When beginning to explore the art island of Naoshima in Japan, one of the first things I thought to myself was, “Dali would have loved this.”
A tiny island town situated on the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima is commonly known as Japan’s art island, a whimsical and curious destination sprinkled with surrealist art, sculptures, and architecture. While much of Japan is rooted in rich ancient tradition, Naoshima provides contrast and insight into the nation’s growth toward a world of modernity and public expression.
Naoshima is an ideal destination for art aficionados and travelers seeking an extraordinary experience. Roaming around this quirky art island is a bit like stepping into Alice’s wonderland. Visitors are invited to get lost in its underground mazes, colorful sculptures, and mind-bending optical illusions. It may feel as if, for a moment, time stands still in Naoshima.
The development of Naoshima into an art island began in 1985, when the Founder of Fukutake Publishing, Tetsuhiko Fukutake, met with then mayor of Naoshima, Chikatsugu Miyake, seeking to revitalize the southern end of the island. Pritzker Prize winner and Japanese architect Tadao Ando was later appointed by Fukutake to supervise the initial work. Ultimately, architects, artisans, and designers spent more than two decades designing Naoshima’s unique hotel complex and various museums.
What made Ando’s project so unique was his instruction to design buildings that follow the natural forms of the landscapes, thus maintaining the natural beauty of the island and upholding the mystery of the area as a major art destination. Without knowing what lies within Naoshima, this unusual art sanctuary could easily be overlooked by the naked eye.
Since the development of Naoshima into a world-renowned art destination, the town of only around 3,000 inhabitants now sees hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
Getting To Naoshima
With Naoshima being one of nearly 3,000 islands that dot the Seto Inland Sea, transportation methods to reach it are rather limited but fairly simple to navigate.
The best way to reach Naoshima is by taking a train from Okayama Station to Uno Ferry Port in Tamano. Okayama Station can be reached by major cities in Japan including Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Upon arriving at Okayama Station, transfer to the Seto-Ohashi Line towards Uno Station; this line is shared with the Uno Line and a transfer may be necessary at Chayamachi Station depending on which train you board at Okayama Station. Then walk two minutes to the nearby port. Taxis are also available at Okayama Station, but these can become rather costly.
From Uno Port, ferries depart frequently for Miyanoura Port on Naoshima Island. The ferry ride lasts approximately 20 minutes.
Where To Stay In Naoshima
If you want to get the full experience when visiting Naoshima, then the best place to stay is undoubtedly Benesse House, a combined art museum and hotel designed by Tadao Ando.
Staying at Benesse House is like residing in a modern art gallery. Various contemporary artworks are on display throughout and you’ll be surrounded by minimalist architecture. Benesse House invites guests to indulge in its displays and get close to great art.
Based on the concept of coexistence among nature, architecture, and art, Benesse House opened in 1992 and is comprised of four lodging facilities: Museum, Oval, Park, and Beach. The hotel also offers a delectable French restaurant, a cafe with Andy Warhol works on display, and spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea.
When staying at Benesse House, be sure to check out the famous giant pumpkin installation by renowned Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama, titled Pumpkin.
Things To Do In Naoshima
Chichu Art Museum
Constructed in 2004, Chichu Art Museum rethinks the relationship between nature and people and was built almost entirely underground, as to avoid obstructing the scenic beauty surrounding the museum.
Undeniably the most stunning works on display at Chichu Art Museum are found in Claude Monet’s permanent exhibit, which features five of the celebrated French artist’s Water Lilies paintings. These awe-inspiring works are thoughtfully displayed on massive all-white surfaces that encourage onlookers to focus in on the cool shades that seem to be bursting out from the walls.
Chichu Art Museum also features pieces by Walter De Maria and James Turrell. Turrell is an American artist who focuses primarily on light and space, and his three artworks on display are a representative series that span his entire career, “enabling visitors to experience the changes in his work throughout the years,” according to the museum.
Art House Project
The Art House Project began in 1998. The project transforms abandoned houses, workshops, shrines, and temples into structural works of art.
The project consists of seven locations, including Kadoya, Minamidera, Kinza, Go’o Shrine, Ishibashi, Gokaisho, and Haisha. The Art House Project is situated in Naoshima’s Honmura district, where visitors will get the chance to observe everyday life unfolding in the quaint island town in addition to appreciating the art.
Whether you’re an art lover or not, Naoshima is an intriguing destination that proves how art itself can rejuvenate communities while still offering an homage to Japan’s traditions and heritage. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, don’t skip out on Naoshima Island.
Looking for more small-town adventures in Japan? Meet Japan’s Cat Island: a purr-fect paradise for cat lovers, and learn about why, for over 300 years, travelers have visited Ibusuki Beach for its sand-bathing health benefits.
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