Art Experience Art inspired by Nature of Hokkaido

Courtesy of Arte Piazza Bibai
 One of the most fascinating things about art is the way each painting or sculpture reflects its era and the values that people held then. Take an artistic journey through Hokkaido and you'll be amazed by the enormous scale of the area's art spots, from Moerenuma Park, where the entire park is a sculpture in itself, to Arte Piazza Bibai, where the works meld with the surrounding nature. Travel back in time to the Jomon Period (around 14,000-300BC), when the earth had just warmed up after the Ice Age, and admire the beautiful pottery created by laying ropes over the surface of clay items that were the precursors to the everyday objects we use today. The unique culture of the indigenous Ainu people has inspired many artists' works, and these beautiful works can be seen in a variety of places, including one of the main concourses of Sapporo Station. With such a wealth of works inspired by its unique climate and landscapes, Hokkaido is full of new experiences for art enthusiasts to discover.
Arte Piazza Bibai Open-air sculpture gallery by Kan Yasuda, around 70,000㎡
Moerenuma Park Designed by Isamu Noguchi, 1,041,179㎡ in area, 3.7km in circumference
Hollow clay figure from the Jomon Period (National Treasure) Excavated in Minami-Kayabe Town (now a district of Hakodate). From the late Jomon Period (around 3500 years ago). 41.5cm tall, 20.1cm wide, 1,745g
Statue of Buddha 13.5m high, 1,500t. Corridor to the Buddha statue: 439.77㎡ in area, 27m in diameter, 11m in height (a truncated cone)

Bringing Art to the Great Outdoors of Hokkaido

Play Mountain
Courtesy of Moerenuma Park

Some of the most popular relaxation spots among Hokkaido locals are the plentiful art parks and open-air art galleries, where beautiful works blend with the nature of each season. The combination of art and nature is a work of art in itself, expressing the beauty of Hokkaido’s unique nature and climate and creating the perfect space for some rest and self-reflection. No matter when you visit, these spots are a feast for the senses, with the colorful autumn leaves, the softly falling snow, the song of birds and the sweet-smelling flowers.

Moerenuma Park in Sapporo, a sculpture in park form created by sculptor Isamu Noguchi, is a great place to start your artistic journey. Formerly a garbage treatment area, the site was transformed into Sapporo's best art park over a period of 23 years. It is known as a "sculpture of the land" - with around 15 structures such as the Glass Pyramid and Play Mountain.
Another famous work by Noguchi is Black Slide Mantra, a sculpture that can also be enjoyed as a slide in Odori Park in downtown Sapporo. Designed as a place for children to play and have fun, Black Slide Mantra was placed in a temporary location in 1988 before being moved to its current spot in 1993. Noguchi wanted to create a visual and tactile experience for children, and the excited shouts that echo through the park make it clear that he succeeded.

In Bibai, around 1 hour by car from Sapporo, is Arte Piazza, an open-air art gallery by Kan Yasuda where sculptures exist harmoniously with nature. The gallery has given new life to an abandoned elementary school building from Bibai's days as a flourishing coal-mining city and has around 40 sculptures in the 70,000m2 grounds. Tensei, Tenmoku and other works are carefully placed among the trees to emphasize the connection with the surrounding nature and between the works themselves.

The connection between Noguchi and Yasuda is an interesting one. Noguchi's Black Slide Mantra is a sister sculpture of Slide Mantra, a work that Yasuda created alongside Italian stone sculptor Giorgio Angeli in Yasuda's studio in Italy. Although both were trained in Italy, the work that resulted from their exchange found its home in the outdoors of Hokkaido.

The influence of the indigenous Ainu culture

Toru Kaizawa Suclpture art Ukouku
Photo courtesy of Nibutani Craft Cooperative Association

Hokkaido's indigenous Ainu people have a unique culture that has captivated many people. Cherished traditions that have been passed down include the skillful carving of trays and spoons with a single blade and weaving clothing using thread made from the bark of the Manchurian elm. Wood sculptor Toru Kaizawa has dedicated himself to creating a new style of Ainu art, carrying on the traditions passed down to him from his master craftsman great-grandfather while adding his own unique esthetic and techniques. His contemporary Ainu art is even exhibited in the British Museum.

Akan-based wood sculptor Takeki Fujito began learning his craft at the age of 12 under the tutelage of his father, who sculpted bears for a living. Fujito sculpted bears like his father, but his pieces also depicted other northern animals such as wolves and sea otters, carrying on the traditions of those who came before him. One of his works, Ureshipamoshiri Hokkaido Irankarapute-zo (Statue of an Ainu Elder), stands in the West Gate Concourse of Sapporo Station, welcoming visitors to Hokkaido and giving them a glimpse of the area's indigenous culture.

Ainu culture also has a rich tradition of folklore including kamui-yukara (songs of the gods), yukara (heroic epics) and uwepekere (folk tales). With the Ainu language at risk of dying out, the young generation is fighting to keep these traditions alive.
Various artists have been influenced by Ainu culture, including world-famous shadow picture artist Seiji Fujishiro. The Seiji Fujishiro Koropokkuru Shadow Art Museum in Engaru houses the world's largest shadow picture, standing 9m high and 18m wide. The work centers on koropokkuru, a race of small people from Ainu folklore, with seasonal Hokkaido scenery and lively animals in the background.

In recent years, the manga Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda has sparked interest in Ainu culture among young people all over Japan. Set in Hokkaido during the late Meiji era, the manga stars a former soldier and a young Ainu girl who search for gold to survive. Golden Kamuy explores many aspects of Ainu culture, which has inspired many young people to come to Hokkaido and visit the places from the manga.

The dawn of art in Hokkaido: Jomon culture and the forerunners of everyday items

courtesy of Hakodate City Board of Education

Hokkaido's history of art dates back to the Jomon period (14,000–300 BC). Jomon culture developed in Japan after the Ice Age ended and temperatures began to rise. Jomon pottery was made by laying ropes on the surface of the clay to create patterns. Hokkaido adopted the culture slightly later than the mainland of Japan, in around 12,000 BC, but the culture nonetheless lasted for a little over 10,000 years. Stone tools used for hunting and gathering, and clay containers and ceremonial figures all vary greatly depending on the period and region in which they were used. In recent times such objects have also come to be appreciated for their artistic merit.

In 1975, a hollow earthen figure was discovered in the Minami-Kayabe district of Hakodate in Hokkaido. Its intricate, realistic style and the insight it provided into spiritual practices in the Jomon Period makes it a vitally important artifact, and it was designated as a National Treasure in 2007. These figures were used to pray for many things, including bountiful harvests and safe, plentiful births. According to some theories, these figures depict the spirits of people rather than the physical form of Jomon people themselves. The hollow figure discovered in Minami-Kayabe has been named Northern Jomon Venus due to its size - it is one of the biggest in Japan - and its peaceful expression, beautiful body lines and skillfully crafted geometric patterns. The accurately proportioned figure is an extremely intricate and realistic depiction of a person, with an upturned face, broad shoulders, hourglass figure and long legs, and the surface is polished well. It is highly likely to have been buried in a Jomon-era cemetery, used together with a ceremonial stone to commemorate a deceased person. This discovery provides an important clue about the spirituality and belief in the supernatural that shaped people's lives in that era.

Stories

Things To Do

Many of Hokkaido's art spots are so closely entwined with the surrounding nature that you'll feel like you've stepped inside a giant work of art. Each change in season and weather adds its own touch to the beauty you see, and admiring the art with nature all around you will rejuvenate your soul.

Art and nature that engage all of your senses

Influenced by nature and telling stories of local history, these spots will engage your body and mind alike and leave you feeling inspired. Some of these attractions even have activity areas and workshops where you can try the artist's style of work for yourself. The physical and emotional experience of these spots will awaken feelings that you never knew were possible.

Recommended Tours

Courtesy of Arte Piazza Bibai

Arte Piazza Bibai: Learn to sculpt from the heart

JA

Sculpting with materials like Italian white marble is a process that comes from the heart. As you patiently chip away at your marble, you'll learn more about who you are. Date and time: 10:00am-4:00pm on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month. Venue: Studio ARTE, Arte Piazza Bibai

Webpage
Courtesy of Moerenuma Park

Play Mountain, Moerenuma Park

Play Mountain began with a plan by Isamu Noguchi to create an amusement park in Central Park in New York in 1933. After years of incubation, Noguchi's idea finally became a reality in Moerenuma Park. The top of the mountain offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.

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Hill of the Buddha

Buddha's head: Hill of the Buddha, water garden and cloister

EN

This vast landscape design is the work of Tadao Ando. Centering on an eye-catching "Buddha's Head" rising from the hills, this prayer area guides you through a beautifully designed landscape before you come face to face with the Buddha.

Webpage
courtesy of Hakodate City Board of Education

Jomon Cultural Experience

JA

The Hakodate Jomon Culture Center offers a range of activities to show you what life was like in the Jomon Period (around 14,000–300 BC). Make a miniature clay figure with Jomon patterns or make a coaster with the same weaving technique that people in the Jomon Period used to make clothing.

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Discovering Art Experience

Spring
Moerenuma Park
Early summer
Autumn
Courtesy of Arte Piazza Bibai
Winter
Courtesy of Moerenuma Park

These spots stay open even when they're covered in winter snow, but the opening hours and the works that can be viewed differ depending on the season. It is recommend that you check first before visiting. The facilities also have a café or restaurant where you can sit and relax and think back over the incredible art you've seen. Don't forget to bring warm clothing when visiting outdoor art spots.

Best Season To See

It's difficult to say which season is best for admiring Hokkaido's art – each change in the foliage and sunlight hours highlights a different aspect of the outdoor works. The spring cherry blossoms, summer lavender and autumn leaves make for particularly stunning natural backdrops.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Moerenuma Park
Arte Piazza Bibai
Buddha's Head
Hakodate Jomon Culture Center
: Best : Good : Possible

Getting Here

Here are some places where you can admire Hokkaido's incredible blend of art and nature.

1
Moerenuma Park
2
Arte Piazza Bibai
3
Hill of the Buddha by Tadao Ando
4
Seiji Fujishiro Koropokkuru Shadow Art Museum
5
Goto Sumio Museum
6
Hakodate Jomon Culture Center

Dos & Don'ts

  • Check the opening hours and the works that can be viewed before visiting, as they differ depending on the season.
  • Long sleeves and long trousers are recommended when visiting outdoor art spots in summer, as you may need to walk between trees or other plants.
  • Wear plenty of warm clothing when visiting in winter.
  • Attractions may be closed in severe weather conditions such as heavy rain or a typhoon.