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:
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.
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.
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.