Of all the islands that dot the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima is an inspiring new benchmark for art and cultural tourism. Through the auspices of Benesse Holdings, Inc., the island has reinvented itself as a world-class hub for modern art. Although small in size (about 8 kilometers square), Naoshima houses works by some of the largest names in contemporary art and architecture—Yayoi Kusama, Claude Monet, James Turrell and Tadao Ando—to name but a few. The island attracts thousands of visitors per year, with numbers swelling for the Art Setouchi Triennale.
Access to Naoshima Island is by ferry. Naoshima can be reached via two ports, Miyanoura Port on the west side of the island, and Honmura Port on the east side. Ferries to Naoshima depart from the city of Takamatsu and Uno Port in Okayama.
To get around the island, visitors can rent electric bicycles from Miyanoura Port. Buses also run from Miyanoura Port to the Bennesse House complex entrance. From here, free shuttle buses operate to Benesse House itself, the Lee Ufan Museum and the Chichu Art Museum.
One of Naoshima's most popular museums is Benesse House. Designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Tadao Ando and serving as both a museum and hotel, Benesse House sits on top of a plateau and has spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea.
The museum features site-specific works from some of the world's most famous contemporary artists. Outside the museum and along the coastline, visitors can discover more artworks scattered amongst the natural surrounds. Artist Yayoi Kusama's "Pumpkin" is a social media favorite.
Visitors to the Chichu Art Museum can admire five paintings from the Water Lilies series by Claude Monet. The museum is built almost entirely underground so as not to impose on the surrounding landscape. Monet's paintings are located in a striking white room, where natural light and ambience change throughout the day.
Monet's influence continues outside in Chichu Garden, where you can see nearly 200 kinds of flowers and trees inspired by Monet's own garden in Giverny.
Naoshima Bath [ I love YU] is an actual sento or public bath that doubles up as an art installation featuring works by Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake. An eclectic variety of art pieces are displayed, from wall murals to a stuffed baby elephant. Chat with the locals, relax, unwind, and admire modern art from the comfort of your bath.
The Lee Ufan Museum is a collaboration between Japanese architect Tadao Ando and Korean artist Lee Ufan, a renowned member of Japan's 1970s Mono-ha art movement. The museum serves as a gateway to tranquility, where minimalism invites reflection and contemplation.
With a mandate to revive local aging and shrinking communities, the 108-day Art Setouchi Triennale spans 12 islands of the Seto Inland Sea. Artworks are divided into three sessions — spring, summer and fall — and include site-specific sculptures, exhibitions and installations. The Setouchi Art Festival also hosts events, lectures and workshops to achieve its educational and program goals.
A collaboration between art and architecture in the context of community and urban renewal, the Art House Project sees emerging and established artists transform houses into galleries, or works of art in themselves.
While it's possible to see the main artworks at Benesse Art Site Naoshima within a 24-hour period, the island and surrounds really merit a longer stay. Benesse House Hotel caters to a mid-to-upper clientele, however, a wider range of options can be found at Takamatsu. All accommodation must be booked well in advance of the triennale high season.