Naoshima: Cycling Japan's Art Island

13 Mar 2020

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-lovers...

It's a hazy but bright day. From the ferry we can already see how tranquil and peaceful the horizon is, giving us a sense for what the island might feel like. The sea is a strange blue, deeper, and it has no waves. Is this real life or are we in a dream?

Art on the Island

On arriving, we hire some bikes at a shed across from the ferry office. This will later turn out to be a big mistake. There are some big hills in Naoshima, and today is... well, "scorchio!" We should have gone for motorised bikes (you can prebook yours online here)

Never mind. Map in hand, we're off.

Our first stop is nearby: The Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto.

Naoshima has tons of sculptures and art pieces scattered around the island, but what's great about it (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, even.

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. Suffering from hallucinations from a young age, she used art as a release. Her work is now known the world-over.

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. As we do this, and without warning, we find 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 that I am finding alluring.

Cycling Around Naoshima

The road towards the Benesse House Museum has steep slopes but also some of the most rewarding views. We take this road with our bikes and pass clusters upon clusters of old little houses before coming to a high point on the road where we leave our bikes and continue 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 continues upwards, we decide to descend to the beach. The day is hot, after all, and the sun is hitting hard. We simply have to get at least our feet wet.

What to do in Naoshima

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

I did not take any pictures inside. The atmosphere was so calming that we wanted to immerse ourselves. The following images are from

Exiting Benesse House, we feel a bizarre sense of calm - not a feeling we're accustomed to associating with museums or galleries.

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

Another Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin:

Three Squares by George Rickey:

These ones reflect the brightness of the sky and sway to and fro with the wind.

I would have liked to see more of the sculptures but the hilly road has taken its toll on us.

After playing with some of the sculptures we hike back to our bikes and slowly make our descent back to civilisation and to Miyanoura port. Here we stop by a 7-eleven, buy some pre-packed seafood udon soup and promptly board our ferry to continue our journey onwards.

As we sip on our hot convenience-store meal and stare out into the Seto Inland Sea I think to myself, 'today was a good day'.

How to get to Naoshima Island

We did Naoshima as a day trip from Okayama. Naoshima is very easy to reach from there. 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).

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