Sierra Nevada College art student at the teamlab Borderless digital art installation in Tokyo
This year's trip introduced SNC students to a remarkable combination of ancient temples, avant-garde art, and fresh powder.

Japanuary – Art and Snow in Japan

FNAR 480 Fine Arts: Japanuary – See, Ski Japan
Professor Sheri Leigh O’Connor
January 4 – January 18, 2019

This year’s Japanuary trip was an amazing combination of ancient traditions and futuristic invention. The trip began in Tokyo, where the highlight was the TeamLab Borderless exhibit. It’s an awesome immersive digital art experience – 520 computers and 470 projectors fill the 100,000 sq. foot Mori Building.

Sierra Nevada College art students above Tokyo Japan at nightTokyo at night from the top of the Mori Digital Art Museum
Sierra Nevada College art students enveloped in sunflower projections at the teamlab Borderless digital art installation in TokyoEnveloped in sunflowers in teamlab Borderless
Sierra Nevada College art students discover the art of Japanese food.The art of lunch

FOCUS ON: TeamLab Borderless

teamlab, the interdisciplinary digital art collective which created Borderless, describes the installation as “a group of artworks that form one borderless world. Artworks move out of the rooms freely, form connections and relationships with people, communicate with other works, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other, and have the same concept of time as the human body. . . As we immerse and meld ourselves into this unified world, we explore a continuity among people, as well as a new relationship that transcends the boundaries between people and the world.”

Then we traveled to Yudanaka, up in the mountains near the Shiga Kogen ski areas. Luckily there was a snow storm while we were there, bringing fresh powder! That’s where we went to see the snow monkeys, who hang out in the onsen (hot springs) to stay warm. We visited the Zenkoji temple in Nagano, which was founded in the 7th century and houses the first statue of the Buddha brought to Japan. Along the way, we took a traditional calligraphy class and ate beautifully prepared meals. We saw the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, the Sekai Heiwa Kannon, near our hotel in Yudanaka. The Hokusai museum in Obuse features paintings & wood-block prints by the famous ukiyo-e artist Hokusai.

Sierra Nevada College art student Jenna Seabury with a snow monkey near Shiga Kogen JapanJenna Seabury meets a snow monkey
Sierra Nevada College art student skiing through the Snow Monster formations above Zao, JapanGino Meyer amid the snow monsters
Sierra Nevada College art students at the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo JapanAt the Yayoi Kusama Museum

FOCUS ON: Yayoi Kusama

Painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and performer Yayoi Kusama is a famously provocative avant-garde artist, best known for her works featuring repeating motifs and psychedelic imagery that evoke themes of psychology, feminism, obsession, sex, creation, destruction, and intense self-reflection. She began painting as a child to express her early experiences with hallucinogenic visions, and credits her art with keeping her from suicide. In 2014, when she was in her mid-eighties, one of her works sold for $7.1 million at Christie’s, the highest ever for a living female artist.

Next, we traveled to Nikko to see the gorgeous temples. The Tosho-gu shrine has a panel of the original “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil”. From there we headed up to Zao Onsen, where the students skied and snowboarded amongst “Snow Monsters”. The snow monsters are actually trees wrapped in fantastical layers of ice and snow.

Sierra Nevada College art students at the Zenkoji Temple in Nagano JapanAt the Zenkoji Temple in Nagano
Sierra Nevada College art students joined a traditional calligraphy class in Shiga Kogen JapanOur names in Japanese calligraphy
Sierra Nevada College art students at the entrance to the spectacular Robot Restaurant show in Tokyo Japan.The entrance to the Robot Restaurant

FOCUS ON: Robot Restaurant Cabaret Show

People describe the show with phrases like “the most bizarre show we’ve ever seen,” “totally bonkers,” “sensory overload in a good way,” and “only in Japan would you find something so quirky, futuristic, and baffling.” It combines lots and lots of robots, dragons, ninjas, blue-haired dancers, taiko drums, a whole lot of neon lights, and blaring techno music, culminating in an epic battle between warring robot armies.

Finally, we traveled back to Tokyo. One stop was Harajuku, the center of Japan’s most extreme teenage culture and fashion styles. We visited the National Museum, and the museum of the artist Yayoi Kusama, most famous for her signature polka dot and pumpkin motifs. To cap it off, we saw a spectacular show at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, which CNN described as “one of the wildest shows on Earth.” The students enjoyed Japan immensely, and were a great group to travel with!


Fine Art travel courses to Japan are usually offered twice a year, in early January (fall semester course) and in late May (spring semester course). The two trips have completely different itineraries. The May trip goes to southwest Japan and Kyoto, including lots of wonderful Japanese ceramicists. Visit “Ceramics, Sushi, and Sightseeing in Japan” for info. If you are interested in ceramics, check out our whole Summer Art Workshop series. Some of today’s most interesting ceramic artists give intensive week-long workshops, which are open to anyone interested.

Sierra Nevada College’s Fine Arts program is built on a close-knit community of students and faculty working together. Make art 24-7 in our open studios. Build your portfolio and show your work. Explore professional opportunities that fit your interests. Get a bachelor’s or bachelor’s of fine arts degree with concentrations in two dimensional or three dimensional practices, digital art, or interdisciplinary art.