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Inland Sea No. 10: Ogijima–Setouchi International Art Festival

September 14, 2010

Ogijima 男木島(おぎじま)

The cluster of houses creeps up the side of the mountain like a high tide.

From now through Oct. 31 the Setouchi International Art Festival is taking place on six islands in the Inland Sea. Here, we cover Ogijima. This island is under the jurisdiction of Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands.

This Setouchi International Art festival has a little something for everyone — art lovers and art haters alike (hey, we don’t like to discriminate). It’s impressive just how much art can help save an island and its culture. Ogijima (“man-tree island”) is one of the best for first-time visitors to the Seto Naikai because it is easy to walk to most parts of the island.

Ogijima is typical of the smaller islands in the Seto Naikai with populations of “200 or so.” It is just 4.7 km in circumference with a mountain in the middle. The picturesque cluster of houses creeps up the side of the mountain like a high tide.

Arriving on Ogijima, you are immediately greeted by art: a large structure with letters of various alphabets all over the roof.

Exchange Center and, lucky you, toilets!

Called the “Ogijima Exchange Center” (what they are exchanging, I’m not sure), it is a magnificent glass building surrounded by water and designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The title of the work is “Ogijima’s Soul,” which I hope is not an indication that it is going to rise up to Heaven as soon as the art festival is over.

This building is where you purchase or show your entry ticket to the festival. Soon after you are off on a scavenger hunt through the island’s little alleys with stone walls and curvy paths looking at art that has been subtly weaved into its intimate surroundings.

As we visited Ogijima a week before the start of the festival, the artists were rushing from place to place adding dabs of this or that to their canvases, which, as in the case of artist Rikuji Makabe, could be the side of a house or even a corner of a building. The mostly conceptual art is displayed with titles in English while the artist names are in both English and Japanese.

The roads can be very steep. Navigating them reminded me of climbing a tree as the little roads branch off in their own directions, and art such as Akinori Matsumoto’s “Sound Scenes of Ogijima” is often precariously mounted. You may get pleasantly lost in the foliage. Bring good shoes. Of course, there were the Japanese women doing it in heels. I reckon a shoe rental at the bottom of the hill would do a brisk business.

You can grab a Japanese set lunch for ¥800 at a restaurant and minshuku called Madoka, where you can sit on the porch and take in the view of the sea. You can find it easily by looking up the hillside from the port and looking for the red flashing light that looks like it belongs on an emergency vehicle (or in the red light district…)

If you really want some culture, however, I recommend Murakami Shoten, which, despite the fancy name, is just a prefab building with a tent in front of it and a hand-made noren curtain at the entrance. It’s at the bottom of the hill next to the torii gate and my soon-to-be shoe rental kiosk.

Mrs. Murakami has been running her pseudo restaurant out of this storage shed for 13 years now. She cooks up homemade okonomiyaki, yakisoba and noodles for ¥500, right there in her one-table restaurant. The table (which is plastic) has five chairs (also plastic), one of which is reserved for her. She told me her husband is an 83-year-old fisherman who still works every day. She herself is 78 but looks like she’s going on 21. With our meal, she brought out some cucumber and tomatoes she had grown in her garden. In the end, Murakami-san refused to charge us for the salad items.

This is one of those charming Japanese experiences that shouldn’t be passed up by foreigners seeking the more laid-back, island-style side of Japan. You can also get inside information from these locals, such as the summer festival she told us about which takes place from Aug. 7-9.

For art unenthusiasts, there is a beach, which by some miraculous Japanese logic, is only open for one month in the summer, from Sea Day (July 17) and until the end of Obon (Aug. 16). I suppose the idea is that you enjoy things more the less you have of them.

We’re not sure if the beach is open for swimmers during the 11-month off-season, (Japan can be funny that way) but it would be such a waste not to use the beach that our advice is: Go for it! Besides, the beach is in a remote enough area that no one would really know anyway.

Ogijima is also known for being the backdrop to the Japanese movie “Yorokobi mo kanashimi mo ikutoshitsuki (“Times of Joy and Sorrow”) about a lighthouse keeper and his family who lived on the island. Thus old stone lighthouse is still a bit of a tourist attraction. There is an information booth and a lighthouse museum on location which is open during the summer.

Here is an article in the Japan Times about Ogijima in the off-season

Ferry Schedule

Ferries leave from Takamatsu and the same ferry goes to both Ogijima and Megijima. The price to Ogijima is 500 yen one way, 250 yen for children.

Summer schedule (March-Nov) Ferries leave from Takamatsu every day at 8:00, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00, and 18:10 The trip is 40 minutes.

Ferries leave from Ogijima to return to Takamatsu at 7:00, 9:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00

Winter schedule (Dec.-Feb) Ferries leave from Takamatsu every day at 8:00, 10:00, 13:00, 16:00 and 18:10. Ferries return to Takamatsu at 7:00, 9:00, 11:00, 14:00 and 17:00.

Accommodation

There appears to be two places to stay overnight on Ogijima, but we only recommend one, called “Madoka” which also serves lunch and dinner. They also advertise a “foot bath,” so if you have particularly smelly, tired feet after walking around the art festival all day, this may be a real treat for you.

The other accommodation, only for the brave, is a minshuku that has old, peeling paint on the outside of it. We haven’t been inside, and don’t even know if it is still doing business for that matter, but can only imagine what is peeling inside the place. If you are curious enough to find out, do let us know. It is unmissable, just a bit up the side of the mountain from Madoka, with large, peeling, kanji letters on the outside of it. We didn’t even consider checking it out.

By boat

We parked our boat in the main port, after asking at the information center. They told us we could tie up anywhere on the “bohate” cement barrier where the fishing boats tie up. This is not a floating pontoon, however, so you have to tie up considering the change in tides. This port is small, with lots of traffic, so you might prefer to go around to the fisherman’s port on the other side of the island. Toilet facilities are there, but a bit of a walk to anywhere else except the beach.

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