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In recent years, art festivals have enabled Japan’s rural areas to shine a spotlight on their unique charms. These festivals rekindle local pride and attract visitors from around the country and around the world. Many have given rise to substantial economic benefits in their host communities, in some cases, led to population increase.


Like Europe, Japan is now grappling with a declining birth rate and an aging society, leading to a falling population. The situation is particularly pronounced in rural areas, which often struggle to compete with major cities offering a greater variety of educational, cultural, and employment opportunities.

Many rural communities in Japan have succeeded in attracting outside visitors by organizing events that accentuate their unique characteristics.

Among these, art festivals have risen to prominence for increasing tourism to rural areas by introducing not only world-class art but also local cuisines, cultures, and landscapes that both international and domestic visitors find unusual and enchanting.

External funding, sponsorships, and the dedication of artistic groups and volunteers all play a role in helping local communities to initiate and develop events that provide unique and engaging cultural experiences to travelers.

The influx of visitors enhances the local economic and employment environment while also cultivating local pride. In this way, both visitors and local communities emerge from these events greatly enriched.


Discover more about these efforts that have contributed to growing populations and expanding economies in Japan’s rural areas.

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  • Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2018

    The economic impact of Echigo-Tsumari continues to increase, reaching 6.5 billion yen as of 2018.

  • Setouchi Triennale 2016

    About 9,000 volunteers participated in the event, ranging from university students to corporate professionals and seniors.

  • Okayama Art Summit 2016

    The first Okayama Art Summit in 2016 boosted the number of visitors to the area by 20% over the previous year.

  • Oku-Noto Triennale 2017

    Nearly 90,000 additional tourists arrived in Suzu in 2017 compared to the previous year.


Groundbreaking art festivals in Japan have helped revitalize the countryside while showcasing the resourcefulness and spirit of local communities.


Art Triennale

For Lots of Lost Windows
— UTSUMI Akiko
The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale (ETAT), established in 2000, takes place every three years deep in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture. Covering 760 square kilometers, including an open-air ‘art field,’ the Triennale transforms the area into the world's largest international art festival.

ETAT has attracted more than 2.6 million people since its launch. Over a hundred of the world's best artists display their artwork in villages nestled among the region’s mountains and terraced rice fields. Visitors can embark on an art-guided journey that promises a rediscovery of their relationship with nature, art, and humanity.

  • Café Reflet — Jean-Luc Vilmouth
  • Terraced rice fields in Tokamachi
  • The Rice Field — Ilya & Emilia Kabakov
  • Trees — Menashe Kadishman
  • Ubusuna House, Tokamachi, Niigata
  • Hachi & Seizo Tashima Museum of Picture Book Art — Seizo Tashima (Photo: Hiromi Seno, Takenori Miyamoto)
  • Tsumari in Bloom — KUSAMA Yayoi

The Triennale takes stunning works of art out of their traditional urban settings and temporarily houses them in “forgotten” spaces in rural areas. Once-abandoned houses and schools are transformed into valuable parts of the local community, rejuvenating the area and uplifting the lives of the local people.

One example of this is the Museum of Picture Book Art, which gave the shuttered Sanada Elementary School a new lease on life. TASHIMA Seizo, the famed picture book artist and writer, led the project, and visitors can immerse themselves in the experience of the last three children to attend the school through the walk-in picture book.

Another of the festival’s unconventional offerings brings together international artists and local volunteers to give back to the land by planting vegetables, tending rice crops, and looking for ways to enhance water sustainability.


“The number of people who come here for the art festival and buy Tsumari beer has increased,” she said. “I think it shows how much recognition Echigo-Tsumari has, and I hope to provide visitors with a chance to engage with local products made of local ingredients. I always emphasize the meaning and value of local things.”

rollover for Next Festival Setouchi Triennale


There are several other art festivals infusing new energy into rural regions of Japan. For example, some festivals aim to breathe new economic and creative life to the regions impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

Yamagata Biennale

Created in 2014 and hosted on the grounds of the Tohoku University of Art and Design, the Yamagata Biennale celebrates Japan and its language through exhibits of cutting-edge creativity across art mediums while showcasing locally inspired projects alongside breakthrough pieces.

Reborn-Art Festival

Launched in 2017 in the picturesque Oshika Peninsula and city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, this festival is an annual fusion of music, art, food, and the vibrant local creative scene.


Japan’s rural areas have explored a number of ways to overcome the challenges they face, and many of these new approaches show great potential for instilling new vitality into communities. But beyond their economic impacts, art festivals have stood out because they bring national and international prominence to their host communities while treasuring, and therefore helping to preserve, the characteristics that make these communities unique.

The out-the-box thinking so evident in these festivals has been a major driver for their success. Efforts to revitalize rural areas will continue to place emphasis on formulating fresh approaches that both invigorate the economy and rekindle the spirit of local communities by leveraging local characteristics as strengths to be highlighted and cherished.

Art Festivals and Regional Revitalization in Japan [Niigata and Ishikawa]
Art Festivals and Regional Revitalization in Japan [Kagawa and Okayama]