For the last 3 fall seasons, Nara has been host to a unique event known as “Mind Trail” which features art exhibits cleverly integrated into the local landscape that often defy conventional description. Perhaps in accordance with the event’s name, the philosophy of Mind Trail seems to be to create an art festival that invites visitors on a journey though the beautiful historical and natural landscape of Okuyamato (or “Deep Nara”) to “discover” the cleverly set exhibitions along the way.
Poster for Mind Trail 2022 .
This year (2022), the art festival is taking place in the 3 locations: Yoshino Town, Soni Village, and Tenkawa Village. The easiest to access of these locations for those without vehicle transportation is the temple district of Yoshinoyama (AKA “Mount Yoshino”) in the town of Yoshino (also a location that has been host to the event for the last 3 years) because of the easy train access via Yoshino Station.
Looking over the mountain temple district of Yoshinoyama.
in Yoshinoyama, the process of finding the art almost seems like a treasure hunt, with small creatively placed signs marking the direction of the different exhibitions. You can find some exhibitions within the inhabited part of the district along the central street lined with shops, homes, and religious sites. While going from exhibit to exhibit, you can also enjoy sampling the local cuisine and check out the amazing historical locations here, such as Kinpusen Temple’s Zao-do Hall; reportedly the 2nd largest wooden temple structure in Japan and an important base for Shugendo mountain worship.
A spotlight has been set up at Kinpusen Temple as part of the Mind Trail event in Yoshinoyama. The spotlight shines towards Nara’s Mt. Omine, the sacred area where the Shugendo faith (of which the temple belongs) was believed to have been started over 1,300 years ago.
Artwork on display inside the Yoshino Mikumari Shrine (2021).
About 2.5 KM (1.5 miles) up from Yoshino Station, the dense town fades away and is replaced by forest and small settlements of houses. A number of Mind Trail exhibits are hidden in this upper section of Yoshinyoma for visitors to discover that have their own fascinating designs to ponder. A small sign with a QR code and name for each respective exhibit (in both Japanese and English) is provided, but even the explanations given are minimal, with the possible goal of seeking to draw out the imagination of the viewer to interpret it how they will.
The themes of each piece of artwork seem to vary greatly, with some of them even being highly interactive, sometimes letting the viewer write on them, use them in some way, or even play them. Truly, the hard work and thoughtfulness put into each work is clear, and the canvases they work with are various, with some utilizing the local forest environment as a part of the exhibit, and others standing on their own in contrast to the natural scenery.
Interactive art found on top Mt. Takagi (the site of an ancient fort during Japan’s Kamakura period). A wooden mallet hangs from this work, assumingly for the use of making noise on its attached chimes, bells, and gongs. But the question is, how would you choose to interact with it?
Various works of art found in the forest of Yoshinoyama (2021).
This year (2022) is the 3rd anniversary of the Mind Trail event in Nara, with it usually starting from mid-September and ending in mid-November. Every art exhibit so far has been free to view and interact with, though some are only visible during certain times of the day. If you want to know more, why not go and check it out for yourself? The area of Yoshinoyama without the Mind Trail outdoor art gallery is worth the visit by itself, but with this special event happening in the fall, there really is no good reason not visit if you find yourself in Nara.
For more info on the event, locations, and the philosophy behind the art (in Japanese), you can visit the official website here: https://mindtrail.okuyamato.jp/
The artwork featured in this blog post is all found in the Yoshinoyama district of Yoshino Town. The easiest way to access Yoshinoyama is by train via Yoshino Station, from which it is about a 15-20 minute walk up to the main ridgeline road.