Have you heard of Naoshima before?
In recent years it became quite popular and promoted as “art island“.
Is it worth a visit? Read this article and you’ll know!
Hot to get to Naoshima
The only way to access the small island is by ferry. You can either approach the island from Okayama (JR Uno Station) or from Takamatsu on Shikoku.
Setouchi Triennale 2013 also on Naoshima
The Setouchi International Art Festival is held every 3 years on various small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The first festival was held in 2010, so it’s still relatively new.
Over 150 artworks are displayed on 12 islands including Naoshima, Shodoshima, Inujima and Teshima. One reason for holding the triennale is the fact that more and more people leave the small islands to live in bigger cities. Only the elderly stay which causes a lot of problems.
With the Setouchi Triennale there’s hope that more tourists will be attracted and the islands will become more popular among younger people.
If you’re interested in art and island-hopping, then I recommend the Triennale Passport in order to save money.
Apart from the art you get to enjoy the beautiful Seto Inland Sea with all the small islands and the laid-back rural lifestyle of the islanders there.
Even if you can’t make it to the International Art Festival, it’s worth going. I also visited when there was no special art festival held.
This is the ferry you will probably ride if you visit Naoshima. It leaves in Uno stops in Naoshima and then goes all the way to Takamatsu and vice versa.
The ferry ride is rather short. From Uno (Okayama) it takes only about 20 mins and from Takamatsu (Kagawa) about 50-60 mins.
Most people will access the Miyanoura Port which is closer to the Chichu Museum. There’s another port called “Honmura” which is closer to the “Art House Project”.
If you access via Miyanoura Port like I did, you’ll run right into a small tourist information building where you can also drink coffee, rest, buy souvenirs or get a rental bicycle. Personally I’d recommend it. The island is really small, but you’ll get very tired and won’t have enough time if you decide to walk everywhere. A car is absolutely not necessary! There are buses, but I hate waiting, so a bicycle is the most flexible option.
If you decide to visit during the weekends, holidays or during one of the triennale sessions, make sure to come very early or else there won’t be any rental bicycles available anymore.
Also, you should go straight to the Chichu Museum as only a limited number of people can access at the same time and if you go too late, waiting time could be insanely long!
Maybe a word of warning, if you’re heading to Chichu Museum first, there’s a steep slope you have to overcome first, but once you’re up there the view makes up for it!
Chichu Art Museum
The Chichu Art Museum (地中美術館) was designed by the famous architect Ando Tadao who also designed many of the other buildings on the island. The artwork is mostly located underground and uses sunlight to illuminate the exhibits.
Tickets cost 2000 yen (1000 yen during the Art Triennale) and can be purchased at the ticket office which is on the opposite side a few minutes walk away from the actual museum.
Photos inside were not allowed that’s why this is the only photo I can show you.
Like I mentioned earlier only a limited number of people is allowed to admire the few artworks inside at a time.
I have to admit I’m really not much into art, but it was a VERY interesting experience. I really liked it. Words cannot describe what I saw and I also don’t want to spoil the fun.
If you can’t afford visiting all the museums on Naoshima (after all they’re quite expensive), then go to this one!
After I left the Chichu Art Museum I was on my rental bicycle again. I discovered a lot of “interesting” artworks on the way. There’s so much to see! Sometimes you don’t even notice them. It’s a lot of fun when you recognize them, though.
Does that count as art as well? Either way it’s extremely cute.
Pikachu says: “Welcome to Naoshima!” (by Fuu-chan)
Art House Project
Next I arrived near Honmura Port where you can find the “Art House Project“.
Scattered throughout the small town there are a few abandoned houses as well as a shrine. All of them feature some kind of art or have been changed into a piece of art. From the outside the houses look like typical Japanese houses, but inside artists from all over the world let their artistic imagination run wild.
Entrance fee for each house (apart from Kinza) is 400 yen, but you can also get a pass for all of them for 1000 yen.
What you see in the photo above is a typical shrine, but the glass stairs are artwork and a pretty awesome one if you ask me.
This was my personal highlight! There’s a secret and very narrow entrance that will lead you underneath the shrine so you can admire the glass stairs from below as well.
When I visited, there was a volunteer guide who gave me a flashlight and provided some background information.
The art installation by Hiroshi Sugimoto is called “Appropriate Proportion” (try to say that quickly three times in a row .. )
Takahara Castle Ruins:
It is said that there used to be a castle on the hilltop near Go’oh Shrine during the Sengoku period. What you see above marks the remains of said castle and is now an observation platform.
Haisha is another house that belongs to the “Art House Project”.
Haisha (歯医者) actually means dentist and that’s very fitting as it used to be the office of a dentist once. Not only outside, but also inside you’ll find various art installations by Shinro Otake. There’s even a huge fake “Statue of Liberty” inside.
I was on the way again, but stopped several times to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Can you see why I love exploring small islands?
And there were just so many things to discover in each and every corner.
Benesse Corporation’s Art Facilities
Finally I accessed the southern coast of Naoshima where the Benesse Corporation’s art facilities are located. Those include the Benesse House Museum, a beach, a park and “The Oval” which is one of the guest room buildings of Benesse House. All was designed by Tadao Ando who also built the “Chichu Museum”.
The area around the southern beach cannot be accessed by your own means of transportation. I had to leave my bicycle behind. Cars are also not allowed. The only way is to either walk or take a free shuttle bus that stops at all three major museums. While it’s possible to walk all the way to the Benesse House, you might get exhausted, so if possible use the bus!
The Benesse House Museum (ベネッセハウス) features a superb fusion of nature, art and architecture.
You can stay overnight in one of the guest rooms and then you’ll have 24h access to all the art. However, it’s quite expensive with 25,000 yen+ per night.
Besides all the internal artwork, it also has some items on display outside from where you have an awesome view over the southern coast of Naoshima.
Back down and walking along the coast I ran into a lot of “artworks” that – at first sight – were hard to make out as “art” – like these interesting stone formations.
I really like the mix of nature and art! This way it won’t get boring.
Especially for somebody like me who isn’t so much into art, it’s great to enjoy the beautiful nature of Naoshima as well.
And there’s really a lot to discover. Not sure if all of that is interesting. I don’t even get why those people took a photo there, but to each their own, right?
What I enjoyed more where these cute and colorful art sculptures. I especially liked the cat one!
There were a few of them. Because of the bright colors they really stood out.
If all that walking and art made you tired, then you can sit down next to this guy and relax.
The dotted pumpkin of Naoshima
And here it is – the symbol of Naoshima: THE pumpkin! *drumroll*
I’m sure that you have seen it somewhere even if you’ve never heard of Naoshima before.
It was designed by the famous Yayoi Kusama who became really famous abroad. It’s surely also thanks to her that Naoshima gained popularity in recent years.
Oh, and how popular that pumpkin is! Long waiting lines in order to take a single photo!
Lee Ufan Museum
The Lee Ufan Museum (李禹煥美術館) is not too far from the Benesse House. You can either walk (~ 5-10 mins) or take a free shuttle bus (~ 2 mins) depending on your schedule.
The building was once again designed by architect Ando Tadao. Displayed are huge stone artworks by the Korean artist Lee Ufan.
To be honest I found this museum extremely boring and didn’t think it was worth the 1000 yen entrance fee. Of course it just might be because I’m not into art and no expert, but if you’re short on time, I would focus on the other two big museums instead!
Hey, what? James Bond is art as well, isn’t it? Ok, maybe that’s arguable, but there’s a legal reason why they have a 007 Museum on Naoshima!
There’s a James Bond novel “The Man with the Red Tattoo“ by Raymond Benson that takes place in Japan and partly on Naoshima, but has never been made into a movie.
The people of Naoshima want to get attention and hope that one day that movie will be realized on their small island, possibly attracting even more tourists.
No admission fee is required. It’s a small museum, so it won’t take too much time. It’s quite hilarious, so if you have a few extra minutes to spare you really should visit. You also should bite your tongue and try to watch the bad, baaad self-made James Bond short movie based on the novel they have there (scroll down and watch the video for more information).
The museum is just a short walk from the Miyanoura Ferry Terminal. When I went there I was the only visitor.
Unlike all the “real” art museums this doesn’t seem to be popular at all. That’s why I recommend to go there last. For other spots you might have to wait in line for some time, so the earlier you go, the better!
Other sights of interest
There’s also a public bath paired with art installations called “I love Yu“. Yu (湯) means hot water, but also hot spring.
The Ando Museum dedicated to the architect who designed a lot of the buildings on Naoshima opened in March 2013, so it didn’t exist yet when I visited.
And as if all of that isn’t enough already, there’s also a cat café called “Nyaoshima“!
If my blog post and the photos still didn’t convince you to visit Naoshima, then you should watch this video. I think it’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of the way Koichi from Tofugu presents his unique encounters in Japan.
Although I took a short video while I was there, my video equipment is not very good, so I’d rather have you watch Tofugu’s video instead. Enjoy!~