Naoshima: Cycling Japan's Art Island


Naoshima is an island in the Seto inland Sea, famous for its contemporary art and the superb Benesse House Museum. But this island offers an intense surreal experience for more than just the art-oriented...

Okayama to Naoshima

We were staying in Okayama so we gave ourselves time for a day trip before we headed further West.
Naoshima is very easy to reach. From Okayama, take the Uno line (1hr) to Uno and then just buy a ticket to Naoshima at the ticket office - just across from the ferry port (all walking distance). The ferry departs some minutes after the train arrives, leaving ample time to sort out tickets and board. We took the ferry to Miyanoura (20 min).


We went on a hazy but bright day. From the ferry you could already see how tranquil and peaceful the horizon was, and get a sense for what the island might feel like.


Art on the Island

On arriving, we hired some bikes at a shed across from the ferry office. In retrospect I would probably pay a few Yen extra to have a motorbike, since we went uphill a couple of times and it was very hot!

We were handed a map of the island and after getting a rough idea of what we wanted to see, we stopped at the very first location of interest: The Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto.


Naoshima has tons of sculptures and art pieces scattered around the island, but the beauty of it all (aside from their inherent beauty) is that they act as a perfect excuse even for the casual tourist to explore this beautiful island. Most of the pieces can be interacted with. Touched, jumped on...


A couple of famous pieces are by Yayoi Kusama. The picture below is of her Red Pumpkin, but she also had a larger pumpkin on the opposite side of the island. Yayoi is famous for her dotted art. 

There's something to be said about cycling to more remote parts of the island where one can't hear much other than the wind and the sea lapping against the shore, and finding odd large shapes scattered about. This gives the island the feel of an alternative reality or sci-fi location. The shapes are often random pieces of art - and they are huge! I'm not a fan of contemporary art but this whole concept gives Naoshima an eerie feel of surrealism.


Cycling Through the Less-Seen Road

The road towards the Benesse House Museum has some steep slopes but also some of the most rewarding views. We took this road with our bikes and passed clusters upon clusters of old little houses before coming to a high point on the road where we left our bikes and continued afoot.

A good Naoshima Island Map can be found here. We took the road from Miyanoura port (West) towards Chichu Art Museum (South). The views were stunning...



Though the road continued upwards, we decided to descend to the beach. The day was hot and the sun was hitting hard. We simply had to wet our feet.


Museums and Things to See

Naoshima island is home to a handful of art museums including Art House Project, Benesse House Museum, Chichü Art Museum and Lee Ufan Museum. We chose to see Benesse (because it was the only one open on this particular day). It was impressive beyond words.

Entrance to Benesse House
Benesse House Interior. Image from http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/stay/benessehouse/
Interior hall of the Benesse House. Image from http://benesse-artsite.jp/ 


"The Secret of the Sky" by Kan Yasuda in the Benesse House Museum. Image from The Future Perfect 
Teshima Art Museum by Ryue Nishizawa. Photograph by Iwan Baan
Exiting Benesse House, we felt a bizarre sense of calm - not a feeling we're accustomed to associate with museums or galleries.

We made our way around the island to continue exploring the rest of the sculptures.

Another Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin
Three Squares by George Rickey
I would have liked to see more of the sculptures but with the hilly road had taken its toll on us.

After playing with some of the sculptures we hiked back to where our bikes were and slowly made our descent back to civilisation and to Miyanoura port, where we stopped by a 7/11, bought some pre-packed seafood udon soup and promptly boarded our ferry to continue our journey onwards.

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