On a beautiful early spring day, I took a 20 minutes ferry ride from Uno port to Naoshima in Setouchi inlet. Naoshima is an internationally recognized island for its unique role in showcasing artwork throughout the island and an advocate in sustainability by implementing a “zero-emission” initiative.
Naoshima Island is relatively small: 14.22 square kilometers or 3,500 acres with a population of little over 3,000.
Our ferry carried both automobiles and passengers between Uno port, Naoshima, and Takamatsu (Shikoku). I paid 570 yen for a round trip (valid for two days) to Miyaura port, one of the main ports in Naoshima. In addition to ferry, there are passenger-only boats that run between Miyaura and Uno for the same price
The initial idea behind Art Island was first introduced by Mr. Mitaku, a mayor of Naoshima back in the 1960s. As the mayor of the island, he focused on improving the local economy by providing safe and open-air education to children, increasing tourism and preserving nature and the environment. He collaborated with local and international artists and architects to introduce projects throughout Naoshima. At the same time, the island contracted Mitsubishi Materials (located in the northern half of the island) to create a recycling facility to create jobs on the island. Together, they have provided a unique learning environment for locals and visitors via workshops and other initiatives such as “Fujita Deserted Island Paradise”, later known as Naoshima Cultural Village. As a result, in 2002, Naoshima was given an “Eco Town ” title under the Eco Town Program (zero-emission concept by Japanese Ministry of Environment).
The 20 minutes ferry ride felt short as we passed small by the fishing boats, tankers, and other passenger boats. As we approached the port, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the famous red pumpkin designed by Yayoi Kusama on the embankment.
From the deck, I knew this is a small island when I saw a handful of bicycle rental shops across the street from what seems to be the main street with its mountainous hills in the background.
It was noon when I arrived, so I decided to grab something to eat from a handful of local restaurants within walking distance from the port. (F. Y. I. the majority of museums and restaurants on the island are closed on Mondays and holidays, and there is only one convenient store on the island. )
My lunch at Shima Shokudo Miyanda was Grilled Whole Red Snapper in Vinaigrette, Nimono of simmered vegetables and mushrooms, slow-cooked beans, pickled cabbage and daikon, miso soup with dinosaur claws, and white rice. All for 1500 yen and delicious. (Just to let you know that I will be eating fish for the next three meals.)
Since the weather was nearly perfect, I decided to rent a bicycle and ride across the island. The bike rental owner highly recommended the electric motor-bicycle since the island has a couple of mountains, which I totally made sense to me later that day.
For 800-1000 yen, you can rent a decent bicycle for a whole day, but they must be returned by 6 pm. This seems to be a standard policy across all bike rental shops on the island. Also, make sure to rent them early as it’s not unusual for them to run out quickly. Naoshima does offer public transportation though the numbers are limited.
When you arrive at the port, get a map of art projects because there are so many you won’t be able to visit them all in a day. Also, there are pre-sold tickets for different projects throughout the island, so plan ahead.
Here are a few of the works of art I saw on this trip:
Naoshima public school
In the 1970s, three schools located across the island, gymnasium, library and community center were gathered into one area to provide better learning opportunities. They also introduced early childhood education. The school building used symmetrical design to create aesthetic uniformity (also the angle of buildings parallels the mountain behind).
Art House Project
The Art House Project was started in 1998 as a way to preserve the traditional buildings and historic structures on the island. The Art House Project is located in Honmura Area and currently, there are 7 buildings registered under “Art House Project”. One of the projects closest to the Miura port is The Dentist designed by Shinro Otake
Tadao Ando Museum
Tadao Ando is an internationally recognized Japanese architect. He started working on Naoshima Project in the 80s and he created numerous buildings across the island including Benesse House Museum and Chichu Art Museum. Tadao Ando Museum was his first project on the island.
Beaches and Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama
Between Honmura Area and Museum Area are beautiful beaches. Near Tsutsuji-so bus stop on the beach is the Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.
Naoshima Noren Project
An Art project collaboration between textile designer and dyer Yoko Kanou, and local business owners to create a unique Noren (outdoor curtain) to showcase their business and family cress.
It started in 2006 as a project to resurrect rice growing on the island.
Benesse House Museum
Benesse is a Portugal word meaning “nothing in return”. The museum is designed by Ando Tadao with a concept of harmonizing buildings with nature. Exhibits include contemporary art designed using objects from the island. There is a hotel, Benesse hotel attached to the museum.
Public Bath, Airabuyu (I Love Bath)
It is a still-operating public bathhouse near Miyaura port. Designed by Shinto Otake.
After biking for three hours, I headed back to Miura port and returned by bicycle to head to my hotel, Shioya for the night. Shioya Ryokan is located only a few minutes away from the port in a narrow alleyway. The ryokan also is a part of the Noren Project so all I had to look for was a beautifully dyed outside curtain, instead of a sign. It is a traditional ryokan, meaning you will have your room with tatami mats, shared toilet and bath with meals included.
My room was located on the third floor on a roku-jyo-ma (six tatami size room) with TV, free wi-fi, a table with tea and a dresser.
Dinner was served in a dining room on the first floor off the kitchen. My dinner was not only a tasteful combination of local delicacies but was beautifully decorated like artwork. The dinner consisted of braised yellowtail, sashimi of red snapper and clams, nimono- simmered root vegetables and shrimp, daikon, cucumber, and tuna in a vinaigrette with yuzu, sweet white miso-miso soup with oyster and yuzu, pickled daikon and napa cabbage with sesame seeds and white rice.
The inn owner kindly informed me that the Setouchi Ohashi (iconic bridge connecting mainland to Shikoku) and the red pumpkin will be lit up at night and worth the visit but I was exhausted from the bike ride so I decided to take a bath and went to bed early.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of rain and thought about how lucky I was to have a beautiful day yesterday. Still full from the evening meal but excited for the breakfast, I headed to the dining room to find another deliciousness. The breakfast was Japanese style but I found more familiar dishes like eggs and bacon and freshly brewed coffee. I was also served a green salad with sesame dressing, fried mackerel marinated in vinaigrette, silken tofu, and blanched greens tossed in a light broth, sweet white miso soup with tofu and local seaweed, seasoned nori sheets and white rice.
Nori sheets and seaweed served during meal time reminded me that Naoshima is also known for farming nori and sea salt. Seaweed is often used for making nori sheets (for sushi making) as well as in salads and soups. On my way to the Benesse museum yesterday, I saw many buoys floating in the quiet water of the inlets which marks the nori farming. In some parts of the island, you can smell the seaweed and find washed up dried seaweed on a beach.
As I waited for my passenger boat to arrive to take me back to Uno (which is located away from the ferry port), I saw seaweed boats with workmen pulling in from morning’s work at sea, all wearing waterproof jumpers, and boots.
Next time I come to this island, it will be all about deliciousness, fresh seaweed, yuzu citrus and locally-harvested sea salt which only can be found he