Seto Inland Sea No. 11: Megijima Island–Setouchi International Art Festival
Megijima Island 女木島 (めぎじま)
From now through Oct. 31 the Setouchi International Art Festival is taking place on seven islands in the Inland Sea: Inujima, Megijima, Naoshima, Ogijima, Oshima, Shodoshima, and Teshima. Here, we cover Megijima. This island is part of Kagawa Prefecture, under the jurisdiction of Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands.
Megijima (Woman Tree Island) is located, not surprisingly, next to Ogijima (Man Tree Island). Why these islands were named so, we have no idea! They are one kilometer apart. It sounds more like a long distance relationship akin to the lovers in the Tanabata star festival, who only get to meet on July 7 of every year and only if the night is clear and they can meet across the milky way. In other words, they seldom ever get to meet! At least Man Tree Island and Woman Tree Island can gaze lovingly at each other every day.
There are two reasons to visit Megijima. One is the Setouchi International Art festival which runs till the end of October. The other reason is because Megijima is the residence of one of Japan’s most famous demons–the legendary demon in the story of Momotaro the Peach Boy.
The Peach Boy and his friends: dog, monkey and pheasant
The story goes that Momotaro set off to kill a demon who had been terrorizing his village. The demon lived in a cave on “Demon Island” (Megijima) where he hoarded treasures he had pilfered from villages. Momotaro managed to go to the island and kill the demon with the help of a monkey, a pheasant and a dog. Every Japanese person knows this folktale.
I had heard that the demon’s cave was a bit of a tourist attraction for the Japanese. The few foreigners who had visited said it was a waste of time, but after having been there, I’d say that they’ve probably improved the demon facilities recently, perhaps an infusion of funds having to do with the international art festival and its promise of bringing hoards of tourists.
The island in general, has been improved with some major funding. The port facilities have been expanded and improved, the beach area has been cleaned up and had some rock work done around it and the demon’s cave is almost impressive now.
There are large, what looks like fiberglas, statues of the demon (and his demon friends) in the cave. I found the statues very fun and colorful enhancements to an otherwise dark, uninteresting old mining shaft (but then again, what do you expect from a demon’s residence, a pent-house with a jacuzzi?) The cave was certainly big enough to fit all the demon’s treasures inside and there were lots of little “rooms” and crannies in which to hide especially big diamonds or gold pieces. The cave is at the top of a mountain. We cycled to the top but you can take a bus or even rent battery-powered bicycles from the Tourist Information office.
Inside this cave is one of the Setouchi Art Festival exhibits which looks like a hanging outline of a corpse but is actually made with a crocheted material in the shape of a human and some really good back-lighting. The title of this exhibit, by artist Sanja Saso, is “Momo’s Game or Victory of the Naked Peach.” Don’t ask. It is certainly one of the more interesting venues for art on the island!
Pass the entrance to the cave and on your right you’ll find another art exhibit called “Green Nature” highlighting the sounds of nature by hanging speakers from trees and piping out real sounds of birds, frogs, etc-the things that should be there but aren’t these days. Thanks for the reminder artist Rolf Julius.
If you ask at the tourist information center where to eat, they’ll tell you there is only one restaurant on the island. This is basically a lie. The minshukus on the beach all have restaurants that open out onto the sea and where you can pick up typical Japanese cheap eats such as udon, yaki soba, etc.
The restaurant the art festival promotes is called “iara” which is owned by Matsumoto-san, who trained as a chef in Spain and still teaches cooking courses in Takamatsu. The food is excellent and the restaurant is actually one of the art exhibits. I’ve always enjoyed dining with my art, so this was a real treat. The art work, located in the inside courtyard of the restaurant, is a zen rock garden with foot prints that come and go as if an invisible human is walking across the garden, leaving crunching sounds and footprints behind.
We had the “dinner menu” for 3,200 yen for a 7-course meal and it was excellent. It’s rare to find a nice, free-standing restaurant on any of the islands so this place was something different. Matsumoto-san also owns an Italian Bistro in Takamatsu called Hirai. As a result, he was able to bring out staff, ovens, etc to build a proper kitchen. The restaurant itself is inside a remodeled traditional Japanese-style house. Very nice atmosphere! Matsumoto-san hopes to keep the restaurant running after the art festival is over, but will see how it goes.
The only places to stay overnight are the minshukus on the beach, which seem a bit overpriced at 4,000 yen per person per night (no meals). You are on the beach, but the minshukus are old and very basic. We stayed at Takasagaoso and the old couple, who looked like they could have been the Peach Boy’s parents, were extremely nice and helpful. There are several other minshukus all in a row down the beach. Most are closed during the off-season but Takasagaoso was still running as they housed some of the artists.
The Tourist Information Center (oninokan–Demon Castle) is in the Ferry Port office. There is currently quite a bit of English information available in print. Whether this will continue after the festival is doubtful, but rumor has it that another art festival is scheduled in 2013. Perhaps some of the infrastructure will be maintained for this purpose as well.
Inside the tourist information center is a small museum, called, you guessed it–the Demon Museum! It includes a well-produced video on Megijima that plays continuously (in Japanese). This video tells the history of Megijima and highlights the Sumiyoshi Shrine Festival in summer, which looks really interesting as the shrine-bearers take the mikoshi into the sea! It’s supposed to be some kind of test of bravery, not to mention, I’m sure, swimming ability. The museum is free but is closed on Tuesdays and for the months of January and February. Domestic Tel: 087-873-0728
There is a campground on the beach under pine trees. Showers are available.
There is a newly built pontoon with separate berths which is perfect for sailboats. We asked at the information office where we could tie up and they told us to use a small pontoon in front of the information office. We were not in a sailboat, however. We left the boat there overnight and it was free. The new pontoon probably costs some money to tie up at but would surely be worth it.
Ferries leave from Takamatsu and the same ferry goes to both Megijima and Ogijima.The price to Megijima is 360 yen one way, 180 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 20 minutes. Stay on the ferry to get to Ogijima, another 20 min. ride.
Ferries leave from Megijima to return to Takamatsu at 7:20, 9:20, 11:20, 13:20, 15:20, 17:20
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 7:20, 9:20, 11:20, 14:20 and 17:20.
Read the Momotaro Story here.