Categories
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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Categories
Travels

How was your trip?

Well, thank you so much for asking. My trip to Japan was fantastic, and will spawn a number of blog posts! This first one will be a general overview of the cities I visited. There will be lots more traveller’s tales to come.

In Japan I travelled all the time with my mother, most of the time with my younger brother and some of the time with my older brother and his family.

Our first stop was Osaka, which I loved unconditionally. No “this was good but I didn’t like that”. It was a great place to walk around in, narrow streets, something interesting wherever I looked. Every corner showed a street that I wanted to walk along.

And it was quiet, because there seemed to be more bicycles than cars. Not safer though, as the cyclists are rather crazy! It was one of the contradictions of Osaka…..In Melbourne I happily walk against the red light if it is safe; in Japan I waited patiently with all the other pedestrians for the green light . Meanwhile the helmet- less cyclists would ride through red lights, go on the wrong side of the road and meander across the road, often while talking on the phone or holding an umbrella! There were no crashes because they seem to allow for the path the pedestrian is on. The only ‘accident’ we saw was a lady loosing her high-heeled shoe as she cycled!

And the food….a post for another day!

We left Osaka and travelled by train to Uno. Before I tell you about that let me rave about the train system.

Foreign tourists are able to buy a JR Rail Pass. Like a Eurail Pass, it must be bought before you enter the country but it allows unlimited travel for the life of the pass. Rail is the way to get around ~ efficient, frequent, safe, clean and goes to most areas. To get to Uno we needed 3 trains, which would seem, by anyone used to Australia’s rail system, to be rather a nightmare. However we walked into the JR office, told the clerk where we wanted to go and after a few taps on the computer, she gave us tickets for all the legs. The connections were perfect. (You only need to go into the office if you wish to reserve a seat. Otherwise you just flash your pass as you enter the station.)

Our first train was one of the Shinkansen trains. They used to be known as the bullet trains. They are sleek, fast machines.

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The next trains got progressively smaller as we got further into the country. Uno is a ferry port on the Seto Inland Sea, with stunning views over the many islands in the sea.

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We were there to visit Naoshima, aka as the Art Island, which I will tell you more about in a later post. For now let me tell you about the place where we stayed, Uno Port Inn.

It is the brain child of Max, who lived for a while in New York. He has created a welcoming place to stay that has a great vibe, including jazz streaming from a radio station in New York. There are only about half a dozen rooms, all with tatami mats, but western beds; you get the feel for Japan while still being able to get up in the mornings! There aren’t ensuites. Instead each room has its own private, well appointed little  bathroom down the corridor.

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There’s a guest lounge, and they make fabulous coffee!! The ferry is close by and the staff, who speak good English, are happy to help out with visiting Naoshima.

After two nights we were back on the two trains to Okayama and then the Shinkansen to Kyoto, to meet up with the other parts of the travelling family.

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The view from our hotel room

I love Kyoto too, but with not unconditionally.  The main streets are busy and modern, and some leading to the big temples are quite touristy. You have to get off them and, like in Osaka, just wander to find the little delights. We were staying in the Gion area of old Kyoto, so the houses were old and wooden and utterly charming (and probably expensive!) The houses and shops come right to the street, and doorways have lanterns or pot plants or maybe a tree. I was delighted to find an neighbourhood with a car mechanic, a supermarket and a hairdresser who was crocheting between clients!

Kyoto has narrow roads that run alongside canals. They are lovely to walk along during the day and quite enchanting at night.

And how could I resist this photo?!

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Off again on the Shinkansen, all the way from Kyoto to Nagasaki, which is on the western tip of Japan. We changed at Hakata from the Shinkansen to a local train, and had lovely views of the coast and the mountains.

Nagasaki is nestled into valleys, which makes it very picturesque. It also has a tram system that brought a joy to this Melbourne heart! As it’s smaller than the other cities it has a country town feel about it, despite the ship yards!

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Of course the Peace Park was the thing we wanted to see. I was disappointed. It was so busy with Chinese tourists from a cruise ship and school children that it lacked any solemnity. (Although the school groups were very respectful, often with heads bowed, but they were teenagers.)

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There were lots of statues; the one that moved me most was in recognition of atomic survivors world wide, including indigenous Australians, service personnel and civilian workers who were affected by British nuclear testing in Maralinga. This is a world wide issue, and one one that has become so prominent again.

Back on the trains again to our last stop at Hiroshima.

It is a very modern city, as so much of it was wiped out in by the first atomic bomb in 1945. Although many parts of Nagasaki was destroyed, I think a lot of it was saved because of the hills and valleys. Hiroshima, like many Japanese cities is very flat, with the mountains in the background. The blast just radiated out.

The A bomb dome and Peace Park area were more solemn than Nagasaki ~ fewer people and a drizzly rain helped build the atmosphere. There are many memorials discretely through the park, while the A Bomb Dome rightly dominates.

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There is a very moving memorial to the victims of the bombing. Oral accounts were collected in 1950, and those survivor stories are told in this memorial. Stories that world leaders who talk of annihilation should be forced to listen to.

The Children’s Memorial is another place that touched me. You probably know the story of Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes. Now children from all over the world fold cranes and some are displayed both at Nagasaki and here in Hiroshima.

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Some cranes have been created into pictures.

Shikkeien is a beautiful old Japanese garden not far from the epicentre of the bomb. It was devastated by the blast, but has since been rebuilt, to provide a serene and restful antidote.

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So that’s the overview. We took the Shinkansen directly from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka and then the airport train to Kansai airport. So easy!

I still have lots to tell you, but my adventures in fabric shops and restaurants will have to wait for another time.

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