The Setouchi region is a sacred place for contemporary art fans from around the world. People have been working for around 30 years on creating art that blends in with the Setouchi region’s natural scenery. Foremost among these efforts are those on the islands of Teshima, Inujima, and Naoshima (the home of Benesse Art Site Naoshima), as well as Omishima (through which the highly popular Shimanami Kaido cycling course passes), which is home to three art museums. These artistic islands are highly recommended destinations for art lovers. Try making your way around the islands to witness art that can only be seen in the Setouchi region.

“Red Pumpkin” Yayoi Kusama,2006 Naoshima Miyanoura Port Square
Photo / Daisuke Aochi

Yayoi Kusama’s red pumpkin welcomes art fans to Naoshima.

The small island of Naoshima (16km in circumference) is the artistic heart of the Seto Inland Sea. The island can be reached by ferry from either Okayama Prefecture or Kagawa Prefecture. As people arrive by ferry at Naoshima’s gateway port of Miyaura, they are greeted by an enormous sculpture of a red pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. Kusama is an avant-garde artist who has been active since the 1960s in New York and Japan and remains active today. The red pumpkin, and a yellow pumpkin by the same artist, are both now symbols of Naoshima.

Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto

Art that blends in with the island scenery.

When enjoying a journey around the islands of Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima, we recommend using Benesse House (a combined museum and hotel facility on Naoshima) as a base. The facility, which was designed by architect Tadao Ando, opened in 1992. Following the opening of the facility, artistic activities began to spread from Naoshima to the nearby islands of Teshima and Inujima. Common to all of the art on the three islands is that it blends in naturally with the relaxed lifestyles of the islands’residents. The scenery and the art each showcase the other. Here we will introduce to you some of the art facilities of Benesse Art Site Naoshima.Benesse Art Site Naoshima

Embark on an artistic island sojourn from your base at Benesse House

Photo:FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa

An art museum designed by Tadao Ando to lurk unseen underground.

Naoshima is home to three art museums designed by Tadao Ando. One of these, is the Chichu Art Museum. Works by Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria are exhibited in specially designed spaces. The“Chichu”in the name means“underground”, and the museum is so called because the majority of the museum is in fact built underground in order to avoid detracting from the island’s scenery. Cradled by the island, the building itself is truly a thing to behold.Chichu Art Museum

Shinro Ohtake Naoshima Bath “I湯”
photo:Osamu Watanabe

An artistic bathhouse where you can soothe your travel-weary body.

Public baths (“sento”in Japanese) can be found throughout Japan. Modernization has meant that these public spaces are now dwindling in number. An artist called Shinro Ohtake breathed new life into this public bath in Naoshima called“I♥Yu”. The bathhouse is decorated with pop-culture murals, tiles, and bizarre objets d’art. And, you can of course enjoy a hot bath as well! The bathhouse provides an unusual space where bathers can enjoy art while they soak.Naoshima Bath “I Yu”

Photo:Ken'ichi Suzuki

An entirely unique place created through the weaving together of architecture, art, and the local environment.

The Teshima Art Museum, which is located on a small hill on the island of Teshima, is a collaboration between world-renowned architect Ryue Nishizawa, who has worked on the Louvre-Lens and other institutions, and artist Rei Naito. Visitors to the museum experience a work by Ms. Naito called“Bokei”(matrix). Drops of water well up from the gently contoured floor before flowing, gliding, and collecting together in an infinite variety of forms. The building embraces the shifting elements such as breezes and the play of light.Teshima Art Museum

Photo:Daici Ano

An island’s history and art brought together by its industrial heritage.

This red brick chimney towering by the coast belongs to a former copper smelter. With the use of solar energy and old bricks and other materials from the site, the copper smelter has been converted into the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum. An installation by artist Yukinori Yanagi is exhibited inside the museum. The work encourages visitors to think about the island’s history and the march of modernity in contemporary society. In the museum cafévisitors can savor local cuisine while gazing out over the sea.Inujima Seirensho Art Museum

Travel to all three art museums on Omishima Island

Omishima’s new symbol backed by a scenic seascape with island mountains.

Situated in the western half of the Seto Inland Sea, Omishima is the largest island lying along the Shimanami Kaido cycling route. Artworks are dotted throughout Omishima as well. We recommend that you first of all visit the western half of the island. There you will find a polyhedral building designed by Toyo Ito, one of Japan’s leading architects. It is a museum consisting of a crystal-like exhibition wing and a space in which Toyo Ito’s house in Tokyo has been reconstructed. The museum is a place where architecture and nature each showcase the other.Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Imabari

Come into contact with American and Japanese contemporary art while breathing the fresh island air.

Omishima also has a museum where you can enjoy contemporary art. Upon arrival at the museum, called Tokoro Museum, you will be greeted by an impressive gateway created by U.S. artist Noe Katz. The museum is cylindrical in shape and you can view contemporary Japanese and overseas artworks as you pass through the building until you arrive at a terrace from which you can look out across the Seto Inland Sea. Visitors can also enjoy the sea breezes that flow through the museum.Tokoro Museum Omishima

A half-open-air sculpture museum designed by Toyo Ito.

Omishima also has a small museum with an intimate atmosphere. Within a circular concrete structure located next to a closed-down school is a roofless lawn space featuring works by Ken Iwata on the theme of mothers and children. In the bright Setouchi sunlight, the works look energetic and vital. The museum helps to accentuate the life-affirming message of the artist.Ken Iwata Mother and Child Museum