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Japanese intellectuals – back to the rice fields

By Andre Vltchek (People's Daily Online)

10:12, January 20, 2012

Snow. (Photo by Andre Vltchek)

Snow is pristine and deep in Niigata Prefecture – deeper than anywhere else in Japan. In February the snow could easily reach heights of 5 meters and then even the tall emergency metal bars along the roads get fully buried under its multitude.

We traveled to one of the most remote areas of Niigata Prefecture known as Echigo-Tsumari, with its tall mountains, majestic trees and ancient villages. After series of long tunnels the train approached Matsudai station and we were greeted by enormous and serene whiteness of the snow with potent rays of sun reflecting from its surface.

Everything became suddenly white, except for the deep brown channels carved into the snow by playful creeks, and for several colorful art structures – some orange, some blue – rising from immaculate whiteness.

"This is Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial," explained Hata Takeshi, one of the leading Japanese film editors who had been waiting on the narrow platform. "Welcome to Matsudai."

We had our lunch in café serving organic-food, facing the mountains, creaks and artwork of renowned artists from all over the world. The building where café is located has been equipped with exhibition galleries and lecture rooms, even with a gift shop. Just a few steps away majestic ancient storehouses and barns were rising from the snow – evoking perfect atmosphere of nostalgic historic Japan.

We came here to visit Mr. Shigeru Khobayashi, celebrated Japanese documentary filmmaker who based himself in this deep countryside of Niigata Prefecture to shoot documentary film about the area, about the farmers and especially about the intellectuals from big cities who 'had enough' of life in modern Japan and decided to rebuild their lives in remote and stunning mountains of Niigata Prefecture.

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