Sakagura Art Festival in Saijo

With some advance knowledge, this week’s Sakagura Art Festival can enhance a visit to “sake town” Saijo.

Two concurrent art events, “→Connect←” and the “Art in Sakagura” festival kicked off yesterday in the sake production center of Saijo in Higashi-hiroshima under blue skies .

There was little indication that the events were running when I got off the train at Saijo Station, but, having visited before, I headed for the Sakagura-dori (sake brewery street) area where the events are being held. After some wandering around looking unsuccessfully for where to buy a ticket, I made for the Kamotsuru brewery the biggest in Saijo and which I knew to be one of the venues. I found a reception table set up between two warehouses and paid for my ¥1000 art and sake ticket.

Now, Higashi-hiroshima city have been kind enough to advertise their event in the latest edition of the GetHiroshima Mag, so, having gone through the event info ahead of time, I had a fairly good idea about what was on offer. Even so, it was still kind of perplexing. Running two similar, but separate, events at the same time made things a little confusing.

“→ConnectT←” is a set of 7 music and sculpture installation pieces, 5 of which require a ¥500 pass to see, the other two (which I think I failed to find) are free. Pay an extra ¥500 and you get a nice ceramic sake cup with which to sample some tasty locally brewed sake on offer at 4 of the →ConnecT← venues.

The “Art in Sakagura” event is a free student art event. In addition to showcasing the work of students from the 4 universities involved, there are also student-run workshops and a Saijo sake-themed stamp rally quiz. It seemed that students involved with the project were the ones running the quiz stations, selling the →Connect← tickets and dishing out the sake.

With two concurrent events come two different pamphlets. Both are quite complicated (despite having been looking at them for a couple of weeks, I only really worked them out while riding *back* to Hiroshima on the train) and neither have any foreign language guidance. There also didn’t seem to be anyone on hand willing to attempt to explain the event and ticket options in English.

What you need is the yellow →Connect← pamphlet.

→ConnecT← pamphlet

Inside, although it takes some deciphering, is a map including all the locations for both events.

→Connect← pamphlet inside

The →ConnecT← exhibits have a somewhat bizarre numbering system that I never worked out. It’s important to not get them mixed up with the black numbers in the yellow squares that correspond to the coupons (various discounts and offers available at restaurants and shops in the area) that make up the bottom half of the pamphlet.

This is the map legend

→Connect← legend

→Connect← icon →ConnecT←
Installation( ¥500 or ¥1000→ConnecT← ticket required for #2 #4 #8 #10 #18)
Art in Sakagura icon Art in Sakagura
(student art)
Art in Sakagura Workshop Art in Sakagura workshop
Sake tasting icon  Sake tasting
(¥1000→ConnecT← ticket required )

The red stars on the map are stamp rally quiz stations. I felt that things might have been clearer if the student event had been described as a stamp rally with a bit of art thrown in. In several locations found myself looking for art where there wasn’t any (though looking around and wondering to myself, “Is that art, or just a pile of sake brewing paraphernalia?” was not uninteresting) and, perhaps as it was the first day, some of the students staffing the stamp rally desks weren’t sure if there was art to be found at their station or not.

To do the stamp rally, you will also need the pink Art in Sakagura pamphlet.

Art in Sakagura pamphlet

This has information in Japanese about the project and the workshops the students are running during the festival. The stamp rally map is on the back.

Art in sakagura stamp rally

As you can see I completed the whole rally (yay me). The quizzes are in quite difficult Japanese, but, if you are not great at Japanese, you could always torture the students staffing the desks by forcing them to explain the questions and multiple choice answers in English (or the language of your choice). You can have as many goes as you like and as there are only 3 possible answers to each question, you’ll get your stamp whether you have any clue as to what you are being tested on or not! Finish up at the Sanyo-tsuru brewery which is a fair walk away from the other breweries to pick up a snazzy commemorative clear file (see what they did there!)

Art in Sakagura stamp rally commemorative clear file

I would advise starting at Kamotsuru Brewery, which is nice and central. Here you can buy your tickets and sake cup, check out some of the student art, one of the →ConnecT← installations, and down a few sakes before heading out and trying to follow the map. If the sake takes affect before you get orientated, just wander around looking for the art festival banners and take your chances.

saijo sakagura art festival banner

So, is it worth it? Perception of art is so subjective that I’ll refrain from pronouncing any judgments on the quality of the exhibits, but wandering around Saijo’s sake brewery district is always pleasant in fine weather and the art events do provide some structure. If you can follow the route. Saijo’s streets are often very quiet, so the extra people in town for the event also improves the atmosphere. Best of all perhaps, if you go for the ¥1000 ticket, you *have* to try all the sake. And the cup is a very nice souvenir too.

The 2017 Saijo Sakagura Art Festival continues until March 20 – other details here. More photos from the art festival’s opening day below.

Paul Walsh

Paul arrived in Hiroshima "for a few months" back in 1996. He is the co-founder of and loves running in the mountains.