Giant Pumpkins, White Lights, and Water Lilies: Enjoying Art in Naoshima

After attempting to visit Naoshima on Monday, failing miserably and losing a whole day to riding the Shinkansen, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to try visiting again. However, by that point I had already done the research on the small island in the Seto Inland Sea known for its abstract art installations and knew I’d regret if it I didn’t go. And for the record, I’m glad that things worked out as they did since all museums are closed on Mondays.

Naoshima was just as wonderful as I hope it would be. Even though it takes a while to get there because of a connecting local train and ferry that you have to take, once you make it over you immediately feel lighter. The weather in Kyushu has been amazing and today was no exception. I stepped off the ferry and immediately got onto the local bus that goes past the main museums. I already knew where my first stop would be – the Chichu Art Museum.

The Chichu Art Museum just may be the coolest museum I’ve ever been to. It’s focused on using nature and natural light in different ways to create something so serene and beautiful that you are automatically put at ease when you see it. The architect, Tadao Ando built the museum entirely below ground. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense at first, but once you’re there you find yourself amazed at how bright the space is because of strategic openings that let in sunlight. I think the building itself was the coolest part – it’s truly a work of art in itself. There are three artists that have works there: Claude Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell. Monet has an awesome huge square room with 5 art pieces from the water lilies series. Everything in the room is white and when you enter you face the gigantic ‘Water Lily Pond’ piece that simply takes your breath away. I couldn’t help but pout about the no photography policy throughout the museum (although, as you can see above I was able to sneak a few pics of the awesome building.) Another cool exhibit there is ‘Open Field’ by James Turrell. Only a few people enter at a time and you walk slowly up a set of stairs and into a room full of a white light. I didn’t get it at first and tried to steal sideways glances of the people I was with to see if they knew something I didn’t. After a while though, I felt like I was in an endless space – like what you often see in movies where they die for a few minutes and in some limbo talking to an angel… or how about the Grease Beauty School Dropout scene? No? Well, anyway it was pretty damn cool. And hey, the great thing about art is how you interpret it differently.

Above view of the Chichu Art Museum (photo from museum website)

After seeing the art and taking in the magnificent view of the ocean and surrounding islands, I departed Chichu and started on my walk towards the Benesse House. The Benesse house is another area which also has a small museum along with many cool outdoor art installations randomly placed along the island. While I didn’t have time to check out the museum, I took the winding paths down to the shore and saw some of the installations – some were rad, some questionable, and others I just didn’t get. I loved it all. Benesse House also has a hotel with different properties along the beach – I walked by one and would definitely love to stay there on my next visit. Hotel guests get 24 access to the museum as well, so if you’re jet lagged and can’t sleep you can go have the place to yourself at 3am.

I thought Naoshima would be a tiny island, but I was surprised to find that it’s quite large and lively. If you have the time to stay a night on the island, I would definitely suggest doing so. You can rent bicycles for 500 yen a day, or just walk to the main spots or take the local bus like I did. There’s also plenty of open coasts for you to take a break and take in the amazing sea views too. Talk about a place to truly be inspired.

The town has been revitalized due to the revenue coming in from the art museums. There are many more museums on the island, including another popular spot called The Art House. You can even stare at art while you’re stark naked at their I Love Yu onsen on the island (which I hear is pretty awesome.) Overall, I can say that I left Naoshima feeling relaxed and inspired with my creative juices flowing.

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