Travel

Naoshima – The Small Art Island

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!

Visited: September 22nd 2012

Naoshima Art Island

Hot to get to Naoshima

Naoshima is a small island in the Seto Inland Sea between Okayama and Kagawa Prefectures. Officially it belongs to Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku (map).

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

If you’re interested in art and island-hopping, then I recommend the Triennale Passport in order to save money.

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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”.

Naoshima Art Island

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!

Naoshima Art Island

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!

Naoshima Art Island

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!

Naoshima Art Island Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

Does that count as art as well? Either way it’s extremely cute.

Pikachu says: “Welcome to Naoshima!” (by Fuu-chan)

Naoshima Art Island

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.

 

Go’oh Shrine:

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 .. smilie)

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

Haisha:

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.

 

Naoshima Art Island

I was on the way again, but stopped several times to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Can you see why I love exploring small islands?

Naoshima Art Island

And there were just so many things to discover in each and every corner.

Naoshima Art Island

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!

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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?

Naoshima Art Island Naoshima Art Island

What I enjoyed more where these cute and colorful art sculptures. I especially liked the cat one!

Naoshima Art Island Naoshima Art Island

There were a few of them. Because of the bright colors they really stood out.

Naoshima Art Island Naoshima Art Island

If all that walking and art made you tired, then you can sit down next to this guy and relax.

Naoshima Art Island

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.

Naoshima Art Island

Oh, and how popular that pumpkin is! Long waiting lines in order to take a single photo!

Naoshima Art Island Naoshima Art Island

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!

Naoshima Art Island

007 Museum

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.

Naoshima Art Island

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).

Naoshima Art Island

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!~smilies

 

Tourist Information:
Opening Hours:
Roughly 10:00 – 18:00 for most facilities.
Holidays:
Mondays most museums are closed.
Entrance fee:
Accessing the island is free, but most of the museums have high entrance fees (around 1000 yen each).
Time required:
1 full day
Access:
By ferry from Okayama (closest station is JR Uno Station) or from Takamatsu (the port is not too far from JR Takamatsu Station).
Please note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.

23 Comments

  • Now THAT’S how you write a post about Naoshima! I’m very jealous that you’ve been there, but thanks for sharing your wonderful photos! :kyah:

  • Quite an interesting post about Naoshima. I have heard of the island, and could have gone there on a couple of occasions, but I will confess to a total lack of interest in “modern art”. I suppose I just don’t understand it. So I have given up going to modern art exhibitions and museums

    However, I think the island is attractive, and I liked that little shrine with the glass stairs. Glass is such an interesting material.

    • I’m just like you. I’m not interested in art, probably because I simply don’t understand it.
      Despite that I really enjoyed the island. My highlight was the cat café. I’ll post about it soon. (^____^)

      If your travel time is precious and you have other things you want to see, then I’d say it’s okay to skip the island, but if you’re nearby and have 1 day available, then you should go.
      I continued from there to Takamatsu and then was off to Ehime to explore a few more castles. It’s a great way to travel between Shikoku and Honshu and to just make a short stop on Naoshima. :D

  • I am actually interested in art, just not the “modern kind”. So I willingly go to standard art museums in various cities. In fact it can be very interesting to discover a regional art, as I did in Barcelona, where I was most impressed by the Museum of Art of Catalonia..

    Naoshima was suggested to me when I was in Takamatsu, but I had very little time. My trips are fairly tightly scheduled, so I tend to be rather selective in what I go see.

    • I understand. I probably wouldn’t have visited if I only had a short amount of time in Japan and other things on my list.
      For me it was only a daytrip from where I live, so no problem.

      However, when I visited there were a lot of foreign tourists which surprised me, but it only shows how popular and famous Naoshima has become outside of Japan in recent years.

  • Nice overview of the island.
    If you love small islands, and are not too much into art, make sure you don’t overlook the other islands for your next trip (I’m especially thinking about Ogijima, Teshima and Shodoshima here). Why not during the Summer or Fall session of the Triennale?).

    They’re less touristy, with the nicest people you’ll meet, and the art on those islands hasn’t just been “put there” but for most of it really integrates in the culture and history of its island.
    I was not a big fan of contemporary art before (yes, btw, it’s contemporary art, not modern art), and I’m still not as far as seeing it in museums is concerned, but the art on the other islands changed my mind three years ago.

    • Shodoshima has been on my list for a long time.
      I’m actually thinking about going there by car, but I fear taking my car on the ferry would cost a lot.
      I plan to visit for the autumn colors this year.

      I’ve been eyeing a few of the mentioned islands ever since you posted about them and I will certainly visit if time allows. :D
      Thanks for the recommendations!

      • Yes, I remember you telling me about planning a Shodoshima trip.
        Bringing your car may be expensive on the ferry, but it’ll be worth it I think. I you want to go to many places (see all or most of the art, plus some of the island for example) it will take a lot of time and organization (and also money) to navigate the bus schedules.

        • That’s what I thought.
          I will stay overnight anyways, but I hate losing time when I have to wait for buses.
          I know that some of my Japanese co-workers also went there by car, so I guess I’ll do the same! :D

  • You’ve done it again with another beautiful post. I wish my site photos were as nice as yours! You never fail to surprise me with the fabulous adventures you take.

    • Well, that’s just my hobby … or my passion! That’s all. :D

      Feel free to use any of my photos on your blog! ^^
      They’re really not that great, though. Thanks for your nice compliments!

  • A very informative post! It is a beautiful part of Japan that I have enjoyed visiting for work purposes but would like to explore further in my free time. All the art work looks very interesting and let’s hope that it succeeds in bring the younger generation back to the islands.

  • @zoomingjapan: Thank you so much for sharing. This spring we were on Naoshima, but had to leave the island because of an upcoming storm. We had rain and strong winds and only 45 Minutes to visit Chichu museum, if we want to reach the last ferry. But coming from Okayama the entire traveltime of more than 5 hours was worthwhile: I just say James Turell.
    Seeing your pics I definitively want to go and see the island again… on a sunny day;-)

    @Simone74: if you like arts, have a look at the western art Museum in Okayama. Really a great place.

  • Hiya :) I am hoping to take a working holiday to Japan, and stumbled across your fantastic blog in preparation!
    My boyfriend is going to be working in Naoshima, and I want to join him.
    I just wondered if you had any idea if jobs for english speakers would be hard here, because it seems to be a very touristy island!
    Thanks for the great post though!

    • Wow! Naoshima is a super small island, so I’m surprised he got a job as an English teacher(?) there.
      The thing with small islands is that there’s usually only ONE foreign teacher. I’ve met the JETs of tiny islands such as Yakushima. They are lonely.
      So, I doubt you could also get a job there as an English teacher, but you could try finding something in nearby Okayama or Takamatsu. Chances will be much higher there and you can just take the evening ferry back to Naoshima! ;)

        • At least Naoshima is so close to Shikoku and Okayama that it’s quite convenient. :)
          It’s just pretty bad on the islands far out such as Yakushima, some of the Izu Islands, some smaller islands in Okinawa etc. ;)

  • Hi! Great post about this place! I’m eager to visit the island and I was wondering if you recommend to visit this place during golden week? If you don’t, could you give me some more ideas? I want to avoid the most crowded places during this season.
    Thank you son much :)

    • Hi Mel,
      At least back then it was really popular. It was not super crowded, but quite busy outside of GW.
      I fear it might be very crowded during GW.
      So, it depends how badly you want to go. Don’t let GW stop you if you really want to go. Just be prepared for the crowds.
      If you think you’ll have another chance, then wait. ;)