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2016 promises to be an exciting year for contemporary art festival goers in Japan, particularly for those able to travel the country. In addition to the annual art fairs and exhibitions planned in the capital, the new year also sees two major festivals happening in Nagoya and on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea; at the Aichi Triennale and Setouchi Triennale respectively. So, this is the year to take advantage of affordable train travel, to capitalise on the recent boom in short-term apartments for rent, and to embark upon an expedition to central Japan where contemporary art awaits.

Here’s a round-up of the coming year’s art festivals:

8th Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2016

8th Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2016

8th Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2016

11th February – 20th February, Yebisu Garden Place, Ebisu, Tokyo

Taking place slightly earlier than it did last year, the 8th Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2016 offers a broad selection of artworks from both emerging and established artists. With an emphasis on moving images, this festival incorporates screenings including Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Your Embodied Garden’ (2013). Now in its eighth year, this edition of the Yebisu Festival adopts the French philosopher Gilles Clément’s concept of “Garden in Movement” to explore a “new look at contemporary society as a garden that changes day by day.”

Festival info: yebizo.com

Craig Walsh & Hiromi Tango, ‘Traces - Blue’ Mixed Media installation. (2013) From Setouchi Triennale 2013 Photo: knstrct.com

Craig Walsh & Hiromi Tango, ‘Traces – Blue’ Mixed Media installation. (2013) From Setouchi Triennale 2013 Photo: knstrct.com

Setouchi Triennale 2016 – Spring

20th March – 17th April,  Seto Inland Sea

Begun in 2010 by Fram Kitagawa, the Setouchi Triennale started as means to rejuvenate tourism in depopulated rural areas on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea. With the support of the local communities and many well-chosen commissions, this festival has become a firm favourite in the contemporary art calendar in Japan. Island-hopping by ferry, the festival gives visitors a chance to explore some remote islands while happening upon a variety of installations, site-specific and architectural works.

Open for a total of 108 days during 2016, this is first of three seasons to visit.

Festival info: setouchi-artfest.jp/en/

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Roppongi Crossing 2016: My Body, Your Voice

Roppongi Crossing 2016: My Body, Your Voice

26th March – 10th June, Mori Art Museum, Roppongi, Tokyo

Presented at the Mori Art Museum triennially since 2004, ‘Roppongi Crossing’ is a series of exhibitions intended to offer a comprehensive survey of the Japanese contemporary art scene. For the 4th edition in 2013, Chief Curator Mami Kataoka worked with Reuben Keehan from Queensland Art Gallery and Gabriel Ritter from Dallas Museum of Art and showed how global perspectives have shifted since the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
For the 5th edition, Curators Natsumi Araki (Mori), Kim Sunjung (Art Sonje Center, Seoul), Keisuke Ozawa (Arts Initiative Tokyo) and Wu Dar-Kuen (Taipei Artist Village) have chosen artworks that concern identity, gender and physicality, among other themes. With over 20 artists exhibiting, ’Roppongi Crossing 2016’ will focus on “alternative histories, alternative images on physical body and gender, as well as alternative landscapes”.

Exhibition info: mori.art.museum/english/contents/roppongix2016/

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Art Fair Tokyo 2016

Art Fair Tokyo 2016

12th May – 16th May, Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo

Run annually since 2005, Art Fair Tokyo surmises much of what’s happening in the art market in Japan. As a change to the last few instalments that took place during March, this year’s fair follows the string of national holidays known as Golden Week during May. Not only is it an event that is opportune for collectors, but it’s an effective way to see an extensive range of contemporary artworks, particularly object-based works, under one roof.

Fair info: artfairtokyo.com/en/

Sou Fujimoto, 'Naoshima Pavilion' (2016).

Sou Fujimoto, ‘Naoshima Pavilion’ (2016).

Setouchi Triennale 2016 – Summer

18th July – 4th September, Seto Inland Sea

The summer is the second season when the Setouchi Triennale is open to the public. For the present instalment, architect Sou Fujimoto created ‘Naoshima Pavilion’. Here follows a short clip of the project by architect and filmmaker Vincent Hecht:

Festival info: setouchi-artfest.jp/en/

Miwa Yanagi, ’Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape’. From Aichi Triennale 2013. Photo: Sansei Kimura

Miwa Yanagi, ’Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape’. From Aichi Triennale 2013. Photo: Sansei Kimura

Aichi Triennale 2016: Rainbow Caravan

11th August – 23rd October, Aichi Arts Center, Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya

Like the festival in the Seto Inland Sea, Nagoya City hosts the Aichi Triennale for the third occasion. In the last instalment, artistic director Taro Igarashi went beyond the museum walls by inviting artists to present artworks in the old textiles district of the city. Set amongst tailor shops and haberdasheries visitors ventured into neighbourhoods that once thrived by making and selling garments of clothing.
Under the direction of Chihiro Minato, this festival’s subtitle is “Rainbow Caravan”. For the 3rd Aichi Triennale, the theme is “humankind’s creative journey—or “caravan”—to the unknown, the kind of journey that invariably takes the form of an endless quest driven by curiosity.”

Festival info: aichitriennale.jp/english/

Tatsuo Miyajima, ‘Sea of Time’, From Art House Project in Naoshima. (1998). Photo: Ruby Nichols

Tatsuo Miyajima, ‘Sea of Time’, From Art House Project in Naoshima. (1998). Photo: Ruby Nichols

Setouchi Triennale 2016 – Autumn

8th October – 6th November, Seto Inland Sea

And finally, this is the last chance to see the artworks scattered on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea for Setouchi Triennale (before 2019), and the last major festival held in Japan during 2016. Cheerio!

Festival info: setouchi-artfest.jp/en/

©Nick West 2016