For a long time, the island of Naoshima was sustained by two things – fishing and heavy industry. But the involvement of the Benesse Corporation and the creation of the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival has turned this once sleepy island into one of Japan’s major art destinations.
‘International’ and ‘art’ are two words that seem to typify Naoshima. The main museums on this island include Benesse House, Chichu Art Museum, Ando Museum, and the Lee Ufan Museum, all designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Tadao Ando himself. The web is full of useful information and reviews about these museums, as they continue to increase in popularity.
But there is more to Naoshima than these well-known sites. The culture of art has spread throughout the island’s community, where both residents and businesses have embraced modern art and the changes it has brought.
At the main port of Miyanoura, the Rent a Bike and Cycle team helps 300 to 400 visitors a week with bicycle rentals from a small high-tech brown shed. Every time a customer arrives, an elevator lift moves the bikes from the 2nd floor to the ground floor. The bicycle is a great way to move around the island.
“I remember thinking I would never get to speak English, but now I get to talk to people from all over the world on a daily basis,” says Mr. Ishii the owner of the company. “I feel international even though I can only say a few words in each language”.
Just around the corner from the rental shop is the retro looking Shioya Diner. Run by a couple that fell in love with all things Americana, they created a shop that transports you back to 1950’s USA. It might not be strictly art, but the collectibles scattered on the walls and their collection of ‘Big Eye’ prints make a visit here a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Depending on their mood they might even get dressed for the part. The menu is all-American with beef combos, fried chicken, and hot dogs. The quality and quantity are both high.
Head to Honmura on the other side of the island and discover the unexpected art of the local elementary school. Tucked into the side of the hill, the buildings look modernistic with full white façades and amazing shapes. It is part of the Naoshima Blueprint project – referring to the photographic blueprints used in the creation of the architectural plans.
The project also includes the new Naoshima town hall completed in 2015. Architect Kazuhiro Ishii, who designed both structures drew his inspiration from his time studying at Yale University, he was particularly influenced by the architectural style of Charles Moore and Robert Venturi, especially their postmodern and vernacular approaches to design. The use of form and color so that the building takes on different qualities when viewed during the day and at night.
The last two hideaways are located in the Benesse Housing Project. This project takes a group of houses in the Honmura neighborhood and turns the houses themselves into art installations. The houses show lifestyles from different historical time periods, these houses representing an organic way people live. The first hidden gem is Iwao’s Café Seven Islands. Run by Iwao Yokoyama, he started this cafe as a way to share his love and knowledge of traditional Japanese arts with his customers. His café is full of antique collectables, kimonos, lacquered boxes, masks, and eclectic range of items the 75 year old has collected over the course of his life are displayed in his garden. He is fluent in English and always has great stories to tell.
“My life as a young man growing up in an island community wasn’t easy, I had to go to Kyoto to appreciate art and culture,” says Yokoyama who was born and raised on Shodoshima. “I would have never guessed all this art would end up here!”
Shimacoya Book and Tent Café is a new business run by a young couple who relocated from Tokyo. They brought with them modern urban decor and advanced culinary skills. Renovating an old Japanese house, they have created a space where people can eat delicious locally sourced food, buy old Japanese cups, plates and other bric-a-brac. Topped off with an option to rent a tent people can set up inside the building.
So when you visit Naoshima, remember there is a world to be discovered beyond the usual headline acts. Art is everywhere on the island, even in the places you least expect to find it.
Shikoku Kisen Tel: 087-892-3104 (Japanese only)
Adult 290yen Child 150yen
Shikoku Kisen Tel: 087-821-5100
Adult 520yen Child 260yen
Address: Miyanoura 2227
Hours: 11:30-20:45 (last order 20:00)
Tel: 087-892-3290 (Japanese only)
Iwao’s Café Seven Islands
Address: Naoshima-cho 884-1
Shimacoya: Book and Tent Cafe
Address: Noashima-cho 882-1
Words by Judith Mikami
Photography by Takuma Kimura
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