Naoshima: Hidden Gem in the Inland Sea

02 February 2015

When traveling, it is always best to remember that things won't always go entirely to plan. However I find that some of the best adventures can happen when you end up in an unexpected situation and have to throw a carefully organised itinerary to the wind.

This is the situation I found myself in this past summer, when a much anticipated trip to Shikoku with my visiting sisters hit a bit of a bump along the way – namely an oncoming typhoon leading to road and rail closures that would prevent us from reaching our booked accommodation in the Iya Valley. Stranded in Takamatsu station, we were suddenly faced with several free days to fill. The options we brainstormed ranged from slightly lame (maybe we should just go back home to Osaka?) to perhaps a bit too ambitious (Peach Airways is offering cheap one-day trips to Korea!), but in the end we settled on catching a ferry to a tiny island nearby – Naoshima.

Naoshima is only one of many small islands in Japan's Inland Sea, but easily the most unconventional.  After being chosen by the Benesse Art Corporation as a location for part of its large modern art collection in the early 90s, Naoshima is now a hugely popular location to see some of the most fascinating art pieces and installations in all Japan. Aside from the incredible Benesse House museum, the island is now home to a number of outdoor art pieces set up along the coast line (including the famous pumpkins by Yayoi Kasuma), a series of once traditional houses that have been converted into walk-through art installations and some fascinating architecture by Ando Tadao.

But don't think that you need a deep understanding of modern art to enjoy all these attractions (I certainly don't). Both the Chichu Art Museum and one of the Art House installations include light experiments by James Turrell, whose pieces are physical experiences that will completely mess with your sense of light and space. So intense is his work that you must now sign a waiver before entering his current exhibition in Canberra.

Naturally, the evolving art culture of Naoshima has attracted a lot of interesting people over the years. As a result, the island is now home to an array of cute and quirky shops and restaurants, as well as places to stay and relax. As my sisters and I were booking on the fly, we chose to stay in one of the Mongolian-style yurts set up on one of the islands many beaches.

These aren't your average tents either – it also has electricity, fridges, heating and proper beds. As the campsite facilities are communal, there is a high chance that you will be as fortunate as us and come across a group of friendly fellow campers who will invite you to join their barbecue and ply you with free beer and food. Art aside, it was this laid-back atmosphere throughout all Naoshima that made it a really great place to just slow down and relax.


Other accommodation options include the indoor tents in the vaguely hipster Shimocoya (which also has its own pop-up cafe several days of the week), or the expensive but incredibly cool hotel set within an art-piece by Ando Tadao (accessible by a private monorail).

Although my trip to Naoshima was highly spontaneous, it ended up becoming one of my favourite Japanese destinations. Typhoon or no typhoon, I can definitely recommend spending some time on this unusual island in the Inland Sea.


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