Located 175km southwest of Kyoto, Naoshima is a small island located in the Inland Sea between the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. Like many other islands in the area, Naoshima was suffering until the 1990s due to its dying industrial waste dumps until it was completely transformed into the contemporary art sanctuary it is today, thanks to this Japanese businessman’s vision.
Today, Naoshima is one of the most popular travel destinations in Western Japan, and even a film about the island has been made (watch the teaser and the writeup of it). The purpose of the island was not tourism, as many local communities still reside on the Eastern side of the island. Contemporary art museums dot the island while providing picturesque beaches and breathtaking sceneries, a perfect harmony of community, nature, contemporary art and everyday life.
Artwork and museums to see
1. Yayoi Kusama’s “Red Pumpkin”
Located at Miyanoura Port, this half-a-black-dotted-red-pumpkin sculpture would probably the first piece of artwork you’ll be able to see on the island as it can be viewed from the ferry approaching the island. Feel free to see it up close as you can go inside too.
2. Yayoi Kusama’s “Yellow Pumpkin” at Benesse House’s Park Building
You may know Naoshima by this black-dotted yellow sculpture which has become the iconic symbol of the island. This massive pumpkin stands at 2m tall and can be found at the end of a pier at the Benesse Art Site.
3. Benesse House
Probably the island’s centerpiece, this museum-hotel is where Yayoi Kusama’s iconic “Yellow Pumpkin” sculpture is located as well. It consists of four buildings: Museum, Oval, Park, and Beach, all of which are designed by the famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
The modern art museum is perched on a hill and overlooks the sea. The permanent collection is located in an open-space building that consists of several floors that is home to famous works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, David Hockney, and Shinro Ohtake, just to name a few.
- Entrance fee: 1,030 yen
4. Lee Ufan Museum
This is one of the more recent additions to the island as it only opened in 2010 and combines Lee Ufan’s contemporary works with Tadao Ando’s architecture. The Korean contemporary artist who currently works and teaches in Japan has artwork outside and inside the museum, which includes large installations of stone, concrete and iron. It is also within walking distance from the Benesse House.
- Entrance fee: 1,030 yen
5. Chichu Art Museum
‘Chichu’ means ‘underground’ in Japanese, and this art museum is indeed a mostly underground museum designed by Tadao Ando. His works are mostly known for seamlessly combining his designs with nature. This museum is no different—the generous natural light-filled concrete museum and is clearly a paradigm piece to his works, while its exterior is full of winding pathways, gardens and courtyards for visitors to enjoy.
The museum’s permanent collection includes works from Claude Monet, James Turrell and Walter de Maria. There is even a room dedicated to Monet’s water lilies, which is absolutely stunning. The museum also hosts special viewing sessions of James Turrell’s “Open Sky” on Friday and Saturday evenings.
- Entrance fee: 2,060 yen-Book tickets online to avoid long waiting lines
6. Ando Museum
Of course, it is only appropriate to have an Ando Museum here. After all, the star architect was extremely involved in the design of many buildings and for shaping Naoshima as it is today, as mentioned above. The acclaimed architect selected one of the many traditional residences in the Honmura area and transformed its interior by combining contemporary materials such as his signature, concrete, to create the museum. Quintessential to Ando’s design, natural lighting is incorporated generously into the design. Sketches, drawings and notes from projects on the island and elsewhere are on display inside the museum.
- Entrance fee: 520 yen
7. Art House Project
Also located in Honmura, Art House Project is a collection of six abandoned houses, workshops, a temple and a shrine that have been converted into art installations and venues for artists and architects worldwide to display their contemporary work.
The houses are scattered throughout the town and most look unassuming from the outside, but the interior of each one has been trusted into the hands of artists who have completely converted them into whatever suits their artistic visions.
- Entrance fee: 1,050 yen for all houses (except Kinza), or 420 yen per house
8. I Love Yu/ Naoshima Bath
This public bath (sento) takes a whimsical interpretation of the traditional public bath, allowing visitors to enjoy soaking in the baths within the uniquely decorated area. It is designed by Shinro Ohtake, a famous Japanese artist who is famous for quirky installations and is the face behind a few famous record and book covers. A few of his works are also on display in the Benesse House.
Some additional information: Getting to Naoshima Island
The most convenient way to get to Naoshima is from Uno Port. You can get to Uno Port from Okayama Station by train or bus. You can also get to Uno Port from Takamatsu Port, via plane from Tokyo or Okinawa.
Exploring the island
Cycling is a pleasant alternative for exploring Naoshima, allowing you to cover a lot more ground (including some hilly areas) easily. Note that museums and art installations are located mostly along the Southern coast of the island.
Art and nature are probably not the usual ‘island getaway’ deal but Naoshima certainly won’t disappoint. With the island dotted with big-ticket museums showcasing iconic artwork, it offers a quick escape from whizzing in the rush of the major Japanese cities. For more information such as seasonal events, visit the Naoshima Information Site.