As a big fan of art, it was a must for me to visit Naoshima Island. Therefore, on my partner’s birthday I couldn’t think of any place that would be more fun and interesting for… me 😃
Well, he enjoyed too, of course (happy wife = happy life!). So in the morning of his birthday we packed our stuff, bus tickets, and 5kg of vegan food (mainly bread and snacks) before hitting the road to Kagawa Prefecture. After a few hours of riding the subway, two buses, and boat, we arrived at Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port before sunset.
Sleeping in a Caravan
As both of us had lived in Hawaii for a few months, we really got to LOVE islands. That’s why I thought that a night on Naoshima island, sleeping with the sound of the waves and waking to a beautiful view of the sea, would make this vacation one-of-a-kind. I reserved us a caravan in the Tsutsujiso Inn, which was the most romantic way to spend the evening. The staff were really nice, and since it was February, most of the rooms, caravans, and Mongolian tents in the facility were empty, which was totally fine by us. The silence, the caravan’s dimmed lamps, and the view of the lights of ships far away in the night were all so magical.
Now, after mentioning all the great things about staying in a caravan, I think it’s necessary to mention a few things before you make a reservation there. First, the toilet and showers are not attached to the room, though it’s less than a minute walk to each. The showers are shared between the caravan and Mongolian tent visitors and are separated between men and women (the toilet and showers, not the sleeping area). We were asked to insert a 100 yen coin to the shower’s machine for 10 minutes of hot water. I don’t really mind that (it was only one night), but it might not be for everyone.
Second, my partner and I are very Japanese-sized (pretty slim and not over 180cm), so we had no problem with the facility’s size. However, the upper bed in the caravan could only be used by someone who is shorter than 180cm and is less than 70kg in weight. The double-bed was also Japanese-sized, but it was big enough for us.
Third, mind the fact that there’s nothing around the facilities to eat or drink (except maybe vending machines – I’m not quite sure), so you either need to reserve dinner or buy one before you come. We took A LOT of food with us, so we were well-prepared.
The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful, sunny February day and started walking around the island. There are three museums on the southwestern side of Naoshima (and a free shuttle bus between them), but we knew we could not see them all – and honestly, I don’t know if I can even enjoy three museums on the same day. For that reason, we chose to go only to the Benesse Museum (1,030 yen/person) and the Chichu Art Museum (2,060 yen/person). Benesse is a modern art museum based on a concept of “coexistence of nature, art and architecture,” while Chichu combines interactive art spaces with Claude Monet exhibit.
In one word: WOW! First, both museums were designed by Pritzker Prize winner Tadao Ando, an absolute genius of an architect. His works are known for their simple “zen” designs, as well as their vast use of concrete and useful exploitation of natural light. Second, in Chichu Museum, we noticed that in the Monet exhibit, the only light was the natural light penetrating from the ceiling. An employee there told us that even on cloudy days they use no extra lamps in the room, so the gloomy atmosphere is reflected in the art.
I think I’ll stop here and say no more about the museums; I believe absorbing art is an experience a person should go through by him/herself rather than through another person’s experience. To summarize the museums: they were the best I’ve ever visited.
While walking from the Benesse Museum to the Chichu Art Museum, we turned to the right, just before reaching the Lee Ufan Museum (which unfortunately we had no time to visit). We went for about 5 minutes until we saw the beautiful work of art by Kimiyo Mishima called “Another Rebirth” – a 4.5 meter tall trash bin made from recycled waste and discarded soil from a tile factory. Just looking at this monument made me think a lot about the concept of waste (which I’m already preoccupied with). This is not a well-known spot on the island, so it’s more for people like me, who search for hidden places. If you can relate to that, you’d probably like this monument too.
What About Vegan Food ?
After visiting these two museums, we went to pick up our stuff from the Tsutsujiso Inn and took the town bus to Honmura Port, where the House-Project as well as our ferry back to the mainland were located. But before we continued, we had to charge ourselves with – what else – local vegan food! You didn’t think I’d miss that, did you? 😉
We went to this gorgeous place called Aisunao, just near Gokaisho House (one of the houses of the House-Project). In this beautifully decorated, Japanese-style restaurant, you could choose between sitting on chairs or on the tatami. This is not a vegan place, but they offer a very delicious vegan set filled with vegetables, tofu, mochi-mochi rice (sticky brown rice), and miso soup. If you’re very hungry, you could also pay extra for a larger amount of rice. The price was really good: only 850 yen for a great, filling lunch.
House - Project
After lunch we went to see the House-Project of Naoshima. This project combines seven Japanese houses that were transformed by artists into works of art. All the houses are concentrated in the same area, no more than a 15-minute walk from one to another. Each house has a totally different concept, so be prepared to be surprised each time. We really enjoyed all the houses we went to (we only went to six, because one of them needed prior reservation) and, if I were you, I wouldn’t skip any of them. If you want to see them all though have limited time, please read the tips at the bottom of this page for advice on optimal scheduling.
Besides the houses themselves, I really liked the atmosphere of this Japanese island: the sea breeze, the small wooden houses, the grandmas on bikes – it was all so unique and relaxing. While strolling on the southeastern side of the island, you might see some of Ishikawa Kazuharu’s works on the exteriors of Naoshima houses. His project is called “Journey of the Line,” and these works decorate their surroundings with the artist’s simple, yet moving, drawings. Some of his works also communicate with each other, as the two faces of his work are called “a-un” and are placed on different houses on the same street. Try to notice his works in the area while you’re walking.
Finally - COFFEE !
After we saw all the houses, I really felt like it was time for coffee. As we didn’t want to miss the 17:20 boat, we sat in a cute little café called “Konichiwa,” where you can sit with a view of the sea in front of you. It’s decorated with 70s style furniture on a tatami mat and serves a really good soymilk cappuccino (with vegan lotus biscuits!). Then, we ended our journey to Naoshima and headed back to the mainland.
A Few More Things
The time in Naoshima was very precious to me. I really urge you to go and enjoy this beautiful place for yourself. I guess that much of the success of this trip had to do with the fact that it was the end of February – the off-season, when it’s not too crowded. The beautiful sunny day was also a blessing.
Take note that there were also a few places on the island we didn’t go to: I love 湯 (sounds like “I love you”), a very artistic onsen, and the Lee Ufan Museum. If you’re staying there for more than one day, or if you’re incredibly quick, you can check these both out.
Tip 1: Start early! Since we had only one day on the island and wanted to see as much as we can without rushing, we first went to the Benesse Museum that opens at 8:00 (while the other museums and the House-Project open later at 10:00).
Tip 2: Between the Benesse Museum and the Chichu Museum there’s an approximately 20-minute walk. I highly recommend you to not take the bus. First, there are a few monuments along the shore for you to enjoy. Second, you can go a bit off the road and see Kimiyo Mishima’s huge trash bin monument.
Tip 3: The Chichu Museum wasn’t that crowded when we went there in February, and still we had to wait about 10 minutes to buy our tickets since we didn’t make a reservation (which can be made on the Chichu Museum’s official website). It wasn’t so bad, but it was the off-season. If you’re planning to go there any time around April or November, you might want to make a reservation in advance and save time, as lines might be much more time-consuming.
Tip 4: If you’re planning to end your day with the House-Project, I recommend taking the boat from Honmura Port to save time. You can store your stuff for free at the Honmura Lounge & Archive (the same place where you’d buy the multi-site ticket to the House-Project, which is 1,030 yen per person for all houses).
Tip 5: In the House-Project, first go to Minami-dera. This is the only house that took us time to enter (about 15 minutes) and it’s definitely worth it! Then, if time is short, go to Haisha – a house you shouldn’t miss (once a dentist home, now a… you should see it for yourself!).
Tip 6: You’ll most likely walk from Kadoya to Go’o Shrine. We kind of took the wrong path and ended up at the seaside. Don’t repeat our mistake. After leaving Kadoya, you’ll see a torii gate; pass through it and go up the stairways to the Go’o Shrine located uphill.