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Inland Sea No. 4: Naoshima Island

April 14, 2010

Naoshima Island 直島

Kagawa Prefecture

Location 133° 58’ East by 34 ° 27’ North

In 2001, Naoshima was just an island with a museum, a hotel and some tents. It was called “Bunkamura” (culture village). The museum was Mr. Fukutake’s own private art collection of mostly modern art. In 2004 came Claude, Walter and James (Monet, De Maria, and Turrell) whose works were put on permanent display, attracting hoards of people from all over Japan to this small island in the Inland Sea.

Although most people get to Naoshima by ferry (see ferry schedule at end of article) I’ve only been there in the Moooo! boat.

If you know who Tadao Ando is, one of Japan’s most famous architects, you will easily be able to pick out the island from the sea because it is covered with Ando architecture. In addition, Naoshima has site-specific “Out of Bounds” exhibits, which means that large sculptures are dotted around the island. If you are unaware of these, they look like alien communication satellites when approaching by boat.

Naoshima is now called Benesse Art Site Naoshima. It is no longer contained to a museum and a few sculptures rusting outside. The museum has become the Mori Art Museum of Western Japan and the whole island has become one large, fantastic work of art.

The site-specific art has blossomed into such imaginative sculptures as the famous “Pumpkin” by Yayoi Kusama, a one-of-a-kind sculpture that captures the imagination of anyone who sees it.

You’ll also want to see the Art House Project, situated in the Honmura District. This project aimed to restore six old Japanese houses and transform them into works of art. Take “Haisha,” for example, a house turned work of art created by Shinro Ohtake in 2006. The house is covered in discarded corrugated steel, tree branches, old signs and anything else that the artist found along the way. Some would call it trash but if you can so exquisitely arrange trash, then it is surely art. Besides, if it were trash, the house would smell. And it does not. I think Ohtake’s message is that if we could get those junky neighbors of yours to adhere their junk to the sides of their houses, it would look a lot better. He also shows us that the distance between trash and art may not be so big after all. It just takes a great eye to get it there. Here is an artist who puts method to our madness. With Ohtake-san, we don’t even need reincarnation—this man could recycle lives.

Then there is “Back Side of the Moon,” by James Turrell and Tadao Ando. You walk into this completely dark house. It is so dark, you can’t see anything at all. There is no difference between having your eyes open or closed—it is complete darkness. An Art Project staff person guides you inside and sits you down on the bench where you wait for the performance. After ten minutes of waiting, the performance finally begins. Slowly on the opposite wall in the distance, you see a blue light. It gradually gets brighter. Eventually, it is bright enough for you to see the outlines of the people sitting next to you. At that point, the staff person asks you to stand up and walk over to the light. Once at the light, you can see quite well, even the facial expressions of those around you. That’s it—the end of the exhibit!

But in reality, there was no brightening light. The light was always there. What appeared to be a brightening light was merely our eyes adjusting to the darkness. In this way, Mr. Fukutake explains, The Art House Project “incorporates activities of everyday life.”

He also encourages people to experience art among nature, as demonstrated by another exhibit called Go’o Shrine, an outside exhibit where the steps to the wooden shrine are not the normal wooden or stone steps, but large, thick, clear, glass-like steps. Subtle changes in our perceptions, can give us a new overall perspective of something.

The newest addition to the island is a sento, or public bath, that has been done up as an art exhibit. This is a truly fantastic way to experience the “art of the Japanese bath.”

How to get there:

From Shikoku (Takamatsu)

Weekday ferries leave from Takamatsu to Naoshima (Miyanoura Port) via the Shikoku Kisen Ferry. This ferry only goes to Miyanoura Port.

Car ferry (also takes passengers) 510 yen per person. One hour to Naoshima.  Ferries leave Takamatsu at 8:12, 10:14, 12:40, 15:40, 18:05

There is a later passenger-only ferry called “kogatasen” that leaves Takamatsu at 20:05. This costs 1,200 yen per person.

Ferries from Honshu (Okayama)

From JR Okayama station, take the train 30 mins. To Uno where ferries leave for Naoshima. The car ferry 560 yen one-way and takes 20 mins. The passenger ferry, also 560 yen, takes 10 mins.


You can stay on the island at Bennesse House, but we don’t recommend this because it is excruciatingly expensive. If you have tons of money, then sure, why not? But the cows at Humor-Us, not used to such luxury, would be more comfortable staying either in the Mongolian Tents on Naoshima, or in some of the funkier places scattered throughout the island.

Private Boat

If you are going by private boat, there is a Sea Station at Miyanoura Port. Thing is, you have to call the Naoshima City Hall to get permission to park your boat there first. Best thing to do is drop one of your crew on shore at the sea station and go in to the Information Center there and talk to them. They will call the City Hall for you. If you don’t know where the information center is, or Miyanoura Port, just look for the red, polka dotted pumpkin pictured here!

Facilities at Miyanoura Port:

Sea Station, Information Center with public computers, restrooms, cafe. Sento nearby.

More info.

Here is a website dedicated to those funky places to stay overnight at Travel Guide Naoshima

Moore information on Naoshima at Japan Visitor

Go here to book overpriced accommodation at Benesse House.


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