Located in Kagawa Prefecture amidst the calm Seto Inland Sea is Teshima, a small island known across the globe as one of the venues of Japan’s most important art festival, the Setouchi Triennale. Blessed with flourishing agriculture, the island offers a model of life where artworks coexist with abundant nature, beautifully integrated into the landscapes of rural villages and untouched scenery. Through the interweaving of these elements, Teshima gifted me the opportunity to reflect upon the true meaning of grandeur and allowed me to spend an enriching day among the locals while remembering all those key values that busy modern people tend to forget!

Embrace a Way of Life Centered on Well-Being at Setouchi Art Island, Teshima

Spreading before my eyes was nothing but a picture-perfect seascape. I had just boarded the ferry to Teshima, a tiny island measuring only 14.5㎢ in between Kagawa Prefecture and Okayama Prefecture. The clear day had given the panorama a serene tinge, making the water surface glisten like a mirror, as perfectly blue as one could expect from Japan’s tranquil Seto Inland Sea. From the ferry window, I could see the silhouette of the art island grow closer.

On Teshima, the sea is an ever-present backdrop, a comforting traveling companion visible from the nooks and crannies and beyond the charming townscapes. Emanating a sense of calm that extends to the villages themselves, the peaceful Seto Inland Sea seemed to be able to encourage a slow-paced way of life that quickly rejuvenated my mind and souls as soon as I set foot on the island. This ability to take care of people’s wellness is no newly acquired skill and is rooted in Teshima’s history. Pioneering welfare facilities such as infant homes, special nursing homes for the elderly, and support centers for people with disabilities established on the island when it still was ahead of time earned it the nickname of “Island of Welfare.”

After disembarking at the mesmerizing Ieura village, I decided to rent a bike at the port and go for a tour of the surroundings first. Rewarded by glimpses of that soothing lifestyle the island is renowned for, I ventured down tiny passageways, then along the sparkling seaside, taking in retro marine sights made of small boats floating on the emerald sea in hidden inlets and fishing nets spread open under the sun.

Pure curiosity and a series of heart-warming scenes of daily life and natural beauty guided me across the village. Everyday scenes of the locals, including an elderly man picking fruit directly from his garden with his cats, gifted me a contagious happiness that stayed with me the entire day.

Feel Happiness While Relishing Abundant Nature and Thriving Local Produce

The sunny, temperate climate is the secret to the bountiful nature of Teshima. The island has long been sustained by a rich fishing ground as well as large amounts of springwater. Welling up on Mt. Danyama, these water sources provide ample amounts of drinking water and even support rice farming and cultivation since ancient times.

The more I explored the island, the more I noticed the cheerful colors from multitudes of different orchards dotting it.

The abundance of local specialties includes olives which are an unusual produce in Japan and are used on Teshima to make olive oil, ice cream, pickles, and more, as well as famed citrus fruits from the Setouchi region and even strawberries that can be enjoyed fresh or as jam.

Another valuable resource found on Teshima comes from the sea, as the island produces “nori” seaweed so delicate it is said to melt in your mouth. The area is also known for its “somen,” thin and long noodles made from wheat flour, with the sunny and dry winter creating the perfect climate for the production. Finally, fire-resistant Teshima tuff has also been processed on the island since the Muromachi period (1338 – 1573) and became a Teshima export that has been used in famous landmarks such as Kyoto’s Katsura Imperial Villa, Okayama’s Korakuen Garden, and Takamatsu’s Ritsurin Garden.

Immerse Yourself in A Community-Revitalizing Art Project With Setouchi Triennale

Ryo Abe [Shima Kitchen] Photo: Osamu Nakamura

Breathtaking glimpses of nature weren’t the only thing I stopped to admire during my cycling tour of Teshima. Along the way, the eye-catching figures of numerous artworks caught my attention multiple times, taking the forms of bold art pieces entwined together with traditional houses, installations interwoven with the scenery, and hidden structures rising gently out of the ground as an expression of the revitalizing art project of the Setouchi Triennale, held right at the time of my visit to Teshima.

In recent years, many of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea risked being labeled as remote places, with their entire history reduced to the word “depopulation,” even though they originally functioned as a major artery of transportation on a trade route where economic and cultural exchanges thrived since ancient times. Fairly untouched by modernization, these islands still retain the original landscape of the region as well as a distinctive way of life inherited from the past and lost elsewhere. To sustain this invaluable culture and leave a powerful message to modern society, the Setouchi Triennale was started in 2010.

Noe Aoki [Particles in the Air / Karato] Photo: Osamu Nakamura

Since becoming one of the venues of the Setouchi Triennale in 2010, Teshima has attracted numerous visitors from Japan and abroad. Permanent museums and exhibitions can be visited at any time, but the actual art festival is held every three years. Lasting 8 months and with 3 sessionsーspring, summer, and autumnー the Setouchi Triennale let visitors living in urban, overpopulated areas reunite with nature and rediscover the beauty and culture of Teshima.

Scattered around Teshima, these attractive works of contemporary art have the purpose of drawing out the charm of the island while leaving the spotlight on its rich environment and its people. As locals get to talk about their own stories and about the history of Teshima while greeting visitors, the energy derived from these interactions not only sparks new vitality in the community, but also showcases the value of the diverse way of life unique to the island.

Reflect Upon the Concept of “Life and Death” at Teshima Yokoo House, a Former Private Residence Turned Into a Museum

Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto / Teshima Yokoo House

Interesting insights about the evolution of daily life on the island after the introduction of art into its cultural landscape were given to me by the next museum I visited, Teshima Yokoo House.
Renovated and altered by the work of artist Tadanori Yokoo and architect Yuko Nagayama, the museum is located in the picturesque Ieura village and now houses eleven works of art that are divided into three different exhibition areas: “Main House,” “Warehouse,” and “Outhouse.”

Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto / Teshima Yokoo House

Although similar to other wooden structures on the island, Teshima Yokoo House exhibits its uniqueness right from its facade with the use of tinted glass that evoke a sense of marvel and curiosity at the same time, letting me wonder what was behind as I was about to enter the museum.

Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto / Teshima Yokoo House

I felt completely immerse in the otherworldly atmosphere of the museum when I entered my favorite part of the house, the rock garden, as it was an unusual yet enthralling mix of traditional elements and contemporary art and it reminded me of classic Japanese gardens but with a twist.

Celebrate the Joy of Life at Teshima Art Museum Where Art, Architecture, and Nature Come Together

Photo: Noboru Morikawa / Teshima Art Museum

The first museum completed on Teshima in 2010 was the minimalist yet awe-inspiring Teshima Art Museum, where I arrived after cycling along marvelous rice fields and roads facing the open sea. Leaving our bikes behind, I ventured along the path leading to the entrance of the museum, a shell of concrete reminiscent of the shape of a water droplet that rose from the ground. The long approach allowed me to slowly surrender to the sensations emanated by Teshima’s great nature.

Photo: Ken’ichi Suzuki / Teshima Art Museum

The vision for this place of extreme calm and harmony where architecture, art, and nature feel as though they are deeply interconnected, was born from the creative collaboration between renowned artist Rei Naito and Pritzker prize-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa who crafted a one-of-a-kind experience that stimulated my senses.

Barefoot and cocooned in silence, as nor shoes nor chatting are allowed, I passed through a narrow entrance and walked further inside the concrete shell, suddenly transported to a vast space devoid of pillars measuring up to 40×60 meters in length and 4.3 meters in height where two large openings framed portions of sky and exposed me to the wind, sounds, and light coming from the outside world. No real distinction is set between the interior and the exterior, the environment and the architecture, letting me fall into a strange feeling of reverence in front of the spectacle of nature mysteriously flooding into the room.

Inside is Rei Naito’s artwork known as “Matrix” where, similarly to a fountain, Teshima’s water is gently released into droplets from underground throughout the day. I sat down to admire the artwork, mesmerized by the atmosphere I felt as if the museum was a place meant to celebrate the joy of life on earth.

Learn About the Island’s Ancient Rice Cultivation Culture With the Terraced Rice Fields Project

Right after my visit at Teshima Art Museum, I couldn’t help but stop my cycling tour again at the magnificent view of sprawling rice terraces cascading down to the glittering water of the sea. Although rice cultivation was rarely possible on other islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Teshima enjoyed it since ancient times. Nurtured by the abundance of water sources and fertile terrain, rice fields have long been a valuable part of the island’s history as well as a source of pride for the locals.

With the passing of time, Teshima’s distinctive rice fields were left in a state of neglect, but the opening of the Setouchi Triennale and Teshima Art Museum in 2010 gave the opportunity to bring some of the fields back to their original beauty. Charmed by the contrast between the deep blue sea and golden harvested rice, I appreciated listening to the locals telling about how they managed to restore that alluring landscape, turning it into a symbol of the island’s revitalization.

Today, the terraced rice fields of Teshima are carefully maintained through the “Terraced Rice Fields Project.”In a collective effort that involves the government as well as various foundations and associations, the community takes care of the reclaimed land, grows fruit and vegetables where rice cultivation is not possible anymore, and even mows or plants flowers in those areas where farming is impossible, making sure not to lose this culture ever again.

Taste Locally-Sourced Meals Thoughtfully Prepared by Teshima’s Moms at Shima Kitchen

Ryo Abe [Shima Kitchen]

My enriching day on Teshima concluded a couple of kilometers on the bike later when I arrived at Shima Kitchen, a traditional vacant house that was renovated in 2010 by architect Ryo Abe as part of the Setouchi Triennale and turned into a welcoming restaurant designed to bring people together through art and food. Shima Kitchen not only distinguishes itself by serving locally-sourced ingredients and island specialties like fresh vegetables and seafood, but also by having local moms act as the chefs.

The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, with the latter being under the curved patio specially designed by architect Ryo Abe and perfect to enjoy the island’s lovely climate and nature. Indoor seating is usually for customers who ordered one of the restaurant’s special sets. As I did so in advance, I was able to grab a window table that provided ample views of the quaint scenery outside and, while I waited for my order to arrive, I enjoyed the warm sunshine and the restaurant’s ensemble of homey details and airy spaces facing greenery.

The two special sets arrived brimming with the colors and flavors of Teshima and presenting an array of mouth-watering produce. Showcasing some of the island’s best delicacies, the “Shima Kitchen Set” included a fish plate so perfectly fried that it was a balanced mouthful of tenderness and crunchiness. The “Keema Curry Set” features a slightly spicy curry that enhances the premium taste of the seasonal vegetables selected to complement the dish. Both sets were adorned with fresh vegetables, salad, and pickles. Particularly satisfying was the soup, a classic bowl of miso soup complemented by sweet chunks of Japanese pumpkin!

Enjoy a Day in the Life of Japan’s Art Island, Teshima

Blessed with abundant nature and mild climate, Teshima offers spectacular views of the sea and thriving farming fields that are enriched by meaningful works of contemporary art. By exploring the island’s artistic heritage, I got to spend a day among the locals, discovering the beauty of local food and traditions that gave me the chance to reflect upon the true meaning of grandeur.

Access: How to Get to Teshima Island
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