Japan, home to nearly a 10th of the world population, has long been praised as a powerhouse for scientific and technological advancement; the country as a whole is t immediately associated with its Tokyo skyline, the populous capital that seems to be bursting at the seams with 21st century ambition. But the archipelago has just as much – if not more – to offer within the artistic realm. Naoshima, a small Southern island in the Kagawa District off the Seto Inland Sea is a monument to the visual arts in its own rite. Despite its geographical seclusion, the town demonstrates an astounding assemblage of artistic influence from across the globe; with a population just above 3,000 the, lone island boasts numerous contemporary art museums, galleries, a temperate climate and spectacular natural scenery that make the hundred-year-old settlement an ideal modern day escape. Minimal concrete architecture is the perfect accent to Naoshima’s luscious foliage and dramatic waterfront in this surreal retreat from the hustle and bustle of an otherwise fast-paced Japan. There’s a lot to do in Naoshima, but here are a couple things you should be sure to check off your list:


Benesse House

If you do nothing else on the island of Naoshima, make sure you get a look at this celebrated contemporary art collection and architectural masterpiece. Designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando, Benesse House could quite possibly be considered the “crown jewel” of Naoshima (although the Benesse Corporation is responsible for funding most of the island’s artistic facilities). Four buildings – Museum, Oval, Park, and Beach –are meant to convey the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture.” Take in stunning seaside views while you explore work from contemporary Japanese artists alongside greats like Michelangelo, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenburg, Cy Twombly, David Hockney, and Bruce Nauman. The facility combines their world-class museum with a top-of-the-line hotel to match for the travel experience of your dreams. Speaking of which, guests of the Benesse House Museum hotel get 24 hour access to the collection. That’s right, you could be standing inches away from an Andy Warhol in your PJs. Each of the distinct guest rooms offers unbeatable waterfront views, too – that is, if you can pry yourself from your room. You could be sleeping under Sol LeWitt’s Forms Derived from a Cube in Color I/II since each room is decorated with genuine works by the artists in the Benesse collection. And if that’s too close for comfort, Benesse’s three other buildings — oval, park, and beach — offer outstanding views of the island’s natural beauty separate from the exhibition space. While there may be cheaper accommodations available on Naoshima, there is no doubt that Benesse is well worth the cost; from exclusive access to the island’s main attraction to distinguished Japanese hospitality, the picturesque stay is the ultimate indulgence for the avid traveler or lover of the arts.


Art House Project

Seven former homes scattered throughout the residential areas of Naoshima have been transformed into works of art in this truly unique series that merges architecture with contemporary art in an effort to focus on ordinary people in daily life and the endurance of change over time. Leisurely stroll between buildings like Tatsuo Miyajima, a 200-year-old house restored in 1998 with the help of locals, all the way to Kinza, a centennial home that was transformed using traditional techniques into an artwork that must be entered one-at-a-time. The Art House Project provides an insightful glimpse at the indigenous community through the grace and elegance of modern design, made minimally to reflect a classic Japanese aesthetic. Since each structure has a unique story and character, it’s worth getting a multi-ticket (good for six of the seven) and visit as many as you can.


Naoshima Bathhouse

Created by artist Shinro Ohtake, this interactive installation provides a place for residents to rejuvenate as well as an artistic platform for exchange between visitors and locals. Ohtake’s “I♥湯” is a public bathhouse that encourages complete engagement between viewer and artwork, even between viewer and viewer. The playfully decorated interior and exterior extend beyond the walls to mosaics and even toilet fittings in this eclectic piece that epitomizes the art world today.


Get Around

Since Naoshima has such a small footprint, it would be possible (although exhausting) to walk from one end of the island to the other. But an even better way to enjoy the unbeatable views countless destinations is by bike; there are numerous places throughout town to rent one for as little as $5 a day, and it sure beats the wait for a bus. Take the scenic route through Naoshima’s quiet neighborhoods while you take in a landscape of vibrant fresh growth beside the serene waters of the Seto Inland Sea.




Despite the numerous museums and sights-to-see, very little about Naoshima feels inauthentic or “tourist-y.” It’s hard to find a restaurant (and even harder to order) if you only speak English, and you definitely won’t be able to fall back on Western favorites like a burger and fries. You can always eat at the Benessee House, but there are plenty of offerings for the adventurous foodie, unafraid of a non-descript storefront, like Yamamoto’s Udon. Veg out on delicious noodles made right before your eyes as you sit surrounded by hungry locals in this town favorite.
If you need a Tempura fix, head over to New Olympia. It’s hard to go wrong since the counter serves some of the best seafood on Naoshima, but pointing to your menu choice is generally the best way to overcome any language barrier. For a sugar fix, head to Iwata’s confectionary shop where you can find an array drool-worthy Japanese style sweets and gifts to bring back home.  Image courtesy of I am a food blog.


    string(13) "Lizzie Wright"
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​Lizzie Wright is an aspiring artist and designer with a passion for the written word. While she works on her BFA in Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she spends her (rare) spare time riding around Providence on her trusty Cannondale and drinking lots of coffee. She is especially fascinated by the dichotomy between aesthetic form and function, which has an immense influence on her work. As a lover of the natural world, Lizzie plans to focus on Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies to pursue a more efficient future for design. Read more by visiting her website

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