Naoshima could have been one of those lonely, sad, grey places. In the 50s and 60s it was booming and there were 8000 people on the island. All thanks to a Mitsubishi factory which was and still is the biggest employer in there. Sounds like a beginning of a science fiction movie but the machines really did take work of many of the locals, leaving the island to a certain death with the drastically declining population. Many left in search of a job, education and better life. With only 3000 people Naoshima was disappearing when art came…

Benesse Holdings, a big Japanese company was searching for a home for their big collection of art. They wanted it to help the locals and they decided that Naoshima would be a perfect place to do it. Art would bring tourism to the island, tourism would bring jobs and jobs would bring people back.

Now the island is a must see for every art lover coming to Japan.

The first thing we spotted while entering the harbor on this small island was the red pumpkin with polka dots. I was contemplating its beauty from the deck when we reached the port and tourists started to flow out of the boat, running to the pumpkin. Everything to take an “alone” picture with it or because they were afraid it might get eaten if they waited any longer… 🙂

The beauty of Naoshima is also in its size, it’s a really small island perfect for a day trip on a bike. So straight from the ferry we went to rent a bike and hit the road. First we went to where it all started in 1992 so to the Benesse House Museum. Although it was the first one to be build, it struck us with the harmony and beauty of already a well developed concept. The exhibition of modern art was unbelievable and it included a massive ant house made of colorful sand and divided into flags of the world. Ants were building tunnels that would eventually make a flag collapse and colors to mix beyond recognition.

As much as we loved the museum we were a bit disappointed we couldn’t see the Oval, the most famous part of the building. At least the most famous looking at all the pictures and posters promoting it. In fact only the lucky ones with willingness to spend “a bit more” get a chance to see it. It’s part of the hotel.

Except for the “mother museum” there are also two more in the area Lee Ufan Museum and Chichu Art Museum. All three of them follow the theme of art in harmony with nature and they are rather small and in our humble opinion a bit overpriced. 1030 yen (around 10 dollars for Benesse House) for a visit that takes maybe an hour including ohhh and ahhh and me trying to take a picture from every angle possible is a bit too much in my opinion. Even for an admirable concept of helping a dying island with its population.

Cycling down to the beach we saw many open-air art works. But none of them was as impressive as “Pumpkin”, yellow sister of the one we saw by the port. This one was more peaceful, situated on the edge of a concrete pier that otherwise wouldn’t be a pretty sight. Sitting nearby on the beach we were admiring the Instagram-queue created by the Japanese tourists. Every one of them was waiting patiently in a line for their chance to get a lonely shot with the famous pumpkin. Only the kids didn’t seem to understand the laws of social media photography and were constantly interrupting the photo sessions with short sessions of pure fun.

Art has a unique way of giving new life to old and neglected things. That’s what happened with empty houses in Honmura area. Through the Art House Project lifeless spaces were converted into works of art and got the local community even closer to beauty. Ando Museum tights it all together with a background story of the island and the architect who stands behind the majority of the transition of that God forsaken place.

For me there was a certain cherry on the cake on our way back to the ferry. “I love yu” bath is a great example that modern art can be far from serious. The building screams “fun” with all of its colorful tiles, crazy t-shirts and palm trees in front of it. We were tempted to go in but unfortunately we didn’t have towels or eagerness to strip so we only sneak peaked through the door…

Just before going to Naoshima when I was doing a bit of a research of what was there to see I realized that it’s not the only island included in the Benesse Project. It has expanded on two more islands nearby with similar stories and some extraordinary museums. Unfortunately time and availability was not on our side with that one and we couldn’t visit Teshima and Inujima. Maybe it’s for the best, one more motive to come back 🙂

Handful of practical info:

  1. To get to Naoshima we took a ferry from Takamastu Port (slow ferry takes 50 minutes and costs 520 yen so around 5 dollars one way, speed boat takes half the time but costs more than double the price- 1220 yen so around 12 dollars). The other way to get to the island is to take a ferry from Uno Port which can take you either to Miyanoura Port or to the other side of the island- Honmura Port.
  2. The only way to get to Teshima is to get a ferry from Naoshima which is not very frequent. That very same ferry follows later on to Inujima. To see all 3 of the islands requires a bit of extra planning…
  3. The best way to see Naoshima is to rent a bike, it costs only 300 yen (around 3 dollars) for a whole day and it’s cheaper than bringing your own on the ferry. For the lazy, there is a bus option 🙂
  4. Naoshima is not a paradise for travelers on a shoe-string. Chichu Museum costs 2060 yen (around 20 dollars) and Lee Ufan and Benesse House cost 1030 yen each (around 10 dollars). To visit one of the Art Houses it’s 410 yen (around 4 dollars) but there is also a joined ticket to visit all 6 of them and it’s “only” 1030 yen (around 10 dollars). To finish off Ando museum is another 510 yen (around 5 dollars). Adding bike rental, ferry fare and maybe something to eat and you know you have to love art deeply to pay for all that 🙂
  5. There are many restaurants on the island as well as a few grocery stores and a 7 eleven so there is no way to die out of hunger 🙂

2 thoughts on “Naoshima- the power of art

  1. Reply
    Magda T. - April 20, 2017

    Pisz więcej, Marta 🙂 Bardzo ciekawe są Twoje zapiski z podróży:)

    1. Reply
      In search of umami - April 22, 2017

      Strasznie mi miło:) bo zawsze jakoś w to trochę wątpię:D

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