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KENPOKU Art 2016: Why You Need to See This Incredible Art Festival in Ibaraki

This autumn, against a natural canvas of soaring mountains and rugged shorelines, Ibaraki prefecture is playing host to an international art festival that is equally dynamic as it is diverse.

By 5 min read

From September 17 to November 20, six cities; Hitachi, Hitachiota, Takahagi, Kitaibaraki, Hitachiomiya, and Daigo, have been transformed into live venues that re-envision contemporary art through an integration of nature technology, and community.

Japan’s largest art event, the name “Kenpoku” comes from its breathtaking location on the northern tip of Ibaraki Prefecture. Spanning 2.6 times the area of Tokyo, the festival features artists from all over the world – giving rise to an eclectic and endlessly fascinating exhibition that’s up there with some of the world’s best art festivals.


But why northern Ibaraki?

Despite the modern reality of rural Japan’s aging population, this picturesque pocket of Japanese countryside isn’t lacking in creativity or culture. In fact, northern Ibaraki has historically been an area of innovativion.

Supporting the modernization of Japan during the Meiji era, copper mines found throughout Hitachi are a testament to the prefecture’s entrepreneurial spirit while renowned Tsukuba University in Tsukuba City leads the pack in national scientific research.

Given its close proximity to Tokyo, northern Ibaraki was picked as the ideal setting to host a contemporary art festival rooted in rural communities that balance on the periphery of Japan’s rapid urban development.

What to expect?

Spotlighting a diverse roster of talent from 85 participating artists – of which 30 hail from foreign countries, 13 have taken up residency in Ibaraki, and 8 are Ibaraki-born – KENPOKU Art is not simply large-scale, it’s a borderless platform.

The idea is to demonstrate a universal appreciation of art that transcends culture, language, and the concept of space, presenting site-specific exhibitions in both traditional and unexpected environments.

Drawing inspiration from this year’s theme “Sea, Mountains, Art!”, the exhibition literally takes visitors from the mountains to the sea. You can discover a vast collection of approximately 100 artworks on display in everything from traditional indoor venues, such as the Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art in Kitaibaraki City, to outdoors on the mountainous slopes of Daigo Town to along the scenic coast of Takahagi City.

Other unorthodox venues showcasing paintings, sculptures, and mixed media installations include abandoned shopping buildings, closed schools, and even a mountaintop Shinto shrine.

The best way to explore?

Make the most of what’s there by following one of the recommended travel itineraries like the one below.

Seaside Art Trip: Kitaibaraki→Takahagi→Hitachi

Kicking off at the Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art located in Kitaibaraki City, this is where Tokyo-based teamLab, who were behind the recent, hugely popular DMM.Planets exhibition in Odaiba, channel their “ultra-technologist” creativity into eight interactive large-scale installations.


Among the highlights is a projection-mapping room titled “What a Loving, and Beautiful World”. This meditative space, mirroring the world of a Japanese painting, is where calligraphic brush strokes come alive by the slightest movement of a passing shadow. Another installation called “Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders” employs a four-panel Japanese screen where butterflies seamlessly fly out of the artwork’s frame – defying the notion of physical constraints in the digital realm.

Next is Takahagi City where along a stretch of sandy beach a dramatic site-specific installation is a surreal find. “Fallen Sky” by Ukrainian-born artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, is an installation built to resemble a scrap of disintegrated sky, landed on the Takahado Kohama coastline.

KENPOKU Art 2016

Finally, in Hitachi City, an abandoned shopping district is revitalized into an avant-garde art space of collaborative community workshops, including the “Knit Invader Machine” by Saki Chikaraishi who invites locals to join her in wrapping ordinary objects and lifeless streets with colorful yarn. In this act of knit invasion, Chikaraishi hopes to weave new connections between people and places.

At a participatory art booth titled “Smiley Bag Portrait”, Nobutaka Aozaki turns a common plastic bag with a smiley face into a one-of-a-kind portrait, transforming a trivial object into something of value.

Other noteworthy exhibits include Ei Wada’s “ELECTRONICOS FANTASTICOS!”, where the experimentalist artist/musician revamps old appliances and computers into musical instruments, and Tohru Nakazaki’s “signmaker NAKAZAKI” – a captivating display of neon signs flashing the names of places in northern Ibaraki that have ceased to exist due to municipal mergers.

Find your inspiration

Following in the footsteps of other internationally acknowledged art festivals such as the Setouchi Triennale held on the islands of Seto Inland Sea, Kenpoku Art unveils the hidden potential of rural terrains that are presumed to be at a disconnect with contemporary culture.

Both visiting and local artists are able to expand their personal boundaries by connecting with the local community in ways that may not have been possible in more traditional, sanctioned spaces (i.e. galleries, studios, and museums).

An added bonus? The festival proves that inspiration can be found in places we least expect. Come and find your own at this extraordinary festival.


KENPOKU Art 2016 is being held in six cities located in Northern Ibaraki Prefecture: 1) Hitachi 2) Hitachiota 3) Takahagi 4) Kitaibaraki 5) Hitachiomiya & 6) Daigo.

September 17 (Sat)—November 20 (Sun), 2016

Opening hours depend on the venue. The Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Last entrance at 4:30 p.m.)

The KENPOKU passport gives access to all the artworks. Single site admission tickets that allow access to individual exhibitions are also available.

Adults: ¥2,500/Seniors 65+ and Students: ¥1,500/Free admission for junior high school students and under, plus visitors (including one accompanying person) who possess a physical disability certificate.

Mito Station is the gateway for accessing each area in the Northern Ibaraki region.

For more information, visit the official website.



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