Rokko Meets Art returned for its eleventh edition with its biggest lineup yet. Featuring 44 artists, this festival on Mt. Rokko in Kobe expanded this year with satellite sites at JR Shin-Kobe Station and the Arima Onsen area. The program also became both more local and more international, spotlighting artists with connections to Kobe and a group of Germany-based creators. Participants include those invited and those chosen in a public competition. Most of the artworks have been created in the past year.
With 48 artworks spread out across 12 areas, we recommend taking two days to experience all of the art. Cars are allowed on Mt. Rokko, but there are also walking paths and public transportation. The mountain is best accessed by a cablecar from Rokko Cable Shita Station. This area guide can help you plan your route. The ¥2500 multi-day passport also comes with a map.
This year’s program includes The Night Museum, a special after-sundown event with gardens and artworks illuminated around the mountain. The leaves are about to change colors, making now the perfect time to witness this autumn evening spectacle.
The nearby hotspring town of Arima Onsen also rewards visitors with a brand new festival: Arima Art Night. This free event from 17:00 to 22:30 nightly lets you roam the atmospheric streets while taking in augmented reality that interacts with the scenery. Rokko Meets Art, The Night Museum, and Arima Art Night all run through November 23.
By area, let’s take a look at some of the creativity on show this year:
Rokkosan Silence Resort
Rokkosan Silence Resort, now home to restaurants, galleries, and meeting spaces, has recently been converted from the Rokkosan Hotel, a Heritage of Industrial Modernization site built in 1929 and renovated by the Italian architect Michele De Lucchi. This elegant space hosts the works of four Rokko Meets Art artists.
Ikuya Takahashi is a talented animator represented at multiple Rokko Meets Art venues. At Rokkosan Silence Resort, he presents an animated film on two screens framed by the brick arches of the lounge.
Nozomu Uchida crafts steam punk-esque metal sculptures that highlight the special abilities of animals. He is married to Moe Nakamura, a star artist at Rokko Meets Art this year. Nakamura’s paintings, drawings, and camphor carvings of enigmatic, childlike characters feature trees and other motifs from nature.
Influenced by modern Japanese painting, Tomoko Hisamatsu’s warped images confront social realities.
Rokko Cable Area
The cablecar terminal Rokko Cable Sanjo Station, an Art Deco-style building from 1932, displays works by a group of artists from Germany in exchange with the Kobe-based artist collective C.A.P.
Alexander Böll has installed eight sets of small lights and speakers in one of the building’s stone nooks. Listen in closely and you can hear their sounds fluctuate with the light. Anna Schilling pays tribute to Japan’s culture of faxing by transmitting her drawings directly from Germany.
Chapel of the Wind Area
The Chapel of the Wind area includes both an open field occupied by performance artist Kunio Nakamura’s makeshift dwelling ‘fukyo house’ and a concrete church designed by the celebrated architect Tadao Ando.
This year, Chapel of the Wind contains a sculpture with rotating video by Daisuke Yamashiro. This work brings the outside indoors with images of the sky, rain, and trees recorded on Mt. Rokko.
Grand Hotel ROKKO SKYVILLA
The Kobe-based non-profit C.A.P. (The Conference on Art and Art Projects) has converted the Former Guesthouse Grand Hotel Rokko Skyvilla, not used in a decade, into a five-story house of art with works by about 30 artists installed in its rooms and halls.
Miyuki Asayama is interested in the invisible forms of life all around us. Here she takes over an entire room with red and white fabric pieces that allude stories playing out beyond our view.
Yuta Ikehara is a multimedia artist working in watercolor painting, photography, and collage. His TV installation considers the regeneration of life and the confluence of the natural and the artificial.
Rokkosan Country House
Performance artist Ana Miyaki presents boards covered in items she has carried with her on Sunday “picnics” around Mt. Rokko. Miyaki explores how carrying things on her person causes changes in environment and state of mind.
Taking an interest in relationships between humans and the environment, Manami Hayasaki probes dualities such as life and death and good and evil in her paper sculptures. Here she presents paper cuttings in the images of plants on Mt. Rokko. The stones were excavated from the mountain.
For ‘green on green,’ KIMU has assembled an army of identical creatures with green “hair” made from camouflage outfits. The work asks what it could be like for humans to see the world from the viewpoint of nature. Also on the hills of the Rokkosan Country House, T-shirts decorated with popular Mt. Rokko sights float in the breeze. The shirts were made by members of the Osaka Prefectural Tennoji High School art club.
Rokko-Arima Ropeway Rokko Sancho Station
An out-of-commission platform has been transformed into “Sentimental Park Stn.,” Mika Takeuchi’s latest project. Takeuchi continues to depict “melody pets,” animal characters in the form of playground equipment once found at Japanese amusement parks. Here she envisions a “funland of memories” where the melody pets go after their time in service has ended.
Rokko Garden Terrace Area
Nao Uesaka is the winner of the festival’s top honor this year, the Rokko Meets Art Open Call Award Grand Prix. With a history of working in miniatures, she has created small dioramas based on places around Mt. Rokko.
Painter Kouichi Ono creates works with facial motifs, as he considers the face to be a kind of “business card for human society and a mirror of the heart.” He presents a series of larger-than-life outdoor paintings.
The Night Museum
Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden & Rokko International Musical Box MuseumThe Night Museum, which can be enjoyed from sundown, is spread out across the Rokko International Musical Box Museum, Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden, Rokko-Shidare Observatory, and Rokko Garden Terrace Area. Be sure to borrow a lantern at the west entrance of the Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden before winding your way around the pond while viewing the illuminated artworks and color-changing light displays.
Kyota Takahashi, known for his lighting work at major public events across Japan, is responsible for the installation at the Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden. This display of coordinated color and sound creates a dynamic nighttime vista.
Installed in matsu pine and enoki nettle trees, “echoes” by artist Sawako Tanizawa and novelist Kaori Fujino combine visual and literary art. “Survivor Grandma” by the two-person unit CLEMOMO is a powerful matriarch astride a furry, light-emanating beast. Carrying weapons and wine, “grandma” is equipped for the apocalypse.
Another textual installation best viewed at night, Masayuki Fushimi’s “Palindromes and Light” poses philosophical questions about the nature of time and what it means to be present in the moment. Japanese hiragana letters light up one by one to spell out a poem/meditation piece.
JR Shin-Kobe Station
JR Shin-Kobe Station presents work by Kohei Maeda, winner of the 2019 Kobe Meets Art Mayor’s Prize. “Itomu” is an installation centered on Thai protective figures by the same name, which Maeda has formed out of clay. He creates these works onsite each weekend from 12:00–17:00. A film shows Maeda carrying a video screen itomu around some of Kobe’s well-known spots.
Arima Onsen Area
The Arima Onsen area, famous for its hot springs, features the work of three Rokko Meets Art creators: Takeshi Kimura, Canaco Matsumoto, and Hiroko Kubo.
It’s worth the hike up the hill to see Takeshi Kimura’s sculpture of a pink hot spring soaker at a former tennis court. The towering work is made from an ingenious use of boards and string.
Four spots around Arima are decorated with the chalk art of Canaco Matsumoto, who brings classical Italian and trick art techniques to street art.
Hiroko Kubo presents a triptych of monkey-themed sculptures at a plaza near Arima Onsen Station. Reflected in a small pond, their neon-colored forms are abstractly shaped like the Japanese characters for wind, rain, and earth.
Arima Art Night
This year marks the first Arima Art Night. All you need to enjoy this augmented reality art festival is your phone. Download the free app for iOS or Android and let it guide you to designated spots around Arima after dark. The app (Japanese only) also has useful information on restaurants, hot springs, and other local sites.
Look for signs on the sides of streets and use the QR codes to activate app features. Then, align the AR images with what you see outside, follow the instructions on the screen, and let the colorful art unfold before your eyes. The artwork is designed by Akira Okamoto and Mugi Nakajima.
The charming historic town of Arima Onsen, known for its copper-colored hot springs, is only about thirty minutes from JR Shin-Kobe Station or fifteen minutes from Rokko-Arima Ropeway’s Rokko Sancho Station, making it the perfect place for an overnight stay while enjoying Rokko Meets Art. Hiking trails are also accessible from Arima Onsen and the timing is excellent for fall foliage. Why not take advantage of Go to Travel campaigns and enjoy hot springs along with an established and a brand-new art tradition?