Before living in Japan I never heard about Naoshima. On the other hand, once I arrived here people started to recommend me to visit Naoshima as it’s a must see for any modern art lover. Now cause I did it, I can say I have no regret. The place simply filled my heart with more joy and inner peace.
If you never heard about Naoshima until the early ’90s it makes a lot of sense, as it was only a tiny sleepy island like many others across Japan. But thanks to a Japanese businessman vision, this thing has changed and the 14 km2 island has been tranformed into an art heaven . Today it’s very well known across Japan but also around the world.
Naoshima is situated in the Seto Inland Sea, only a few kilometeres away from the main island of Honshu and the city of Uno. It is relatively easy accesible and most important, once you arrive there, you feel you’re in a different world. It has a special charm which cannot be described in words and the only way to see and feel it, is by going in person. You have to immerse yourself into the time & space, into that borderless dimension. That’s how you’ll understand the power and beauty of art.
Without any further introduction, let me tell you how to spend two amazing days in the beautiful island of Naoshima. And yes, you did read right, as you need to allocate two full days to trully enjoy the island and not only one. I know many people come only for one day, stop to the famous Chichu Art Museum, take some pictures with the Yayoi Kusama’s famous pumpkin and go back. But there’s a lot more to see and explore. So don’t get trapped and do what others don’t dare to do, visit the real Naoshima!
You can divide Naoshima into three main areas and prepare your visit accordingly. Miyanoura Port is the place where you’ll most probably arrive first if you’re coming from Uno by ferry. This is the most frequented port of the island and a good place to stay overnight. At a first glance, you may have the impression there is not much going on here, but there are some hidden spots not many don’t knows about it.
Once you step out the ferry, you will be able to see the three outside works: the Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, the Naoshima Pavilion by Sao Fujimoto and the Bunraku Puppet by Jose de Guimaraes. Try to see them during the day and night, as they will look completely different. During the day they may look quite static, but in the night are all covered in lights. Don’t miss a visit inside the red pumpkin and the pavilion during the night, when the lights create a magical athmosphere.
Once you’ll start exploring the island, you will see frogs everywhere. Not real ones, but small pieces of art places in the most uncommon places. However, if you’d like to see many in one place, check out the frog house. It is only a 5-10 minutes walk from the main port, so keep left while passing the cemetery and you’ll find this lovely place. There was nobody there around 8am, so I had the entire place for myself!
Naoshima Bath I ❤ Yu
After a long day on the island Naoshima Bath is the place you’ll want to end your day with. Created by the artist Shinro Ohtake this is a fully operational public bath and an art museum itself. Again, go and have a look during the day and during the night, as the outside looks completely different when the lights are on. Inside you will be surprised of seeing an elephant up on the wall separating the man and women baths, the creative bath floor, walls and the tropical garden – all creating all an unique athmosphere. The place is open from 1-9pm and the entry costs 650¥. Not to mention is a must stop for any visit in Naoshima.
If you don’t have your own towel with you, purchase a personalized one on the place for only 320¥. I bought a green one, but they even have seasonal colors if you can believe it!
Miyanoura Gallery 6
Closed during my visit, there is another art place normally open to public called Gallery 6. It has been transformed by the architect Taira Nishizawa into “Pachinko 999”, but today it is mainly use for different expositions.
Moving further to the second area of the island, we end up in Honmura. This area is a lot more interesting for tourists than Miyanoura for the fact that it has many cultural places to discover. A port itself, Honmura is not so much transited which makes it a lot more quiter and enjoyable overall.
Start you journey with a visit to the Honmura Lounge as this is the only place from where you can purchase the tickets for the art house projects and get a map of the place. Basically, a few artists converted some regular house into true pieces of art which you dont want to miss. Each of it it’s unique so the rule of seeing one means seeing them all it cannot be applicable. There are 6 houses to be seen in total and the combined ticket giving access to all of them costs 1050¥, while buying an independ ticket per house costs 420¥.
You need to be careful with how you’ll to plan the visit around, as the houses have closing hours in the middle of the day, so you may want to consider this and create your own plan. In total, you need about 1.5-2h to see them all, including the moving around.
Art House Project
Hard to understand from the picture, but the 125 digital leds are immersed in water and are displaying numbers from 0 to 9 changing quickly. The work called “Sea of time ’98” it’s simply amazing. Seeing how a house floor could be transformed into a swimming pool of numbers it is simply wow. I would call it the bombs of happiness!
Without any doubt, this was my favourite house. Built by the architect Tadao Ando, this is a colaboration project with James Turell which offers a different perception of the darkness. Without spoilling the surprize on the inside, you will basically need to enter and guide yourself with no light till a bench. You will then sit down and experience the pure darkness until you will finally be able to see some sort of light in front of you. The magic moment is when your eyes are getting used to the darkness and you’re able to walk until a wall which looks like separating two different worlds.
I wish I could explain it better, but there is nothing that can describe the experience while you’re there. Honestelly, if I should pick one single place to visit again in Naoshima or to recommend to somebody, this is it with no further doubt! You will need a time ticket from the lounge to access the exposition running every 15 minutes.
This is not a regular shrine, not at all. From the outside it looks very simplistic but you will be amazed to see some stairs made of glass out of nowhere. It may look weird until you will go all around and further explore. You are able to get inside a tunnel where you’ll see the same stairs going inside the ground. Don’t worry, there is somebody there to offer you a lantern to find your way in and out!
My second favourite art house is a Japanese house with ia beautiful zen garden. Its placement near a bamboo forest and more hideen than the other houses makes it a place of contemplation. I could had spent there hours without getting bored. It is peaceful and the beauty of simplicity it’s perfectly captured..
This house is divided into two small rooms where you can find some small flowers made by wood. The personal is speaking English so you can ask more explanations about the place while there. He will be happy to explain the link between the tree in the garden and the flowers inside. I won’t spoil the surprise, so I let you discover!
This house has a huge statue of libery inside among from its photos in the floor. It looks very confusing from the outside as its embedding so many materials and elements – similar to Naoshima Bath house. The best place to admire it is by standing at the nearby terrace enjoying a snack.
If you never heard about Tadao Ando, this is a great place to start learning about this famous Japanese architect. The building itself it has been developed by him and inside you can find information about the main pieces of work he made. The building itself helps better understand his vision, as he works with simplistic materials like concrete and light, in order to create materpieces of simplicity. The entrance costs 510¥ and you need about 40min to see it all.
In front of Tadao Ando museum there is temple you can visit, but also a bit gate indicating a road ahead. Follow the road to go up to the shrine. You will have a peacefull moment and a beutiful view with the sea around.
Now, let’s move to the third main area of the island, the one containing the three big museums. But before jumping to museums, take your time to explore the suroundings. The views over the sea and the islands in front are breathtaking. I totally recommend you to stay there and admire the sunset, when the beautiful colours are merging with the colours of the water.
Benesse Art Site Outsdoor
No visit to Naoshima is complete without a picture of the Yellow pumpkin of Yayoi Kusama. But apart from this, there are 21 art works around the area to be explored. While you may find some people queing to take some pictures with the famous pumpkin, you will find no one so interested in the others, so you may enjoy them by yourself. It pretty much depeds on you, but you should allocate like 1-2 hours for a full tour..
Benesse House Museum
The first big museum I visited on the island was the Benesse House Museum. It is a contemporary art museum with permanent and temporary exhibits but on top it is also a hotel. If you are a guest there, you can visit the museum during the night, outside the working hours, so you can have all the art for yourself. You will easier notice Tadao Ando’s work, where the simplicity of the space puts in first plan the power of light. I very much enjoyed the exhibits I found inside (about 30 in total) and I much appreciated their diversity. The museum is open from 10am till 5-6pm and an entry ticket costs 1050¥. You need between 1.5 -2 hours to trully enjoy it. This is a must visit in Naoshima!
Lee Ufan Museum
The only museum in the world dedicated to Lee Ufan is magical despite its small size. You can almost see half of it for free, from outside – (5 exhibitions) – as the area is open to the public. If you want to see the other half, you have to pay 1050¥ to see 6 more areas on the inside. No pictures are allowed, but you can mainly see the correspondance place (also in the picture above), the encounter room, the vid, the silence room, the shadow room and the meditation room. During the pandemic, I even received around 10 pages written by Lee Ufan to read, while exposing his points of view on the current situation. You may need from as little as 15 minutes to see everything to up to 1 hour for a deep experience.
Chichu Art Museum
Last but not least, we arrive to the most visited point on the island, the Chichu Art Museum – and the reason majority of the people do visit Naoshima itself! And now, let me be very honest and expose my point of view. After visiting all of the above, when I ended up my trip with the Chichu Art museum I wasn’t so much suprised of what I found. Or maybe, my expectations were too high after so much publicity around, so the dissapointment…
Briefly, the museum has been created in 2004 as a site for rethinking the connection between people and nature. Built by Tadao Ando, it is impressive to see that all the constructions are underground, in order to not affect the natural beauty of the island, but using the outside light to make everything look natural.
Inside the museum
Inside, there are mainly three things to be seen. There is a big room dedicated to Claude Monet, where 5 painting from the Water Lily series are on display. I love Claude Monet and especially this exhibit, but because I have seen similar expositions in Paris, it wasn’t a big novelty for me. Then, you have a dedicatd space for James Turrell which presents light itself as a piece of art. You will find a similar experience to the one in Minamidera house, but in my opinion is not as good as the one with complete darkness. And the last space is dedicated to Walter de Maria where 27 wooden sculptures covered in gold leaves and a big sphere create the exposition Time / Timeless / No Time.
It is fobidden to take pictures inside, but you can check on internet what to expect before going. One of the best things you can surely do while here, is to enjoy a coffee and a lunch at the Chichu Cafe on side. The view is spledid and is worth in all the money you pay for the entry ticket of 2100¥. To visit the museum you need around 1 hour, but allocate more time for the unique break with a view.
After purchasing the ticket from the ticket office, you will pass the Chichu Gardens to reach the museum. It is not big, but rather small and charming, trying to immitate Monet garden from Giverny, France.
When you look on the map, a visit to Naoshima island may look challanging. In fact, it is not. If you’re coming from Tokyo you have to stop at Okayama station. From there you’ll need to take Uno line until the end, to Uno Station, for only 590¥ one way ticket. And finally, you’ll have to take the ferry to Naoshima for a 300¥ one way or 570¥ round trip (but the return has to be done maximum on the next day).
Around the island, you can easily walk or you can rent a bike. There are several renting offices, but if you’re ok with walking you can move between the main areas in about 30-40 minutes. In two days I walked twice the entire island, so it’s really not a big thing. There are also buses in case you’re really lazy! Therefore, no excuse to not visit Naoshima!
I personally spent 2 nights at “Yado Seven Beach” in Miyanoura Port for 3000¥ per night. Nice, clean and with a host who speaks perfectly English, my life was so easy on the island! If I will go again and maybe not alone as this time, I would opt-in to spend the night in Benesse Hotel and visit the museum during the night with nobody around. I think this would be a once in a life experience!
Food & Drinks
There are not so not many places to enjoy a coffee or meal, especially in early mornings or late evenings. The island looks abandoned after dark, so ask around for recommandations as it may be challanging to find options. I found more places in Honmura for enjoying a coffee, a light snack or an icecream than in other parts. Of course, as mentioned above the Chichu Cafe cannot be missed.
Well, that’s it! Now you know 99% if not 100% of what to expect and do during your visit to Naoshima! I hope you did enjoyed reading the article and I would appreciate a comment or a like! Until next time, get more inspiration from here.