It’s not every day I’m greeted by a pumpkin. But Naoshima is not an everyday place. As my ferry pulls in, a sunset sky lights up Yayoi Kusama’s ladybug-spotted sculpture and I know my time on this island will be nothing short of magical.
Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island
Naoshima is Japan’s art island. Known for its waterfront pumpkin sculptures, it also has a wealth of other outdoor art and museums mixed in with its old industrial infrastructure and traditional villages.
My boyfriend and I have traveled here from Tokyo via a bullet train to Okayama, a local train to Uno Port, and the aforementioned ferry. After a 6-hour journey we’re ready to be awed by this island in the Seto Inland Sea.
Benesse House Area
And awed we are. Starting at Miyanoura Port, we take in the sunset views and seafront sculptures before making our way to the Benesse House area in the south of the island. There another of Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins sits at the end of a pier, setting a colorful tone for our 2 days here.
There’s a lot to see around Benesse House, from the sculptures along the beach to the architecture of Tadao Ando, who designed the house and Naoshima’s museums.
Up the hill we discover the Benesse House Museum, a beautiful architectural feat with a variety of works from artists like David Hockney, Kan Yasuda, and Richard Long.
Continuing northwest, we come across more outdoor art on the way to the Lee Ufan Museum. It’s another Ando special, and houses a number of Ufan’s works in quiet surroundings.
A short walk brings us to the Chichu Art Museum, which quickly becomes my favorite place in Naoshima. The building, which is built down into the ground, shows Ando at his finest. From the lines and spaces to light and shadows, never before have I loved a building (or concrete) so much.
The art is impressive, too. From Claude Monet to James Turrell, it houses a cross-section of periods and styles.
From the Chichu Art Museum we take a quick shuttle ride to the Honmura Area. Located on Naoshima’s east coast, this place is bursting with art and sculpture.
We start by exploring the Art House Project, a series of traditional village houses and spaces that have been taken over and transformed by artists.
We also visit the Ando Museum, which is in another converted village home. Dedicated to the architect, who has been designing buildings on Naoshima for over 25 years, this small space gives an overview of his life, career, and work. By the time we’re done, I’m completely obsessed with his genius.
Outside the houses, we walk around the village, stopping for lunch at a cafe and exploring Honumra’s temple and shrine. It’s inspiring to see art mixing seamlessly with everyday life in the local area.
By the time we’ve explored all the museums and taken in the open-air sculptures, it’s time to board the ferry and leave Naoshima. It’s hard to say good-bye to this magical art island, but I’m glad we’ve had 2 days to explore its highlights.
I would love to return someday and see more art on the neighboring islands, which have joined Naoshima in reinventing themselves as creative havens. But for now I’m off to Kyoto, where more magic awaits…
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