yambaru art festival
Okinawa Life

Rich Creativity at Yambaru’s Annual Art Festival

The Yambaru Art Festival is an annual event that celebrates the fusion of creativity and nature

The Yambaru Art Festival is an annual event in Yanbaru, the northern part of Okinawa’s main island. The event is typically held for four weeks during the winter months (Dec–Feb). We got to chat with Mr. Choji Nakahodo, the general director, about the festival, and what makes it so special to the community.

glass art sunset

A new era of art

ogimi shioya elementary school

The Yambaru Art Festival (YFA) was first held in 2017 on the former site of Ogimi Shioya Elementary School, surrounded by nature. The connection between the people of Yanbaru and the environment is part of the reason the festival is held; it allows for the creation of “art that can only be achieved here and now.”

Years on since its inception, there is the sense of a new era. The festival has embraced the theme of Yanbaru chishin, a riff on the idea of onko chishin, which means revisiting the old to understand the new. As we live in an era of digital, virtual, and remote technology, art can give us a feeling of connection even from afar.

Mr. Nakahodo has also taken part in the Yambaru Art Festival as an artist. “The nature of the Yanbaru region fires up my creativity, and it provides me with many new ideas. Each year, many artists from mainland Japan and overseas visit the Yanbaru region to create their work. By the time they leave, they have fallen in love with the area, and they often say they’d like to stay longer to continue to create. The Yanbaru region is inspirational for artists, and this leads to new opportunities for Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. It provides tourists with the chance to discover something new. For local artists and the next generation of artists, it is a unique opportunity to reexamine the origins of art on their own island.”

Life is art, so live free

Mr. Nakahodo believes that life itself is art. “Each time we hold this festival, my understanding of the Yanbaru region deepens through the relationships we create between the staff, participating artists, and the local people. I strongly feel that through art we all have a greater love for Yanbaru,” he says.

The culture of Okinawa is often described as champuru, which means mixed in Okinawan. He believes the same applies to the Yambaru Art Festival which connects to the geographical and historical characteristics of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. This art, born of Yanbaru, should be as diverse as the area’s environment.

desk and chair

The Yambaru Art Festival is the only opportunity for contemporary artists to meet with Okinawan artisans on such a large scale. As such, it has become a source of inspiration for Okinawa’s art community. Exhibiting artists and visitors can enjoy the opportunity to meet while viewing the artwork. Visitors can also enjoy the beauty and artistry of the surrounding nature, and the delicious local cuisine. A visit to the Yambaru Art Festival gives you the opportunity to break free from the traditional framework of what art should be, and embrace the beauty and freedom of the Yanbaru region.

Posted on 2021/1/19
Last updated 2021/12/20
Text by Kei Itaya
Magazine editor, writer, newspaper journalist in Tokyo and NYC for more than 15 years. Returned to her hometown of Okinawa in 2019.

Learn More