In his classic polemic against modern Japan, “Dogs and Demons,” Alex Kerr described how a system of government loans and subsidies in the 1980s spurred a nationwide outbreak of grandiose construction projects. Today, the Japanese countryside is littered with oversized, underused cultural centers, many of which are managed by private firms because local authorities couldn’t afford to pay for their upkeep.

One blessed exception is in Nanto, a thinly spread municipality of 60,000 people in Toyama Prefecture, about half an hour’s drive from Kanazawa. When the city’s Fukuno Creative Cultural Center Helios opened in 1991, it inaugurated a music festival that has endured to the present day. Sukiyaki Meets the World now ranks as Japan’s premier world music event, drawing more than 15,000 people each year to watch musicians from nations as diverse as India, Argentina and Senegal.

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