A set of small fishing islands transformed into pieces of art.

I travel spontaneously and never plan more than a day ahead. I take into consideration the weather forecast and if it’s monsoon or rainy season, but that’s about it. Going to Naoshima island without any preparation or accommodation booked may have been a mistake. My unpreparedness cost me getting a hotel room, a bike rental and even a place to eat. The island was dead and I ended up exploring its museums and galleries from the outside. A shame, but I didn’t really care.

Travelling to the island by ferry. Cargo ship.

Naoshima is about three square miles in size, with a population of around 3000. It’s a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea, a short ferry ride away from the mainland. Local residents have opened a few traditional guesthouses, which provide alternative lodging options to the poncey hotels and restaurants built by a wealthy corporation in the area. However, it is art that draws visitors to the island, not its food or accommodation.

From the moment visitors disembark the ferry onto Naoshima Island, they are likely to encounter a work of art.

The immersive geometric seven meter polyhedron, named the ‘naoshima pavilion’, is constructed using white stainless steel mesh and allows visitors to enter inside its angular frame.
An iconic jumbo-size, polka-dotted yellow “pumpkin” looks over the Seto Inland Sea from the end of the pier.
Me walking on one of the tall walls of a building.
Me walking on one of the tall walls of the building.

The emergence of modern art and architecture in this relatively isolated place can be credited to corporate donations made by the Benesse Corporation, a Japanese company specialising in education and language schools. The company’s chairman, a native of nearby Okayama, is a billionaire art-lover, whose longstanding support has fuelled the transformation of Naoshima and its surrounding fishing islands.

Naoshima might be one of the most progressive, dynamic, and celebrated hotbeds of contemporary art in the world, but not many people see its other side. Literally on the other side of the island, away from tourists and pretty statues, there is chemical factory that produces pharmaceutical and agricultural intermediate chemicals. That might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it encapsulates true spirit of Naoshima – an island of two sides.

View over the factories.
Naoshima beach looking onto nearby islands.

Honmura is full of tiny, narrow, labyrinthine streets. Thoughtfully designed, with cafes composed of recycled materials and restaurants tucked away in the peaceful, narrow streets of town.

Local coffee shop.
Local coffee shop.

The Naoshima Art House Project revives old, empty houses in the district by turning them into pieces of art.

The Go’o Shrine used to be an old deteriorated Shinto shrine from the Edo period. Now its main building and front structure is restored, white rocks are spread all around the temple and a staircase made of glass catches the light in an underground chamber — true piece of art.
This building was originally a dentist’s house and office, hence the name Haisha (dentist in Japanese). Scrap materials were used on the exterior and interior to transform it into an artistic creation. It’s a pretty strange house and reminded me of the dystopian housing in Fallout 3.

Naoshima’s beaches are perfect for introverts, who just want to sit down by the beach and become intoxicated by the deafening sound of the waves.

Museums and a quiet life. These look like the only things that draws tourists to the island. At this time of year it was dead quiet, cold and dark. The only sparks of light that gave some warmth to the evening streets were the vending machines and their brazen marketing from corporations offering hot drinks and soups.