Naoshima Vacation


by Dave Maat


Last time I told you about a great destination for winter vacation, and while we haven’t gotten through winter yet, I thought I would share some photos for a great spring/summer vacation.

Commonly known by its nickname, “the art island,” Naoshima is a small island located in the Seto Inland Sea just off the coast of Okayama. Until recently, Naoshima was a rundown industrial island of very little interest. However, the island’s stock quickly rose when the Benesse Group took interest in revitalizing Naoshima’s economy. In order to draw tourists to the island, world famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando was hired to build the Benesse House Museum to showcase the corporation’s art collection. 

Since the overwhelming success of the Benesse House two more Ando-designed museums have been constructed on the island. This alone makes Naoshima worthy of a visit, but it has more to offer as well. The small town of Honmura has undertaken the “Art House Project” in which artists have been invited to the island to restore or build houses to hold unique and permanent art installations.  The installations themselves are great (especially the Tadao Ando / James Turrell collaboration) and provide an excellent way to explore the town.

Even if you have absolutely no interest in art Naoshima makes a wonderful day trip. Being an island in the Seto Inland Sea means Naoshima has beautiful views and lovely beaches for those hot summer days. The scenery on the island itself is wonderful. Exploring the island by bicycle is the best way to enjoy it and makes for great exercise too. After you’ve finished all the sightseeing go and relax at the island’s newest “Art House,” “I Love 湯.” [ゆ, or “hot water”] This  public bath’s bizarre, collage-style design (you can’t miss the massive elephant perched on the dividing wall being the men’s and women’s baths) will keep your eyes dazzled while its waters soothe your joints and muscles.

Some of the lovely flowers found all over the island.

One of the many beaches. This one is near Honmura Village.

This pumpkin sculpture has become the symbol of Naoshima. It is on display on the biggest beach in Naoshima.

Exploring the little shops and cafes in Miyanoura Port.

Many Naoshima houses are clad in burnt wooden siding.

Sculpture outside the café at Benesse House.

The museums on Naoshima contain some great works, but the buildings are also beautiful examples of Ando’s skill and talent as an architect. I wish I had pictures of the Chichu Museum, but of course they forbid it.

The Go-o shrine, one of the “Art House Project” buildings.

Just south of the hilltop is an entrance to a cave that leads you underneath the shrine to the glass staircase you see ascending from the ground.

“Ishibashi” is a former merchant’s house that has been restored as part of the “Art House Project”.

This is the entrance of “Kadoya,” another restored building in the “Art House Project.”

The interior features the work “Sea of Time,” a shallow pool of water filled with LED lights that count 1 to 9 at various speeds. The installation was conceptualized by the artist but actually executed by the citizens of the town who arranged the lights and their speeds as they wished.

This is part of the building created by Tadao Ando and artist James Turrell.

Visitors are led into a pitchblack space that slowly becomes brighter and brighter as their eyes adjust to the light, transforming the space from total darkness to a unearthly glowing white. This house is not to be missed.


“I Love 湯.”

The name of this building is a clever play on words as the kanji 湯 [read “yu”] means “hot water.” For 300円 you can enjoy a relaxing bath in a totally unique atmosphere. It’s the perfect way to wind down after a day of roaming the island.

Part of the James Bond novel “The Man With the Red Tattoo” takes place on Naoshima. This poster is part of the Bond memorabilia on display at “The Man With The Red Tattoo” museum near the port terminal.

A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

This is the Miyanoura Ferry Terminal and Tourist Information Center designed by SANAA, another famous Japanese architecture firm.


After visiting Naoshima, hop on the ferry to nearby Inujima. Banking on the success of the revitalization project on Naoshima, a similar project has also been undertaken on Inujima. Since the island’s foundry was closed the population has shrunk to some 60 people. Some new “Art House Project” buildings were constructed by the firm SANAA and the foundry has also been transformed into a massive art installation.

Inujima village makes for a nice stroll. Due to its tiny size you can just about everything in an hour.

Garden on Inujima.

The former foundry on the island has been transformed into a massive art work.

You can also explore the grounds surrounding the building and see some great views of the Seto Inland Sea.

Installation inside the “ F” Art House.

View of the “I” Art House from the garden.

Want to show off your own mad phat photo ski-zills? Well, we’d love to see (and envy) them! Submit a photo journal to wideislandview [at] gmail [dot] com.


Comments are closed.