Naoshima – a modern art interlude


After the temples, culture and tradition of Kyoto, Naoshima was quite a surprise. Situated in the Seto Inland Sea to the south east of Kyoto, Naoshima is a small island known for its modern art museums. The  island, with a population of only around 4000,  has a Mediterranean feel about it with sandy beaches, a sunny climate and feeling more laid back than the mainland.


You reach the island by ferry, the journey is only about 30 minutes, but you quickly feel that you are arriving somewhere just a little bit different; especially when you spot a large red spotted pumpkin on the quay.


The majority of the art on the island was installed by the Benesse Corporation with the art galleries designed by Japanese architect Ando Tadao and the island’s schools and town hall designed by modern architect Ishii Kazuhiro.


The Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum are large low slung concrete buildings; not really to my taste but an interesting counterpoint to the traditional and historic buildings we had seen in Kyoto, and housing a collection of modern art, predominantly sculpture.  Whilst the galleries charge admittance and no photographs are allowed there are also a number of sculptures around the island which any one can walk up to, touch, and photograph and a number of these are included on this post and give an idea of the art we saw in the galleries.


This is a public bike store – you can just see the wooden frame to the acrylic skin.



Me being me, I actually prefer this view to any of the sculptures we saw; apart from the yellow pumpkin which I loved.


Whilst the main galleries and sculptures were not really my thing – too modern, too brutalist, too concrete, I did really enjoy an exhibition which was housed within a selection of old houses in the main town.  On the back of the Benesse art initiative is the Art House Project in the Honmura district of the island.  Through this project vacant houses, some of them up to 400 years old, have been restored and transformed into art works. One of them involves you going into a completely dark space and sitting quietly as a patch of light grows slowly at the far end of the space.  At first you think this is some sort of light installation but actually the effect is created through taking advantage of how your eyes adjust to the light – its very clever and slightly unsettling.


Most of the art installations were inside houses but a few were outside and so we could take photographs.  The Go’o Shrine (above and below) renovates an existing shrine from the Edo period.  The steps are stunning as they look like melting ice, particularly intriguing on a very sunny warm day.


Of course they are made of glass but I thought the sculpting of the glass was just magical.


The other very striking ‘art house’ was Haisha which used to be the home of the local dentist and has been transformed into a work of art. Inside the house each of the rooms is like being in a graphic design, hard to explain, but includes a rather large Statue of Liberty – what everyone needs in their stairwell.


What impressed me most about Naoshima was how the introduction of the art galleries and the ‘Art House’ project had brought tourism to the island leading to cafes, restaurants and guest houses appearing.  We stayed in a lovely guest house with a Japanese/Italian restaurant next door – a strange but wonderful combination.  My favourite place though was a cafe we tracked down tucked up on the side of a hill, the Cafe Salon Naka-Oku which had a wonderful up-cycled retro feel about it – if you ever find yourself on Naoshima I would recommend it.


7 Comments on “Naoshima – a modern art interlude

  1. What a lovely interlude! I have never heard of it. Such a contrast to most of Japan – on my wish list if I EVER get to Japan.

  2. More wonderful stuff from Japan. Looks like you had a fantastic trip there. I really must organise a return visit for myself.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful pictures and blog. I am scheduled to go to Naoshima in April and I can’t wait after reading your take on it.

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