to experience more of what these cities have to offer as you go around to view the exhibits?
In the mountainous areas of Daigo-machi, Hitachiota and Hitachiomiya, there are many natural sights to visit, a mouthwatering variety of signature dishes to savor, and interesting activities to participate in.
In Daigo-machi, besides the famous Fukuroda Falls which is one of Japan’s top 3 waterfalls, you can also swing by the Kuji River which boasts clear water or relax at the Fukuroda Onsen and Daigo Onsen. This town is also well known for its popular desserts such as the apple tart, Okukuji cheesecake (奥久慈チーズケーキ), Ooguro dango (大黒草団子), and Hitachi Ooguro steam youkan (常陸大黒蒸し羊羹).
Hitachiota City is a famous place for soba lovers who flock here for the Hitachi aki soba (常陸秋そば) and the Hitachi Aki Soba Festival. For those into all things retro, you can head to the Kujiragaoka shopping street (鯨が丘商店街) which is made up of many old warehouses and buildings now transformed into galleries, snack shops, cafes, and restaurants. As for the daredevils, you’ll want to check out Ryujin Otsuribashi (竜神大吊橋) which is the longest suspension bridge in Honshu and restricted to pedestrians only. From a height of 100 meters, you can do a bungee jump from the bridge which will definitely boost your adrenaline.
Hitachiomiya which is in between the Kuji and Naka rivers is popular among people who are camping enthusiasts and who love water sports such as canoeing and fishing. Those who like to enjoy the onsens will also be satisfied with the options here such as Santanoyu (三太の湯), Shikisaikan (四季彩館), and Sasanoyu. On the last day of the KENPOKU ART 2016 i.e. 20 November, the city will be holding its annual Yamagatajuku Imonikai (やまがた宿芋煮会 – Japanese only) at the Seiryuu Park (清流公園) where they will be cooking the local specialty yam stew in the largest pot in the Kanto region which has a diameter of 3.5 meters. Besides adding the yam from Yamagata, other local ingredients such as gamefowl meat from Okukuji, konjac, and spring onions will be added to the pot which can make about 5,000 portions in one go. Other than this, there will be a lucky draw giving away gifts such as accommodation vouchers and local produce, and stalls selling the city’s specialty products at the event square.
As for the coastal cities, Kita-Ibaraki which faces the Pacific Ocean on its east and the Abukuma Highland (あぶくま高原) on its west is well known for its beautiful scenery throughout the year. Other than the Hanazono Shrine (花園神社) known for its colony of rhododendrons, there are many fishing ports along the coastline which are frequented by tourists. The city also has deep links to the art world thanks to some of the most famous artists and authors in Japanese history who had stayed here. There are various arts and cultural facilities in the area such as the Glass Studio Silica. Moreover, the ankou nabe (あんこう鍋) i.e. anglerfish hotpot is the representative dish of the city which is usually in season starting from November to March the following year.
Over at Takahagi which is a renowned place for autumn foliage viewing and its pristine beaches and clear waters, you can also visit the Hananuki Dam (花貫ダム) where you can see the sea from. Coinciding with the art festival is the Hananuki Keikoku Momiji Matsuri (花貫渓谷紅葉まつり – Japanese only) i.e. Hananuki Valley Autumn Leaves Festival which runs from 29 October to 27 November. If you are planning to visit during the weekends to view the spectacular autumn foliage, you can consider taking the shuttle bus from Takahagi Station which costs 500 yen per adult and 250 yen per child (one-way).
Last but not least, Hitachi City which has been a flourishing industrial city, offers a piece of nature in the form of mountains such as Mt. Takasuzu (高鈴山) to nature lovers and avid hikers and trekkers. Its beaches are also a hit with water sports lovers and beach goers during summer. During spring, there is the Hitachi Sakura Matsuri (日立さくらまつり) which attracts tourists and locals. The Kamine Zoo (かみね動物園) is also a well-known attraction in the city. Among these, you should spare some time to visit the SEA BiRDS CAFE (Japanese only) which was designed by designer Sejima Kazuyo (妹島和世) who hails from the city and opened in April 2011 that boasts an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean thanks to its full glass walls. As the cafe is suspended over the east exit of the Hitachi Station, it makes you feel as if you are floating over the sea. Although the cafe is open every day from 7 am to 10 pm, reservations are highly recommended as it is a popular place especially known for its pancakes.
Now that you are armed with the necessary information to enjoy the KENPOKU ART 2016, why not make plans soon to experience the arts in nature and include some sightseeing in the region as well this autumn?