Naoshima & Teshima, Art Islands in Japan
Deep in the inland Setouchi sea of Japan, there’s a collection of 12 islands that were once fishing villages, which are now overtaken with incredible art museums, futuristic architecture, and installations set in nature.
Here’s the guide I wish I had prior to going.
Detailed guides follow these itineraries. Please be aware it take some dedicated travel time to get to these islands, these cannot be done as a day trip — I would recommend 2–3 days. The last section of this guide details all the ways to get there.
Day 1: Naoshima
- Morning — Art House Projects (near Honmura Port). There are 5 art houses, including a James Turrell.
- Afternoon — Chichu Museum. Give yourself as much time as you need at the 5 unique exhibits. The museum, cafe is a nice spot to relax.
- If you finish Chichu early, you can go to the Lee Ufan museum nearby. About a 20 min walk.
- Sunset/Early evening — Benesse House Museum and Beach area (outdoor sculptures). Suggest doing this last because the museum stays open the latest at 9p, and the beach area is really nice at sunset.
- Evening — I ❤ Bath is open late, and you can soak after a long day.
Day 2: Teshima
- Morning — Teshima Museum. Enjoy yourself. Sit. Lie down.
- Lunch / Afternoon — Karato (central) area has a ton of art houses and galleries, and is walking distance from Teshima.
- Heart Archives — A bit out of the way, but AFAIK the only place in the world to record your heartbeat and listen to it in incredible thumping bass, amid sound reactive lights.
- Afternoon — Mariko Mori
- Afternoon — Kou (south area) if you have time
- Late Afternoon — Port area for Yokoo House and Rehberger before you leave (they close at 5 or so)
- ey close at 5 or so)
Day 3: Shodoshima
This island is huge and has so many things! They all look great.
I did not have time to go to this myself, and I wish I did. :(
Day 4: Other Islands!
You have 4 days?! The world is your oyster! There are so many more islands! Please tell me about your adventures when you return.
This is the main island, where Tadao Ando built his architectural masterpieces, the Benesse House and the Chichu Museum. Buses travel in a clockwise and counter-clockwise loop around the island.
You will likely arrive in Miyanoura Port on Naoshima, which has a few scattered art pieces, including the Red Pumpkin, which has lights at night. There is also “I ❤ Bath”, a stylish and quirky real bathhouse. BYO towels.
Art House Projects
There are 7 art house projects that are near the Honmura Port in the northeastern part of the island, including Minamidera, which is a James Turell space. Kinza, which is limited to 1 viewer at a time, requires online registration.
Honmura is also where the earliest ferry to Teshima departs.
Do not miss this! Such extraordinary architectural framing, even the other guests felt like frames of performance art. The entire structure was designed to be underground, as to not disrupt the natural landscape of the islands.
Check out the Walter de Maria room during late afternoon light.
The cafe has food, wine, and an amazing view.
Make sure you visit every shape you see in the photo above
I think this place would be really cool in the rain (rain is rare there)
Go on a Friday or Saturday, where you can see Turrell’s “Open Sky” at sunset! Requires reservations.
These are not typical museums. They sell a limited number of tickets each day. If it’s busy, and you don’t have a reservation, you may need to wait in line at 9am or not get in at all. Repeat: these are not typical art museums!
Benesse House Museum & Hotel
I highly recommend a night here if you can manage it! Really sleek and ultra hip hotel experience. Booking: http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/stay/
Some perks, in addition to the beautiful building itself:
- Exclusive access to the Museum after it is closed to the public, 9–11p.
- Exclusive access to the Cultural Melting Bath, a gorgeous bath in the woods, is only available to hotel guests (must reserve!)
- Almost all rooms have awesome balcony views
- Free shuttles between Benesse, Chichu, and Lee Ufan.
I also highly recommend a meal at one of their restaurants. The Japanese kaiseki option is located within the museum, the western option is located closer to the beach.
The most deluxe rooms are at the Oval, which is further up the hill behind the museum, and needs a cable car to get to. The only way to get in if you are not staying in those rooms is to request a seat at the very small bar inside Oval. Check with your server after dinner.
Museum itself is lovely, at the top of the hill. There is a nice open area with large round rocks that are good for stargazing.
Alternatively, you can stay at yurts at Tsutsuji-so, south of Benesse. Probably don’t do this when it’s cold.
About 25 min away by ferry is…
A lovely island with many clusters of art houses and installations to explore.
Teshima Art Museum
Lengthy: 1h - ∞
A magical place. Be very quiet, and watch. Look for details, look for joy. Be curious, and admire the beauty they have created.
If it’s during a busy season and you weren’t able to get tickets, go to the museum early in the morning, by 9am if possible. They only let in a limited number of people per hour (less than 100), and you will be turned away or asked to come back later.
The museum also has a gift shop and cafe, with some unique treats.
You can walk here from Teshima Museum, around 20 min. Not near other art, but you get to go record your heartbeat and have it stored there, forever. There is a chamber where you can listen to it with incredibly loud, pulsating bass. It is quite an experience, to save your heart at the edge of the world. This was the most ‘playa’ of any of the art I saw.
The artist as another installation, kind of in the middle of nowhere, called La Foret de Murmurs. It’s wind chimey, on some hills.
Lots of art houses around here, and the famous Shima Kitchen, an outdoor restaurant terrace, with local signature dishes.
Can some one please visit the storm house and let me know how it is. It’s 10 min of simulating a storm. Seems awesome.
Slightly more remote and in the woods. Big Bambu- an installation soaring over a forest, Abundance — a seaweed structure containing audio equipment, and Farther Memory, a tunnel thing.
The Sputniko gallery is also here.
Don’t miss! Really awesome art house, near Ieura Port. My favorite part was the waterfall room.
It’s very near to the Tobias Rehberger house, where you are both allowed to take photos and order lunch!
Her installation is not near others, but it’s a solitary object in the middle of the water that lights up whenever there is a supernova detected. :o
This island has entirely new art, almost all created for the triennale, and is huge. I didn’t go, but several pieces looked amazing:
- Voyage through the Void, a boat of blue light that pulsates to the sound of sea waves
- Oiwa Island 2 — an air dome resembling a spaceship
- Tsugi Tsugi Kintsugi — sculptures made using the Japanese technique of repairing broken dishes with gold
- Beat Shrine — Beat Takeshi made a giant monster come out of well (no joke)
Full list at this link below!
Shodoshima is known for its spectacular scenery. The installations produced by a variety of Asian artists for Setouchi…setouchi-artfest.jp
Inujima — looks really tiny and cute, it’s been around longer than the other tiny islands.
Ogijima and Megijima are close by, can be done together.
The other islands require multiple ferry trips, or access from different ports. Would not recommend unless you’re staying longer than 3 days.
There are two ports that have ferries to the islands.
Uno Port (north side) — this port is most easily accessible by train, especially if you are coming from Kyoto area.
1) Go to Okayama, by Shinkansen (3.5h) or direct flight from Tokyo.
2) Take 1 hour train ride to Uno (may have to interchange)
3) Walk to ferry port, 20 min ferry ride to Naoshima.
Takamatsu Port (south side) — less overall steps. Can directly take a flight there and then hop on a ferry, which is about twice as long to Naoshima.
http://setouchi-artfest.jp/en/access/ — very good map, has english! Beware a few routes that were for the Triennale only.
Get the Hyperdia app, it’s confusing but has timetables and routes.
Read reviews, compare customer ratings, see screenshots, and learn more about HYPERDIA by VOICE. Download HYPERDIA by…itunes.apple.com
Getting Around the Islands
Naoshima and Teshima both have bus routes that go in loops around in the island, stopping at all the major art sites.
Tons of bikes for rent. The idea seems really fun, but there are quite a few hills around these islands. Would suggest electric bike if you go this route.
Naoshima and Teshima both have 2 ports each, so check all of them for return options.
This was my preferred means of transport. And bus when it was too far.
- Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off
- Camera for outdoor scenes (you can’t take photos inside most places)
- Figure out restaurants to eat at. There are nice ones.
- The Triennale is technically over, I believe some art may change or no longer be available, but I’m not sure.
- If you have a lot of luggage, there are coin lockers and luggage storage services at most ports.
- There are quite a few large spiders and their webs around the treets and bushes. I thought they were cool, but careful not to walk into them.
Lovely photos from the islands if you’re curious, but I recommend being surprised! :)
Hyperdia — Japan’s rail schedules
Relax, and take it all in. :)