When in Kagawa: Naoshima and Teshima – Visiting Japan’s Art Islands in the Seto Inland Sea

Situated on the Seto Inland Sea, the rural islands of Naoshima and Teshima have been heralded as a mandatory pilgrimage by many contemporary art lovers. Home to creative museums and quaint art districts, the islands also play host to the Setouchi Art Triennale which takes place every three years.

naoshima-yayoi-kusama-yellow-pumpkin

While Yayoi Kusama’s wildly iconic Yellow Pumpkin sculpture has captured the attention (and cameras) of more casual explorers, it is certainly not the only reason Naoshima and Teshima should be included on your itinerary if you are travelling around Kagawa!

Check out my other posts around Hiroshima:

Tips for Travelling to Japan’s Art Islands

Transport to and from the art islands is strictly by ferry or high speed boat, and you can catch one from Uno or Takamatsu ports (with the former making a shorter commute). The ferry itself is pretty roomy and comfortable, with vending machines and seats aplenty.

naoshima-and-teshima-ferry

Ferries to Teshima are pretty infrequent; if you are making a day trip from Okayama (where I stayed), your best bets for visiting the most spots on the island are to take the 8.30am or 11.10am ferries from Uno port. The ferry schedule is more accommodating for Naoshima, though, with ferries leaving almost every hour.

naoshima-and-teshima-ferry

naoshima-and-teshima-ferry

Once on the islands, it is important to take note of the island’s bus schedules, as it can be as infrequent as one bus every hour. Another way to traverse the islands at your own pace, is to rent an electric bicycle to conquer those unforgiving mountainside slopes – or simply stay overnight! From luxe hotels to even Mongolian yurts, Naoshima has no shortage of accommodation options.

teshima-neighbourhood

Exploring Teshima 

The highlight of Teshima Island is the eponymous Teshima Art Museum, which houses a single artwork by Rei Naito. Walking up a path through the forest, you are surrounded by tranquil sounds of birds chirping, until you arrive at a concrete structure shaped like a teardrop.

Spend a couple of hours if you can inside the dome, and appreciate the truly sublime experience of hearing those forest sounds echo throughout the minimalist space as you contemplate the views of the forest and sky through the holes in the roof, and the ever so slight movement of water droplets across the porous, waxy floor. As with most other museums, photography is not permitted, and visitors are encouraged to be silent in the echoey-space.

teshima-museum

“Matrix” by Rei Naito

teshima-island

View of the rice paddies from Teshima Art Museum

Teishima Art Museum gift shop and cafe

Teishima Art Museum gift shop and cafe

Address: 607 Teshimakarato, Tonosho, Shozu District, Kagawa Prefecture 761-4662
Google Maps
Admission: ¥1, 540 (free for children aged 15 years and under)
Opening Hours:
1 Mar – 31 Oct: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4.30pm)
1 Nov – 28/29 Feb: 10am – 4pm (last admission 3.30pm)
Closed on Tuesdays (1 Mar – 30 Nov) and Tuesday to Thursday (1 Dec – 28/29 Feb)
Open on national holidays but closed the next day.
Open on Tuesdays when Monday falls on a national holiday but closed the next day. 
Website

Another museum I could not miss was Les Archives du Coeur, a fairly remote place located on the far end of a beach. Without any buses servicing this area, your only options are to walk to cycle in absolute solitude from Karato Port, with nothing but the sounds of the beach (and perhaps your travelling companions) accompanying you on your journey.

teshima-les-archives-du-coeur

Entrance to Les Archives du Coeur

Like Teshima Art Museum, Les Archives du Coeur houses a single installation, which consists of a room that is lit up in time with an ear pounding, looped track of heartbeat recordings made by previous visitors. Something about visiting this unassuming hut-like building, with nothing but the beach and the sea surrounding it, made me feel rather isolated from the rest of the world, yet also connected with those who had chosen to record their heartbeat.

The installation itself is pretty small and dark, though you can spend more time searching up other recordings at computer terminals. The recording process is pretty quick, and you get two attempts to record your “best” heartbeat, along with your personal details and a message for whoever stumbles across your personal archive. Looking through the archive, there are apparently two other installations where you can similarly listen to and record your heartbeat.

teshima-les-archives-du-coeur

teshima-island

Address: 2801 Teshimakarato, Tonosho, Shozu District, Kagawa Prefecture 761-4662
Google Maps
Admission: ¥510 (free for children aged 15 years and under, ¥1,540 for admission with recording and CD booklet)
Opening Hours:
1 Mar – 31 Oct: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4.30pm)
1 Nov – 28/29 Feb: 10am – 4pm (last admission 3.30pm)
Closed on Tuesdays (1 Mar – 30 Nov) and Tuesday to Thursday (1 Dec – 28/29 Feb)
Open on national holidays but closed the next day.
Open on Tuesdays when Monday falls on a national holiday but closed the next day.
Website

As I did not have much time to explore other places, Teshima Yokoo House was my last stop for the day. Consisting of three spaces – a warehouse, main house, and outhouse that each house (ha) their own collection of vivid, kooky artworks, this is a pretty quirky one to stop by before hopping on the ferry back from Ieura Port.

teshima-yokoo-house

The swash of red tinted glass will play on your visual perception in more ways than one.

Address: 2359 Teshimaieura, Tonosho, Shozu District, Kagawa Prefecture 761-4661
Google Maps
Admission:¥510 (free for children aged 15 years and under)
Opening Hours:
1 Mar – 31 Oct: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4.30pm)
1 Nov – 28/29 Feb: 10am – 4pm (last admission 3.30pm)
Closed on Tuesdays (1 Mar – 30 Nov) and Tuesday to Thursday (1 Dec – 28/29 Feb)
Open on national holidays but closed the next day.
Open on Tuesdays when Monday falls on a national holiday but closed the next day.
Website

Recommended 1-Day Itinerary for Teshima 

Considering the amount of time it took to travel between stops, I would highly recommend you take the 8.30am ferry just to buy yourself the morning to explore the works around the Ieura district, before lunch at Shima Kitchen (which I unfortunately missed), and then on to spend a couple of hours at Teshima Art Museum), before heading out to Les Archives du Coeur and calling it a day at Karato port.

Exploring Naoshima 

There’s just so much to explore at Naoshima that one day would not suffice. After all, you would not want your time at each museum to be limited by the bus and ferry schedules!

Recommended 1-Day Itinerary for Naoshima  

Before hopping on the bus to the Art House Project, spend a little time around Miyanoura Port to check out two interactive sculptures: Yayoi Kusama’s Red Pumpkin and Sou Fujimoto’s Naoshima Pavilion. Both are free to enter and make for a great photo spot on the island!

naoshima-yayoi-kusama-red-pumpkin

Yayoi Kusama’s Red Pumpkin

naoshima-pavillion

Naoshima Pavilion

Next, hop on the bus to the Art House Project located in Honmura district. There are plenty of lunch options and you can easily cover the art houses in under two hours if you spend your time wisely.

Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin is located along the shore from Tsutsuji-so, the last stop on the Naoshima Town Bus. Head out and snap your photo with the iconic pumpkin, before taking the Benesse Artiste Naoshima Shuttle to the Benesse House Area.

Start with Chi Chu Museum, before making your way down to Lee Ufan Museum or Benesse House Museum (whichever time permits). Overnight guests can leave Benesse House Museum for last, which opens till 9pm. Though if you are staying in the Honmura and Miyanoura districts, you would need to be mindful of when the last town bus leaves from Tsutsuji-so stop!

naoshima-yayoi-kusama-yellow-pumpkin

Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin Sculpture

Exploring Naoshima 

Compared to Teshima, Naoshima is somewhat livelier with more infrastructure, such as accommodation and transport, catered to visitors.

The Naoshima Art House Project in Honmura District should be the first stop on your list. The art house project is essentially a group of abandoned houses, workshops, and even a dentist’s office transformed into galleries by various artists. The installations scattered around this otherwise private and unassuming neighbourhood, have come to embody the idea of bringing art to your doorstep, with your multi-site pass functioning as a stamp collection of sorts as you complete your route.

naoshima-art-house-project

Haisha, the former home office of a dentist which now houses sculptures by Otake Shinro, which can be viewed from different levels.

My personal favourite art house is Minamidera, which houses James Turrell’s Backside of the Moon, a sublime piece that has to be “seen” to be believed.

Do note Minamidera admits a maximum of 15 people every 15 minutes, and a queue ticket may be required to enter on busy days. Otherwise, you can always chill over a cuppa at a cafe around the corner.

Kinza, which houses another piece by Rei Naito, only takes reservation for single person 15 minute slots from Friday to Sunday. Reserve your slot here for ¥510.

naoshima-art-house-project

Go’o Shrine, an old Shinto shrine whose underground chamber you can access from a side entrance.

Admission: ¥1,030 for multi-site ticket, ¥410 for single-site ticket, excluding Kinza 
Opening Hours: 
10am – 4.30pm (last admission for Mindamidera at 4.15pm) 
Website

The Chi Chu Museum houses several works by internationally renowned artists such as James Turrell and Claude Monet. Designed by famed architect Tadao Andao (whose other works can be found scattered across the Benesse House Area), this museum is the true definition of art as space.

Visitors are taken on a pilgrimage that marries modern art with the very environment it is in. To preserve the natural facade of Naoshima, the museum was built underground, with a series of different-shaped holes meandering around the hilly surface. What you get, then, are disparate pockets of natural light that play on your perception of space, as you move from one gallery to the next.

One particular work by Walter de Maria, is a sublime piece that takes up the entirety of its underground gallery. Have fun figuring out how the museum managed to fit its impossibly large sculpture in the center!

While you can complete a full tour of Chi Chu Museum within 1.5 hours, there are just some works you can’t resist revisiting. You can also stay for a sunset viewing of James Turrell’s Open, Sky, aptly titled Night Program with a reservation.

naoshima-chichu-museum

Starting late this year, visitors are required to make an online reservation to enter Chi Chu Museum, so make sure you’ve spaced your visits properly to get there on time!

Address: 3 4 4 9 – 1(Other), Naoshima, Kagawa District, Kagawa Prefecture 761-3110
Google Maps
Admission:¥2,060 (free for children aged 15 years and under)
Buy online tickets here
Opening Hours:
1 Mar – 30 Sept: 10am 6pm (last admission 5pm)
1 Oct – 28/29 Feb: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)
Closed on Mondays.
Open on Mondays for national holidays but closed the next day.
Website

Lee Ufan Museum, which houses exclusive works by the Korean minimalist artist of the same name, is probably one of the more polarising sites on Naoshima. Featuring sculptures and wall paintings of a somewhat repetitive theme, it is here that the presentation of the content is almost as important as the content itself. Whether or not the works are worth the admission ticket, is entirely up to you.

naoshima-lee-ufan-museum

Address: 〒761-3110 Kagawa Prefecture, 香川郡直島町字倉浦1390
Google Maps
Admission:¥1,030 (free for children aged 15 years and under)
Opening Hours:
1 Mar – 30 Sept: 10am 6pm (last admission 5.30pm)
1 Oct – 28/29 Feb: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4.30pm)
Closed on Mondays.
Open on Mondays for national holidays but closed the next day.
Website

The largest collection of artworks can perhaps be found at Benesse House Museum, a hotel and art museum combined that overlooks the Seto Inland Sea. Also designed by Tadao Ando, the museum not only houses contemporary pieces by the likes of Andy Warhol in its indoor premises, but also the surrounding beaches. If you are staying overnight and are looking to fill time after the other museums have closed, you can spend a leisurely couple of hours strolling amongst the expansive collection at Benesse House.

naoshima-benesse-house

naoshima-benesse-house

Address: 〒761-3110 Kagawa Prefecture, Kagawa District, 直島町琴弾地
Google Maps
Admission:¥1,030 (free for children aged 15 years and under, and overnight guests at Benesse House)
Opening Hours:
8am – 9pm daily (last admission 8pm)
Website

Eating Around Naoshima 

There is no shortage of food around Naoshima at different price points. Aside from picking up an onigiri or bento from the 7-Eleven opposite Uno port, you can also dine in comfort at Benesse House’s cafe and restaurant, both of which serve up delectable Western and Japanese dishes that are beautifully plated.

naoshima-benesse-house
Restaurant Issen Opening Hours:
Breakfast: 7.30am – 9.30am
Lunch: 11.30am – 2.30pm (last order 2pm)
Dinner: 6pm – 7.30pm or 8pm – 9.45pm 
Website

Museum Cafe Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm (last order 4.30pm)
Website

Otherwise, you’ll also stumble across decent, homemade grub at the smattering of mom and pop cafes in the Honmura district! Apron Cafe is a highly recommended one that has a menu that is supposedly designed by a certified nutritionist, with local farmed ingredients to complete your meal.

naoshima-apron-cafe

Address:〒761-3110 Kagawa Prefecture, 香川郡直島町 778
Google Maps
Opening Hours:
Monday to Wednesday: 11am – 4pm
Thursday to Sunday: 11am – 3.30pm  
Contact: 
makico.endo@gmail.com
Facebook/ Instagram

Final Thoughts on Japan’s Art Islands 

As someone who enjoys viewing contemporary art from time to time, my trips to Naoshima and Teshima were once in a life experiences that left me invigorated for the subsequent days back in downtown Hiroshima.

Because these are fairly rural islands that are themselves home to roughly four thousand people collectively, one does not simply hop on a ferry and expect to “wing it”. While time does seem to slow down on the art islands, it certainly does not stop and wait for the inefficient visitor (i.e. me). Despite pretty prudent planning on my end, I did run into a few hiccups here and there when I allowed myself too much time at a particular place, which led me to miss a crucial bus ride to the port (and having to wait an additional hour for the journey back).

There are certainly no shortage of visitors to Naoshima and Teshima all year round, especially with the widespread of works like Yayoi Kusama’s among the contemporary art community.  Guides are available in English, Mandarin, and Korean. Having said that, the location of certain galleries and artworks in residential neighbourhoods on both islands, made me feel like a visitor to an otherwise private space.

What I really loved about Naoshima and Teshima, which I have not personally seen in many other art spaces, is the marriage of art and space. Rather than placing the artworks strategically for optimal viewing, the space was art itself, and it felt like visitors like myself were participating in this unadulterated interaction between artist and viewer.

While the no-cameras rule did make me itch whenever a great photo opportunity presented itself in the museums, I kind of understand where the curators are coming from. With all that jostling going on at the outdoor sculptures, one can only imagine the flurry of cameras and smartphones that might have emerged in the galleries themselves. Without digital devices (or that need to get the perfect selfie) to distract us, there’s little else except yourself and the art you are trying to appreciate and understand – a rare occurrence in this digitally obsessed age.

Honestly speaking, the works are most impactful when encountering them for the first time. And, though I am guilty of this, I do feel scrolling through one too many social feeds or review sites can diminish that impact. So, don’t spoil yourself or your friends; go see the works of Naoshima and Teshima for yourself.

Useful links:
Naoshima Ferry Schedule
Naoshima Map
Naoshima Island Bus Schedule

Teshima Ferry and Island Bus Schedule
Teshima Map

(Information accurate as of November 2018.) 

chueonit. 

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