Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island

Think Naoshima, and you immediately think of the gigantic, sculpted  ‘Yellow Pumpkin’ by Yayoi Kusama, the symbol of this remote, yet famous art island. About three-square miles in size, it occupies a small space in the Seto Inland Sea and is a harmonic melange of contemporary art and resplendent nature.

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There are around 3,000 islands scattered across the Seto Inland Sea. Most of these are uninhabited, while Naoshima has transformed into a high-end art and architectural junction. The island is sometimes referred to as ‘Ando Island’, after the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, whose timeless architectural masterpieces dominate Naoshima. In fact, you’ll also find a museum that’s designed by and dedicated to Ando.

1987 saw the island’s metamorphosis into an art project with the purchase of the south side of the island by Soichiro Fukutake, chairman of the current Benesse Holdings Inc. Over the next twenty years, the firm has been responsible for shaping the architectural landscape of this region, with the perfect blend of light, sound, space and colour.

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Once home to a small population that relied almost exclusively on the fishing industry, Naoshima is now the epicentre of world-class art installations and galleries, with the art movement having spread slowly to neighbouring islands in the Inland Sea as well. The local residents manage a few ryokan on the island, a traditional and alternate lodging to the Benesse Hotel. The Benesse House Museum and hotel designed by Tadao Ando is a great place to view the works of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, David Hockney and Japanese artists such as Otake Shinro.

Ando’s Chichu Art Museum is, perhaps, the one that draws most crowds to the island. It is built under a hill, although you don’t quite get the feeling of being underground due to open courtyards and cleverly affixed skylights. The ground level of the museum presents an installation by Walter De Maria, an American sculptor. You can enjoy the “Open Sky” on the topmost floor, where you can sit on stone benches and watch the changing colours of the sky through a framed ceiling. However, Chichu draws attention through the works of James Turrell and the exquisite Monet it houses, one from the famous water lily collection.

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There are many works of art strewn outdoors, through the length and breadth of the island. Don’t miss the Japanese-style public bathhouse, adroitly named Naoshima Bath ‘I Love Yu’. Take a soak in this piece of art for the complete experience!

The Art House Project is a must-see, comprising Edo period dwellings that have been converted into artworks. The Garden of Ku in Ishibashi also has the power to mesmerise.

The Setouchi Triennale is an art festival that occurs every three years and is definitely worth looking into.

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Kusama’s large yellow pumpkin perched at the edge of a small jetty is perhaps the most identifiable feature of Naoshima. Iconic to this island, you’ll also find a similar yet larger red pumpkin by the same sculptor at the Miyanoura ferry port.

Naoshima is an island of artistic wonders where art blends seamlessly with nature. Visit this fascinating island for a cultural awakening.

If you are planning a trip to Naoshima in Japan, do not hesitate to contact your luxury travel designer Mr. Isao Numano.