It’s just a 20-minute ferry ride from Uno Port near Okayama City to Miyanoura Port on Naoshima, Japan’s art island in the Seto Inland Sea.
There is so much to see and do in Naoshima that I wish could have stayed overnight to continue my adventure the following day. Suffice it to say that the following recommendations are barely scratching the surface of what you can see and do on this uniquely beautiful island in the Setouchi area.
It’s impossible to miss the huge Red Pumpkin welcoming visitors to Naoshima. According to the artist, Yayoi Kusama, a red sunbeam searched the outer reaches of the universe only to metamorphose into a red pumpkin in the sea off Naoshima. Widely acknowledged as one of Japan’s most important living artists, Kusama continues to make modern art that is seriously playful. Go inside the pumpkin and peer through its portholes to watch ferries coming and going. Kids will love it! This is a such a refreshing take on modern art.
Nearby Naoshima Pavilion, created by Sou Fujimoto, appears to be a floating island. However, inside its white shell, the feeling is completely different. From the entrance to the pavilion, I got the feeling that the structure was being reflected on the surface of water. Once inside, its geometric design overwhelmed my senses to the point where I thought the entrance had vanished. Take your time to see what it means to you. If you get a chance, visit the Naoshima Pavilion at night to see it fully illuminated.
Naoshima’s I love yu bathhouse, designed by Shinro Ohtake, is an art installation that doubles as a public bath and was conceived as a place for residents and visitors to interact. This building is ingenious, labyrinthine, and eclectic! It seemed like the height of kitsch at first, but I found it nonetheless intriguing. With all its trinkets and baubles, it looks more like a two dimensional drawing than a building! This bathhouse is very funky. Definitely stop here if you are an anime fan as it looks like a portal to a different world. You may need to bring your own towel and soap, but ask at the front to see if you can purchase them on site.
Behind the public bath, I found a warren of narrow alleyways weaving themselves among neat little houses. This has got to be a remnant of the time when automobiles didn’t exist. Look closely and you’ll find stylish restaurants and bars along the perimeter of this quaint residential area.
With its moderate climate, Naoshima is heaven for cycling enthusiasts. Even if you didn’t bring your own bike to Japan, there are many storefronts just across the road from the port where you can rent regular bikes and E-bikes at reasonable rates.
I wish I had brought a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach while admiring Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin, my personal favorite art installation on Naoshima. You’ll find the yellow pumpkin sitting on a pier nearby the Benesse House Museum. The pumpkin looks like a mysterious creature that washed up on the shore of an alien sea. With black polkadots appearing to circulate underneath the pumpkin’s translucent yellow flesh, I sensed it might role back into the sea at any moment.
Benesse House Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, is a complete joy to walk to from the beach below. As I ascended the hill to the museum, I could hear the sea gently lapping at the beautiful beaches below. The sweeping vistas out to sea are such a welcome sight. Take some time to visit the many art installations that dot the pathway to the museum.
With its extraordinary use of natural light, its huge open spaces and artworks, there is no wonder why Benesse House Museum is considered to be a world-class modern art museum. You have no choice but to take time and think about what is on display here. You will see 2 boats, one yellow and one black, on a distant beach. They will catch your eye either before you enter the museum or once you get inside. When you see them from inside the museum, you will understand their significance. The museum looks as if it is out of a James Bond movie with its stunning views and magnificent architecture. This museum alone is well worth the visit to Naoshima.
This is a fantasy land where the impossible seems possible! Just outside the ANDO MUSEUM, a museum dedicated to the architecture of the brilliant and prolific Tadao Ando, I saw a stone staircase disappearing into the undergrowth of a nearby hillside. Of course it got the better of my curiosity. You’ll want to allow extra time for such diversions on Naoshima.
Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea, with its numerous art installations and natural beauty, is a truly peaceful retreat from the crowded cities of Japan.
I don’t like to waste time waiting, so I was delighted to find two excellent diversions at Uno Port before I boarded my ferry to nearby Shodoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea.
Chinu-the Black Sea Bream of Uno, created by Yodogawa Technique, is a great distraction at the port of Uno. Just walk about 300 meters southeast of the ferry terminal and you can’t miss it. The sculpture, created from empty cans, PET bottles, and other cast-offs from households, is art with a purpose. It is a stark reminder of man’s impact on the world’s oceans.
Finally, if you have an hour or more before you board your next ferry, I highly recommend a visit to the Setouchi Onsen Tamanoyu, especially if your muscles are a bit achy after cycling. The cost of entry to this chic hot spring is quite reasonable, and it is just a 5-minute walk east of the ferry terminal.
Photographs and text by David Ellis