The owner of a lodge in the Japanese Alps turns to artists to protect the environment

The owner of a hiker’s shelter in the Northern Alps in central Japan is offering up-and-coming artists free extended stays in the hope that the works they create there will help spark conversations about the importance of preserve the natural resources of the region.

Jiro Ito, 41, says the only condition he places on artists staying at Kumonodaira Mountain Hut, located in a remote mountainous region spanning Nagano, Gifu and Toyama prefectures, is that they agree to exhibit their works at exhibitions he organizes and on other occasions. .

Jiro Ito, owner of Kumonodaira Mountain Hut in Japan’s Northern Alps, poses for an interview with Kyodo News in September 2022. (Kyodo)

Maintenance of mountain trails and the natural environment of the region is usually “thrown in the lap” of cabin owners, who receive little assistance from state or local governments despite the area being a park. nationwide, he said.

At the end of September, a select number of artists from different parts of Japan gathered at the lodge, which sits on a plateau at an altitude of 2,600 meters in the deepest part of the Northern Alps.

An artist works on a piece at Kumonodaira Mountain Hut in Japan’s northern Alps in September 2022. (Kyodo)

Photographer Shigeta Kobayashi, 37, came from Saitama prefecture near Tokyo and took pictures of a natural pond formed in the peat layer of a swamp for about two weeks.

He said looking at the unique topography created by the austere landscape made him feel connected to what he called an “order born out of chaos”.

Keiko Hata, 41, an animation designer from Hiroshima Prefecture, made a film with dolls that she maneuvered on a rocky bottom.

“The Northern Alps are attractive because they contain many unknown places,” she said.

Animation designer Keiko Hata (L, front) works on a project while others watch Kumonodaira Mountain Hut in Japan’s Northern Alps in September 2022. (Kyodo)

Ito, who calls Kumonodaira the “last undiscovered region of Japan”, started the program two years ago, motivated by his concern that the concept of environmental protection had not yet taken root in Japanese society.

Although ostensibly responsible for the protection of national parks, the government has long neglected the management of the area due to chronic budget and labor shortages, leaving this to the voluntary labor of lodge operators.

With no improvement in the situation, Ito decided that instead of waiting for the government to act, he would appeal through art after seeing the experience of Europe and the United States. , where he says that grassroots movements against ecological destruction are sometimes born out of art. .

Ito held an exhibition in Tokyo in April to showcase the works made at Kumonodaira Mountain Hut over the past two years. Some 1,000 people visited the exhibition during its 17 days.

One commented on the “absolute beauty of the nature images”, while another said: “I would like to go to the lodge even if it takes 10 hours” to get there.

Kumonodaira Mountain Hut, which sits on a plateau at an altitude of 2,600 meters in the deepest part of the Northern Alps. (Kyodo)

Earlier this year, Ito also began offering free accommodation to scholars to “use all perspectives to understand more deeply the value of nature.”

Fukachi Furukawa, 40, a lecturer at Kyushu University, stayed at the lodge for about three weeks to observe the artists’ work from a cultural anthropology perspective.

“Artists see the wetland as a stage, while I see it just as a wetland. It was an exciting discovery,” he said.

Now in the third year of his project, Ito remains focused on creating “a social movement” in which his Kumonodaira Mountain Hut sits on the “front line”.

An artist works on a piece at Kumonodaira Mountain Hut in Japan’s northern Alps in September 2022. (Kyodo)

Related coverage:

FEATURE: Sony Music, an industry leader in supporting the mental wellbeing of artists

Endangered ptarmigan airlifted to Japanese Alps ahead of first-ever release

Tokyo policeman dead and another missing on mountain in eastern Japan