The Culture Enthusiast’s Naoshima Travel Guide
An art lover's dream escape to a remote island. Located in the Seto Inland Sea, both serene and awe-inducing, Naoshima is a small island, but a must-stop on your trip to Japan. Part of Kagawa Prefecture, it's fascinating to be in a place that is so un-commercial, aside from the art. You'll see other tourists, but nothing is too crowded, and it all feels very peaceful on Japan’s art island.
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Where to stay
A Tadao Ando-designed minimalist gem that’s more museum than hotel, on Japan’s art hub of Naoshima Island.
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Things to do
Arts & culture
Naoshima is all about art and the experiences created around it. There are so many to choose from, and the size of the island makes it easy to visit them all.
The Benesse Corporation, which manages modern art museums, installations, and sculptures on Naoshima and nearby islands, is responsible for a large portion of the art on the island. These museums only accept a limited number of visitors, therefore, it’s advised to make a reservation through the Benesse Art Site website.
At the Chichu Art Museum, Claude Monet paintings meet Walter de Maria pieces in naturally-lit galleries, but the James Turrell installation is the true highlight. While sparse, the Lee Ufan Museum features a mix of paintings, sculptures, and installations by the artist in a beautiful environment. The Ando Museum, dedicated to Tadao Ando’s architecture, is also worth a stop.
Additionally, the Setouchi Triennale art festival holds its main events on the island. If you can make it during the festival, it’s well worth your time.
Last but not least, the Benesse House Museum, located in the hotel's main building, is open late for guests, which means you could have it all to yourself to explore at your leisure. There are also outdoor sculptures (by Yayoi Kusama, Walter De Maria, George Rickey and more) dotted all around the property.
A note from David
I strongly recommend visiting Naoshima even if you don't think you're an art buff. Each site is designed to fully immerse yourself in the artwork and experience the spaces and pieces in multisensory ways. It's also fascinating to be in such a remote, quiet place. Even though you'll encounter other tourists, the island feels very serene.
Places to eat & drink
Breakfast & coffee
Benesse House Terrace Restaurant: The buffet is included when staying at Benesse House and the assortment of Japanese and Western breakfast foods will please everyone.
Mikazukishoten: A small coffee stand near the ferry station. The place is adorable and the coffee is A+++.
Shimacoya: This funny little coffee shop doubles as a bookstore, as well as a hostel. Great place to take a break between Art House Project stops.
Lunch & dinner
Cafe Salon Naka-Oku: This traditional Japanese restaurant is tucked away from the main town area. So delicious and cozy, especially when you sit on tatami mats or in the little nook with armchairs. Order the egg over rice with curry!
Issen at Benesse House Museum: If you want to try a traditional kaiseki meal, you’ll enjoy a lovely dining experience within the museum. It’s slightly overpriced, but worth it for the surroundings.
Need to Know
Keep in mind
Many of the sites require that you remove your shoes upon entry. You'll save time and hassle by choosing footwear you can easily slip on and off.
Take a long walk (or go for a run) throughout the Benesse property, and you'll discover many more sculptures and installations scattered around the park. Plus, you'll see more of the island, too!
If you have more time
Adjacent to Naoshima, Teshima Island features more contemporary art installations, like the ones at Teshima Art Museum, and is well worth a visit, if you can spare another half day.
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