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Culture City of East Asia

Niigata City Introduction

Niigata, the “Water City” and “Culture Creation City”

The “Water City,” where Japan’s longest river, the Shinano River, flows right through the center of town and empties into the sea.
In Niigata City, the water and soil carried here by the Shinano River and the Agano river another large river aided in the development of farming and other human activities, and in turn, gave birth to a variety of traditional arts.
In addition, at one time Niigata was the greatest port in Japan for the Kitamae (Edo period cargo ships) that plied the waters throughout Japan, and this flourishing trade gave rise to a culture of hospitality. Thanks to Niigata’s port-town character that actively adopts outside cultures, the city nourishes cultural activities from a variety of sources.
Niigata City, which is dedicated to being a “city of important cultural influence” that draws upon the innate creativity of culture and the arts to help the city grow, was chosen in 2015 as a Culture City of East Asia.

The Water and Land Art Festival

Niigata City acquired its present form in 2005 through the merger of 14 cities, towns, and villages.
The different parts of the city, such as the rural areas and the port zones, each had their own particular character and were home to distinct historical cultures, so through the large-scale merger the city became a place where a variety of cultures lived alongside each other.
And what this newly formed Niigata City saw as the foundation of its identity was “water and land.”
The “Water and Land Art Festival” has been held since 2009 in order to explore through the arts, Niigata’s unique water and land lifestyle culture and to make it even more attractive as a place of interaction between people promoting cultural change. In 2015 the festival will be held for the third time from July 18th through October 12th, featuring a variety of programs revolving around the city’s lagoons, which symbolize both water and land.

Shirone Kite Battle

One of Niigata’s traditional events is the Shirone Kite Battle. On the Nakanokuchi River; an 80-meter-wide tributary of the Shinano River. From each side of the river kites measuring seven meters in length and five meters in width are launched, and while flying in the air the kites battle gallantly plunging into the river until the tether of one of them breaks, making this one of the largest kite battles in the world. Held in June every year, it is beloved as a colorful traditional event that lends color to early summer in Niigata. In 2015 it was held from June 4th through June 8th.
The Shirone Kite Battle was designated in 2015 as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Niigata Prefecture, and in 2014 was recognized as a Citizens’ Cultural Heritage of Niigata City.

Food Culture Creation City

Food Culture Creation City
Niigata boasts an internationally renowned cuisine.
Thanks to unstinting effort and internationally renowned irrigation technology, our distant ancestors gained a slow and hard-won victory over the water and the land earth and brought about the stable cultivation of the “Koshihikari” premium rice strain. Today Niigata draws on the richness of the water and land to produce not just rice but also a wide variety of other high-quality agricultural products and seafood.
Our regional cuisine using local ingredients serves up a daily diet of healthy Japanese food, and the city also has excellent food-processing techniques such as for producing sake and rice crackers.
In addition to hosting food and sake events and international conventions on food, Niigata City also has agricultural land set aside for the purpose of education offering nutrition education and farming experiences, and in this way the city is revitalizing the knowledge and inspiration at the bedrock of its internationally renowned cuisine.

Furumachi Geigi

Furumachi Geigi
The Furumachi Geigi, one of Niigata’s traditional dances with musical accompaniment, got its start roughly 200 years ago and boasts a long tradition and considerable prestige.
In its heyday there were more than 300 Furumachi Geigi performers, and as one of the premier entertainment districts in Japan, the area rivaled Tokyo’s Shinbashi and Kyoto’s Gion district.
Its fame is said to have endured up to today due to the high quality of the dance itself as well as the great effort it takes to master the dance. Even up to the present day a great effort continues to be expended towards refining and perfecting the dances, the songs, the shamisen playing, and the percussion instruments that number among the distinctive arts which, when combined make up the Furumachi Geigi.
Furumachi’s historic streets with their many old buildings, the traditional restaurants rich in atmosphere, the finest rice and sake in Japan, the cuisine made with the freshest seasonal ingredients, and the carefully polished arts of the Furumachi Geigi constitute the foundations of the culture of hospitality found in the port city of Niigata.

The Niigata Geta Soh-Odori Dance (Niigata Soh-Odori Festival)

It is said that 300 years ago there existed in Niigata a festival in which the people danced relentlessly for four days and four nights in hopes of obtaining a good harvest and good health. Today, the young people of Niigata City have revived the “Niigata Geta Soh-Odori” dance based on picture scrolls that have survived from that time.
The dancers keep time with the “koashida” paulownia-wood clogs unique to Niigata. The choreography is in the “Ichiyama-ryu” style (designated an Intangible Cultural Property), and in the accompaniment the “Nagashima-ryu Niigata Tarukinuta” drumming style keeps the dancers going in time . At the Niigata Soh-Odori Festival the cultural forms that Niigata is proud of all come together in one place, and the dancers, numbering from the hundreds up to one thousand, make for a dancing spectacle that can only be seen in Niigata.
In 2015 the Niigata Soh-Odori Festival will be held on September 19th–21st.


From Noism1 “ASU: A Dedication to the Invisible” (2014)

From Noism1 “ASU: A Dedication to the Invisible” (2014)Photo: Kishin Shinoyama

Based at the Ryutopia Niigata City Performing Arts Center, Noism is the only dance company in Japan attached to a public theater. The dance company was founded in 2004 when Jo Kanamori, the dance company’s director and choreographer, was appointed artistic director of Ryutopia’s Dance Department.
Noism1, the professional dance company, has performed throughout Japan and overseas in 8 countries covering a total of 11 cities such as in a joint production with Moscow’s Chekhov International Theatre Festival. Noism2, a dance company composed of trainees, is active locally throughout Niigata Prefecture. Noism’s activities are highly varied, and the dance company is attracting attention widely as a model for a new Japanese theater culture for the 21st century.
In the summer of 2015, Noism will also be performing in the International Dance Festival to be held in Niigata City.

La Folle Journée Music Festival

La Folle Journée Music Festival
La Folle Journée is a classical music festival originating in the French city of Nantes, a sister city of Niigata that is also renowned worldwide as a city of significant cultural influence.
Overturning the conventional wisdom of classical music performance, the festival offers individual performances that are shorter and more economically priced, permitting visitors to enjoy a series of performances one after another throughout the day. This serves to create a music festival of first-class performances that can be enjoyed in comfort.
What distinguishes Niigata is the fact that besides the concert hall of Ryutopia Niigata City Performing Arts Center, with acoustics that are said to be one of the best in Japan, one can also enjoy performances in Japanese-style settings such as the Noh Theater and various other historic buildings.
In 2015 it was held from May 8th through May 10th.

Manga & Anime Town (Niigata Anime & Manga Festival)

Manga & Anime Town (Niigata Anime & Manga Festival)
Niigata City has been home to a large number of famous manga authors and the city is a hotbed of creative manga activity. 2015 will see the holding of the 18th edition of the “Niigata Manga Contest.” There are also many manga-related events held privately, and Niigata is home to a manga and animation vocational school.
Niigata City looks to manga and animation as a pillar of its cultural policy, and the remaking of the city is employing manga and anime to the full as a medium of creative thought and expression.
Since 2011 the “Gata Fest” Niigata Anime & Manga Festival has been held, and the festival features a large variety of events such as exhibitions, a talk show, a costume dress-up photo session, and a parade. The 6th edition of the festival will be held in 2015 on October 24th and 25th.

Port City Niigata “Symphony of Light & Movement”

Niigata’s character as a port town that actively adopts what comes from outside results in a variety of new cultures being experimented with, and a video art projection of light mapping and light decoration is one of them.
Since 2014 the Port City of Niigata “Symphony of Light & Movement” has been held, featuring light and video performances such as projection mapping onto historical buildings and other structures in the city which represents and depicts Niigata’s unique cultural aspects.
Original initiatives such as collaborative performances involving projection mapping and Noism2, Noism’s trainee dance company, have entertained and enthralled large numbers of spectators.
In September 2015, a projection-mapping event is planned that will include creators from outside Japan.