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Odds and Ends Travels

Naoshima, the Japanese Art Island

Lately I have swapped my little watercolour brushes for a big one, to paint our hallway. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t finished telling you about my adventures in Japan. I have also been doing a workshop to help develop my newsletter. Lots to learn, and lots to put into practice.

Meanwhile, back in Japan…..

Naoshima is a little island in the Seto Inland Sea.

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We (my mother, brother and I) needed to get there from Osaka and the shinkansen was the way to go. The JR office was so efficient. Once the clerk knew our destination she tapped on the computer and out came the tickets we needed to get there. So, armed with our trusty JR rail passes and the tickets we hopped onboard the shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Okayama. There we changed to a middle-sized train to get to Chaymachi, where we changed to a small local train to Uno. Each connection worked smoothly.

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View from the train

I had debated about where we would stay. You can stay on Naoshima Island, but I thought the ferry ride and then getting to the accommodation might have been a couple of steps too many for Mum. It was the correct decision, especially as I made the right choice in Uno Port Inn.

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Its location couldn’t have been better ~ just around the corner from the station, and over the road from the ferry. But it was the Inn itself that made the stay. The staff were welcoming and spoke excellent English. They gave us so much information about the Inn, Naoshima, the ferries, the local area ~ and they made excellent coffee!!

The concept of the Inn is great. Each room had tatami mats but western beds ~ the Japanese vibe without the inconvenience, especially for my elderly Mum. Apparently the upstairs are all Japanese style. Instead of an ensuite each room had a small, private bathroom at the end of the hall. There was a lounge area and cafe for guests. You can see more detail on their website. And a delicious restaurant just around the corner that was still open when we rocked up for a late lunch.

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Naoshima is a small island that was, like country places the world over, languishing. This article explains what happened, 

Naoshima might have been headed for the same relentless decline.

Enter Benesse Holdings, an education and publishing conglomerate based in the nearby city of Okayama. Its best-known brand is Berlitz, the language school company. Benesse’s other claim to fame is its world-class modern art collection, including paintings by Claude Monet, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol, as well as many Japanese artists less famous in the U.S.

The former head of Benesse Holdings, Soichiro Fukutake, wanted a special home for the collection, someplace where it would have a local impact and could also be shared with the wider world.

So, nearly 30 years ago, Benesse bought a big hunk of land on Naoshima’s south side. It hired world-famous architect Tadao Ando, and over the next two decades, he designed museums and adjacent luxury lodgings. The buildings follow the natural contours of the landscape. One museum is mostly underground, with open courtyards and skylights bringing in natural light.

It is not the only Art Island in the area, but is the most well-known.

The photos show that it was a rainy day when we went over, but still warm. And the clouds were spectacular! Unfortunately the rain stopped us from seeing everything, especially the art houses. Not really sure what they are, so I can’t tell you about them. But I will go back the see them….and then you can hear all about it! The article I linked to before details some of the benefits for the locals.

Sculpture is dotted around the island. You may know the images of the pumpkins.

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Spots are the theme of the island, with the bus painted with spots too. The town bus takes you over the island to where the big art galleries are. To get to them you hop on a free shuttle bus (the town bus costs Y100, about $1), which winds up the hill and drops you at the gallery you wish to see.

We went to the Chichu Art Museum. Photos aren’t allowed, but the website gives you a very good feel for the place. It is unlike anything I have been to before. And I loved the Monet paintings displayed there

There was a lot to absorb there, so we decided not to see the two other galleries, and headed to town for another late lunch. Lunch turned out to be one of my favourite moments of the trip.

We hopped off the bus in the drizzle, looked around and down a little alley we saw a doorway with an “Open” sign.

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By now we were quite used being surprised by these small restaurants….and this was no exception. It was larger than it looked from the outside. One room had the traditional tatami mats where you sat on the floor. My brother and I could have managed, but Mum may not have got up again! Fortunately the next room had tables and chairs.

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Can you see the menu? Assorted seafood bowl for Y1500 (roughly $15.00) or roast fish for Y1300 (roughly $13.00). Mum chose the roast fish and said it was the most delicious meal. Andrew and I chose the other. The photo shows my meal; succulent fresh, raw fish on a bed of rice, with miso soup and pickles. The green herb in the little bowl to the right was rather like basil (but it wasn’t), to be sprinkled over the fish. The marshmallow-looking things in the miso soup had normal flavour, but a squishy texture. The meal was delicious.

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At the bottom of the miso soup we found these….

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Mystified, Andrew cracked one open to find a morsel of flesh inside. We later learnt that they are barnacles. Well I never!

So we oohed and aahed our way through lunch, overseen by the two ladies (mother and daughter?) who owned it and cooked for us. Then we braced ourselves for the rain outside and scurried for the shuttle bus, due any minute. Just as we got to the stop one of the ladies ran after us, saying that she would take us over the island to the ferry on the other coast. Such a sweet, thoughtful thing to do.

The last thing to show you is the fish on the esplanade at Uno. I could see it from the Inn, and it looked like a large coloured fish. Imagine my delight when I got up close….

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to find out it was made from detritus, much of it from the sea. (Of course, not delighted by the fact that all that rubbish is in the sea.)

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According to the sign it is “Black Porgy in Uno” by Yodogawa Technique.

And next to it is a smaller fish, created as a children’s slide.

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Would I go back? Yes. I would love to wander the little villages on Naoshima, soaking it all up, finding the unexpected. And I would like to visit the other islands too.

Do you have any tales to tell of unexpected delights on your travels?

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16 replies on “Naoshima, the Japanese Art Island”

Awww, thank you for saying that about my descriptions. It means a lot to me, as it comes from you for whom words are so important.
I know I have said this to you before…..it’s a great place to travel through and a delightful place to be in.

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lol – yes, that is why I’m green, green, green! There are two places I would very much like to see with my own eyes – Kyoto [and some traditional parts of Japan] and Petra. I keep threatening to buy tatts tickets but I’m too much of a scrooge!

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The adventure was great and I would go back in a shot. I am lucky that I love Japanese food. You would find it difficult because there is little food diversity and, as you would know, food is a big part of travel.

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I can’t quite get my head round eating raw fish so I’d have had the same as your Mum but I love the fish sculpture although, as you say, terrible to think so much rubbish has ended up in the ocean.

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Anne, I’m delighted to hear that you had such a nice time. I didn’t know about the pumpkins, so I’m pleasantly charmed. And those over-sized, fish “sculpted” from ocean trash. It’s quite a statement piece, both beautiful and educational. I especially like the umbrella fins. What an extraordinary piece of work. A friend just returned from three weeks in Japan and from what I hear, the people are wonderfully gracious at every turn.

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I agree with your friend ~ the people are very gracious, and friendly. Although not a great deal of English is spoken, people are quite willing to help out wherever they can. Those pumpkins are right up your street, and maybe Mike might have some different ideas for carving!

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