Setouchi Art Islands: Naoshima

Naoshima, site of the famous Benesse House Museum and the widely recognized Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, is a part of the Setouchi Art Islands off the coast of Shikoku.

After Teshima, the place I most wanted to go to was Naoshima. Known for the Yellow Pumpkin ala Yayoi Kusama, Naoshima is one of the main islands for the artworks presented in the mass of Setouchi Sea islands.

The Yellow Pumpkin may be the most famous artwork on the island, but there are various other pieces on display all around the island. The Benesse House Museum, Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, and Art Houses are also on Naoshima.

Though there are various buses going around the island, I recommend renting a bicycle to see all the sites. Since the road was pretty hilly on the way to Chichu Art Museum, I made sure to rent an electronic bicycle. Most of the shops are located at Miyanoura Port – you’ll have a hard time finding one at Honmura.

Chichu Art Museum

Probably the main attraction of Naoshima, after the pumpkin. The Chichu Art Museum is so popular that you need to first get a numbered ticket and wait for your time to open up to buy an official ticket and get in. The museum itself is mostly contained underground, but has a very beautiful architecture about it – playing delicately with negative space, light, and shapes. If you look at a postcard of Chichu, you will also see that the openings of the museum create a specific shape.

Chichu Art Museum is host to three artworks: Time/Timeless/No Time by American Walter De Maria, five paintings of Claude Monet’s Water Lillies series, and a play on optical illusion and light by James Turrell. Architecture is by Tadao Ando, who also designed the Benesse House.

The museum is absolutely breathtaking. Despite the high price (¥2060) of entrance, you can spend hours just contemplating and relaxing within the walls. There is even a dedicated place to rest near the waiting area for James Turrell’s piece. I found myself enjoying the solitude and nature of the architecture more than the actual pieces housed inside (though they are definitely worth a gander, too!). The Chichu Art Museum is definitely a must go.

Inside the building are also a museum shop and cafe.

Benesse House Museum 

Near the Benesse House Museum lays the Yellow Pumpkin on a concrete pier. And, inevitably, there will be someone there taking the iconic picture or taking a picture with the piece. Sometimes there’s even a line! So I would advise to take your picture as soon as you can! Then go the trek up to the museum.

Benesse House hosts quite a few artworks, and focuses more on the pieces than the architecture. Mostly modern art, with a few surprising artworks.

Entrance fee: ¥1030

I♡YU (Shinro Otake)

Both an art piece and a functioning bathhouse, I♡YU is definitely one of those places for people who love eclectic art. Though you can only enter either the men’s or women’s side, I’m sure the view of the elephant changes depending on where you view it from (yes, there’s a huge elephant that stands between and above both side of the wall). It’s a relaxing, small bathhouse with clear and colorful showers and newspaper prints everywhere.

Entrance fee: ¥510
Art House Projects

The Art House Projects are an ongoing art renovation of various residential houses located on Naoshima. Currently, they consist of Kadoya, Minamidera, Kinza, Go’o Shrine, Ishibashi, Gokaisho, and Haisha. Each one displays a distinct personality, with the most memorable ones being Kadoya, Minamidera, and Go’o Shrine.

Kadoya is the oldest art project, but my absolute favorite. Once you enter, it’s super surprising, and I wish I could’ve taken photos! A beautiful display of water, numbers, and neon lights.

Minamidera is notable for its use of darkness. You walk in complete darkness and have to wait for your eyes to adjust to see the significance of the artwork.

Go’o Shrine is a functioning shrine, with an underground chamber you can enter to see the crystal stairs.

Kinza requires a booking in advance, and only one person can enter at a time.

Entrance fee: ¥1030 for all, ¥410 for one besides Kinza

Though these were the main places I was able to hit up, there are a few scatterings of art projects all around, and the views on and from the island itself are beautiful.

Like Teshima, Naoshima’s museums close rather early in the day, so make sure to time all your visits well. I don’t recommend trying to hit up the museums and the art projects in one day.

There isn’t much food choice on the Setouchi islands, though Naoshima does have a 7/11, unlike other convenience stores across the country, it does not open 24/7. A few cafes and restaurants are located across the island, but the bulk are concentrated around the main port of Miyanoura.

Naoshima is easily reachable via Uno Port located in Okayama Prefecture. It can also be accessed from Takamatsu Port in Kagawa.

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