The Art Islands of Japan: Naoshima

Have you heard of the Art Islands of Japan? Just a Shinkansen ride away from Osaka lay a couple islands in the Seto Island Sea. Two of these islands, Naoshima and Teshima, are known for their many art museums and installations, both of which I had the opportunity to explore and adventure.

Getting to Naoshima

Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Okayama
The Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Okayama takes just over an hour and can reach speeds of 200 mph

After spending the morning making the journey from Osaka –> Okayama (via bullet train!)  –> Uno Port (bus), I was ready to embark on the Naoshima ferry and begin to explore the island. Since the ferry was extremely infrequent, I had a little time beforehand to walk around Uno Port and eat my lunch of salmon and tuna onigiri (rice balls filled with different meats/ fish that are wrapped in a crunchy seaweed).

Chinu - the Black Sea Bream of Uno
Chinu – the Black Sea Bream of Uno
Colorful pieces of garbage make up the scales of this fish
Colorful pieces of garbage make up the scales of this fish
Salmon onigiri
Salmon onigiri

Once the ferry came,  I hopped on board and quickly sped away from dark storm clouds that were beginning to fill the sky. After a 15 min ride, we arrived on Naoshima island. After all of the passengers had dispersed, I immediately felt the quiet and sleepiness of the island- there were no big department stores, looming shrines, or streets jammed with people- a breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle. A little lost, I wandered until I found the bus station, and waited for a ride.

Exploring Naoshima Island- Art House Project Installations

The first destination on my list were the Art House Project Installations located in the Honmura district. Empty houses throughout the residential area of Honmura had been turned into works of art with history and nature woven inside of them. I enjoyed walking the quiet streets and made my way to the different houses. My favorite one was Minamidera– an installation that first leads the viewer into complete darkness, then reveals a visual and tactile surprise based on light and depth.

My other favorite was titled Kadoya. Inside, this house was also dark, with the centerpiece being a room filled with water. Inside the water lay hundreds of colorful LED counters, each of which whose pace was set by a local island resident. It was mesmerizing to watch the different counters, some of which raced from 1 to 10, others that moved so slowly they never made it to 10 during my time in the house.

Me + a mirror! Right before going into an Art House called Haisha

After I had seen most of the art houses, I took the bus to the next destination, the Benesse House Museum (and hotel). The Benesse House looks over the Seto Island Sea, and was built under the notion: “coexistence of nature, art and architecture” –Benesse Museum site. While the hotel costs $400-$500 to stay for one night, I was glad to just pay the admission fee into the museum. There were multiple works of art inside (and in the surrounding area outside too) , ranging from sculptures, photography, paintings, and installations. Some pieces centered around nature, while others relied on art through technology.

Benesse Art House
The Benesse Art House is both a hotel and museum
View from the road

By the time I was done exploring the 3 museum levels and outside installations, I was pretty worn out and decided it was time to head back to the ferry. Because of the extremely infrequent buses and lack of transportation from where I was located to the ferry port, I was a bit pressed for time. Needless to say, I power walked + ran down the mountain switchbacks and through residential areas in order to make it to the ferry in time. I arrived looking slightly ridiculous and sweating profusely (the Japan humidity can be killer at times). As I was boarding the ferry, I snapped a couple pictures of the famous kabocha (pumpkin) that sits by the side of the water welcoming and saying farewell to passengers as the come and go on the island.

Houses on Naoshima
Stopped running to take this picture
Yayoi Kusama's fiberglass pumpkin in Naoshima
Yayoi Kusama’s fiberglass red pumpkin

Tamano City for the Night

By the time I got to Tamano, the city where Uno Port was located, I was completely drained, my phone was near dead, and it was raining. Again I power walked, this time to my Airbnb. My extremely generous host greeted me when I arrived and gave me a wonderfully drawn map of the area including nearby restaurants and bars. After thanking her for all of the suggestions, I laid down for a quick and well needed nap.

Airbnb- Cosplay themed!

When I woke up, I was ravenous. I excitedly walked to a ramen shop my host had suggested, and couldn’t have been happier to see a big, steaming bowl of soup sitting in front of me. The ramen I had was a little different than what I usually order, (shio-salt based broth instead of tonkotsu- creamy pork broth). After satiating my stomach, I ventured to a nearby izakaya- a japanese style bar that serves drinks and small side dishes. I cooled off with a glass of umeshu- plum wine, and ate some yummy miso mackerel. The waitress was super nice and I enjoyed talking a with her in Japanese. When I left, she ran out to give me an origami crane as a goodbye present!

Next up to explore, the island of Teshima!

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