Inujima means “dog island”, but unlike the well-known Japanese cat island or rabbit island, you won’t find packs of wild dogs roaming here. Instead, this small island boasts an array of extraordinary artwork and installations, attracting thousands of art lovers every year.
This island is located of the southern shore of Okayama City, and a short 10-minute ferry ride across the bay. The name comes from the legend of Michizane Sugawara, an ancient poet and scholar, who escaped a shipwreck and was guided to the island thanks to the sound of a dog’s bark. Despite its colorful historical origins, Inujima is a quiet and peaceful island. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was the site of a quarry and later a large copper refinery, but these industries soon faded away.
It is, however, back on the map – this time as an industrial site-turned-modern art site. The island was developed as an art site largely by Yukinori Yanagi, an artist whose work was displayed at a solo exhibition at the Benesse House in the neighboring island of Naoshima in 1992. Yanagi was enthralled by the islands of the Seto Inland Sea and developed a plan for Inujima to become an art site in 1995. This effort resulted in the defunct copper refinery being refurbished as a museum in 2008.
In 2008, the Setouchi Triennale – a tri-annual art event organized by the Fukutake Organization that celebrates contemporary art in the Seto Inland Sea – added Inujima to its list of islands participating in the event. The old copper refinery, now reborn as the Seirensho Art Museum (which is both a museum and a sensory experience) is a collaborative project between Yanagi and architect Hiroshi Sambuichi. In addition to utilizing the existing building and surrounding bricks, it also incorporates solar and geothermal energies as well as a natural water purification system that uses surrounding plants. The project is the perfect marriage of industrial heritage, art, architecture, and the environment.
In addition to the museum, there are no fewer than eight large installation pieces and one art pavilion dotted around the island. These works are part of the Art House Project, galleries located in houses and buildings, which are designated with letters of the alphabet.
One thing you’ll quickly notice about Inujima is the shortage of cars on the island, but at only four kilometers in circumference, the island is easy to traverse on foot. The roads on the island are narrow, but that only adds to the sensory experience, especially when you turn a corner to find yourself fact-to-face with a dynamic art installation.
You are likely to meet some residents while strolling through the town, but other than the occasional greeting, the sound of ferryboats chugging in the distance, and birdsong, the island is peacefully quiet. It is a great place to temporarily escape from the hustle and bustle of modern Japan.
In addition to the art on show, visitors can also enjoy taking in some scenery at the beach and the campground on the south side of the island. There are several statues on the beach carved from stone taken from the Inujima quarry. This series was produced by groups of art students from art schools around the country as part of a project called “Living into the Future: the MOAI Plan”.
During your peaceful stroll around the island, you can stop off for lunch or a coffee break at Uki Café. This café is located just next to the ‘I’ Art House. In fact, you can see the art from the yard of the café. The café offers a choice of two pasta dishes with a side salad and a selection of hand-dripped coffees. For dessert, try the ice cream with marmalade made from oranges grown on the site, or the banana cake packed with flavor.
Another place to rest your legs is Zaihon Shoten at the northern tip of the island. Here, you can try the local cuisine ‘Inujima-don’, a sole fish and root vegetable stew served over rice. Another café near the port, trees Inujima, offers handmade chicken curry and cold Inujima beer; deck seating on a nice day is a wonderful way to relax. Another local specialty is the quiche at the Seirensho Art Museum Café made with rosemary grown at the museum.
Although you can easily see everything on the island in half a day, you will be sad to leave this island where art is everywhere and life slows down, where the only sound you hear is the sea and occasionally a barking dog.
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum
Address： 327-4 Inujima, Higashi-ku, Okayama 7048153, Japan
Open Hours： 10:00-16:30 (last admittance 16:00)
Holidays： Tuesdays (March 1 – November 30)
Tuesdays to Thursdays (December 1 – last day of February)
*Open on national holidays but closed the following day.
*Open on Tuesdays when Monday falls on a national holiday but closed on the following day.
From Okayama City:
Take the JR Ako Line to JR Saidaiji Station (240 JPY, usually two trains per hour); change to the Ryobi Bus bound for Higashi Hoden (東宝伝); get off at the Nishi Hoden(西宝伝) bus stop (510 JPY, 3-4 departures per day). The ferry port is a short walk from the bus stop. The trip from Okayama to the ferry port takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes (300 JPY).There is generally one ferry run every two hours.
Two ferries per day run between Miyanoura Port and Inujima (with a stop on Teshima island) except on Tuesdays from March through November. In the winter months, the ferries do not run on the weekends nor on days when the art museums are closed. A one-way trip between Naoshima and Inujima takes between 40 and 60 minutes (1,850 JPY; 3 ferries per day).
Address: next to Inujima Campground
Season: mid-July to mid-August
Address: 221-2 Inujima, Higashi-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken
Season: April 15th through October 15th
Closed: Tuesdays (day camp use only allowed on Mondays)
Other: site and equipment reservations required at least 10 days in advance
Address: 293 Inujima, Higashi-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken
Business Hours: 10:00-17:00
Address: 310-1Inujima, Higashi-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken
Business Hours: 9:00-18:00
Closed: irregular holidays
Address: 324 Inujima, Higashi-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken
Business Hours: from about 11:45 ~
Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, days when the ferry is not operating, and whenever the owner feels like taking a holiday.
Seirensho Art Museum Café
Address: 327-5 Inujima, Higashi-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken;
inside the Seirensho Museum building
Business Hours: 10:30-16:30 (last order at 16:00)
Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays
Words by Andrea Miyata
Photographs by Takuma Kimura
Edited by Tom Miyagawa Coulton
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