Seeing Things Differently
Tokamachi City in Niigata Prefecture, one of the snowiest places in Japan, is a collection of towns and villages spread out over a hilly countryside environment known as "satoyama" in Japanese—a cultivated landscape of forests, farmland, and rice paddies in the foothills of one of Japan's major mountain ranges. Thanks to a recent art festival, the nearby Echigo-Tsumari Art Field has a permanent collection of around 200 works of modern art, stretching over a vast area of around 760 square kilometers. One facility in the area is the Echigo-Matsunoyama "Mori no Gakko" (School in the Woods) Kyororo, where visitors can experience art and the satoyama environment at the same time. Inside the long, winding, snake-like building are photographs of insects, enlarged so that you can make out all kinds of details normally invisible to the human eye. Further on inside the building, you are surrounded by the sound of spring water and gurgling streams, constantly changing from one moment to the next according to the weather and time of year. From here, a staircase leads up to an artwork consisting of blue and red diodes that switch on and off according to the invisible cosmic rays that pass through our bodies at a rate of 200 rays per second. In the tower at the top of the building is an observation deck with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside. But by coming here, children get much more than just a pretty view—they get to experience the majesty of nature with all their senses, from the sounds of the insects in the forests and the burbling of the springs to the vast universe that stretches out beyond the mountains and the sky.