Naoshima Island is located just off the coast of Japan in the Seto Inland Sea. The island has a European, Mediterranean atmosphere and is a popular destination amongst tourists as a relaxing getaway from nearby Tokyo and Osaka. It was established as an art island mainly by the Benesse Corporation, which oversees art museums, installations and sculptures both on Naoshima and on neighbouring islands.
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- Visa – As a British National I was exempt from requiring a visa to visit Japan for less than 90 days, however, some nationalities will require a visa. For the most up to date information visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – Naoshima is a very safe place to visit.
- Currency – Japanese Yen
- Language – Japanese
To get there from my base in Hiroshima, I boarded the Sanyo Shinkansen train to Okayama, which took around 1 hour, and then from there another JR train to Uno Port Station, which took a further 45 minutes. Once I arrived in Uno Port it’s just a short walk out of the station and across the road to the Port. Try to be mindful of the train arrival and departure times and time them with the ferries if you can, as neither are very regular and it would be a waste of a day to be sitting at a station for 40 minutes just waiting. I used Hyperdia.com to help me do this and you can access the ferry times for Uno Port here, via the Naoshima Island tourism website here.
You can visit Naoshima in a day, albeit a little rushed, but it’s possible. It would have been nice to stay overnight however as a last-minute booking I wasn’t able to find any reasonably priced accommodation on the island so had to make do. If you really would like to stay overnight, plan ahead and try to organise as much in advance as possible. There are several accommodation options available on the island, including guesthouses charging 3000 Yen per night, Ryokans, hotels and even a cottage you can rent for 16,000 Yen per night. The most popular and also most expensive is Benesse House, charging around 32,000 yen per night.
As soon as you arrive head to the tourist information desk and pick up a booklet, which contains everything you need to know about Naoshima Island and making the most fo your visit. It contains a detailed map, bus timetable and list of restaurants, sights and accommodation.
Naoshima Island has three main areas of interest including:
These points of interest sort of make up a triangle across the island, when you arrive by ferry, your first port of call will be Miyanoura, once you’ve explored this area, it’s then time to decide whether you want to head to Honmura or the Museum area first, this will probably be dictated by what you would like to visit, as if you have a day you won’t be able to see all of the sights and galleries and will have to choose just a handful. If you plan on spending the night, then simply he’d to your accommodation, dump your luggage and start exploring.
The Island isn’t huge, and you can walk to all of the different sights and galleries, however, you will be doing a lot of walking and some parts of the island are quite hilly too. Although I did a fair bit of walking throughout the day along the coastline and can highly recommend it, as you will be rewarded with such beautiful picturesque views. If you find yourself getting a little tired just dig out your map, and head to the nearest bus stop for some respite.
A fair number of tourists visiting the island chose to rent a bicycle for the day, as the island is very accessible by bicycle, and can be quicker than waiting for the buses that cross the island, especially if you are just there for the day and eager to visit most of the sites. There are several establishments offering bicycle rental and you should expect to pay between 300-500 Yen for the day.
There is a public bus service which serves the island and links the main sites, although the buses aren’t always very frequent, so you may be waiting some time before your bus arrives. If you don’t plan on renting a bicycle and you’ve had enough of walking for the day, they are a convenient and quick way of getting ton your next destination. Pick up a tourist booklet when you arrive at the port, which contains the bus stops and schedules so you can plan your day and route.
Here’s a sculpture situated just by Uno Port, a taster of what was to come on the artsy island of Naoshima. It was designed and created by Yodogawa Technique, and created in 2018. The sculpture is made of discarded objects and rubbish found in Maniwa prefecture (Okayama, Japan) where the artist was born.
The main sights to see in the Miyanoura include several bold sculptures, such as the Red Pumpkin, Bunraku Puppet and the Naoshima Pavilion. As well as the quirky and beautiful ‘I Love Yu’ Baths.
The Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama is situated just at the port as you arrive in Miyanoura and is a very popular photo opportunity amongst tourists. So much so I struggled to get a shot where there wasn’t another tourist in the frame!
You’ll also find some more sculptures further along the pathway including this bright blue sculpture by Jose De Guimaraes, a Portuguese artist born in 1939.
As well as this interactive wire sculpture by Sou Fujimoto, which you can walk around and inside and appreciate all of the different angles, shapes and shadows it creates.
I Love Yu Bathhouse
This bathhouse is both an art facility and functional bathing area. It was created by artist Shinro Ohtake. This is a close up of one of the facades of the building. You can see the eclectic mix and use of different patterned tiles, and this is really just a snapshot of the entire facility. The whole bathhouse is made up of recycled items, from all over Japan. I didn’t visit inside the bathhouse as I was pressed for time however if you plan to stay overnight I would recommend seeing the inside of this very peculiar and interesting building.
I spent the majority of my day in the Honmura area where the Art House Project and several cafes are situated. There are a total of 7 Art Houses all together and although they are only small and you only spend a few minutes in each they are a short walk apart from one another so time quickly rolled on throughout the day.
Art House Project
Located in the Honmura area, this project involves the restoration and reinvention of vacant houses on the island of Naoshima. The houses were originally built around 400 years ago, seven of which have been remastered by artists each with their own meaning, style and symbolism. Ranging from a ‘sea of time’ in one house ( a pool filled with 125 digital LED lights) and another wooden building, which viewers experience total darkness, and the slow process of eventually finding the light.
They are all within walking distance of one another and can take a couple of hours to visit in total. I would recommend visiting Minamidera first (this is the house of total darkness) as they run 15-minute time slots for visitors and can get booked up quickly. For example, I arrived around mid-morning and couldn’t access my slot until 3pm. You can pay to enter individual houses if you like but you will get a discount if you chose the package to visit all 6, which I would advise doing as they each offer their own unique creativity.
Next, I stopped for some delicious lunch at Seven Islands Iwaos Cafe, enjoying soup, and a tasty bowl of Donburi, in the sunshine of the cafe’s back garden.
After I visited the last House in the Art House Project I set off for the Museum area by foot. It ended up being quite a long walk but there were beautiful scenic views on the way so I highly recommend just taking your time and enjoying the scenery.
Heres some photographs of some of the beautiful coastline on Naoshima Island.
After a long leisurely stroll, I reached the beautiful Yellow Pumpkin. This blog sculpture was what inspired my visit to Naoshima Island, I had never heard of the place before I started spotting this unusual pumpkin in various places on the internet but it piqued my interest. The Yellow Pumpkin is arguable on of Yayoi Kusama’s most famous pieces and often is the symbol of Naoshima Island.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist, born in 1929 her psychedelic work of spots and polka dots vivid colours and these unusual pumpkin sculptures and shapes are her life’s work. Yayoi attributes her on-going work with polkadots to a life changing experience she had as a child when she was in a. field of flowers and they transformed into polka dots and started speaking to her. Ever since she has tried to emulate this experience through her art work, sculptures and various installations. Yayoi Kusama moved to New York in the 1950s meeting and influencing the likes of Donald Judd, Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell, and her art was a part of exciting art developments such as pop art and minimalism.
Before I knew it, it was time to head back to Miyanoura to catch the ferry back to Uno Port. So I saved my legs and caught one of the many buses that circulate the islands back to Miyanoura to catch the ferry home.
If you have more time
I’d recommend visiting the following museums if you do have more time during your trip:
- Lee Ufan Museum
- Chichu Art Museum
- Benesse House Museum
However some of them do have quite expensive admission fees, so do check the official website here, for admission fee information as well as opening and closing times so you can plan your day ahead.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my day trip to Naoshima, and that I have given you some pointers and inspiration for your own visit. If you have any questions or queries I’d love to hear from you
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