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June 2, 2016

Shikoku Roadtrip Part 3: Naoshima LOVE FOREVER

How long have you wanted to visit Naoshima (A.K.A Japan's Art Island)? Forever? Yeah, me too.

I'll pick up our Shikoku road trip story where I left off: in a tent. On Monday morning we left our campsite overlooking the gorge in Tokushima Prefecture and started out on the route towards Naoshima, crossing the Great Seto Bridge which connects Shikoku with the Honshu mainland. The 13.1km-long bridge passes over a series of five small islands and is a wonderful 20 minute drive. Once on Honshu land, we made our way around to Uno Port, Okayama, where we drove onto the ferry that took us across to Art Island, Naoshima: our home for the next two nights.

Arriving after midday on a rainy Monday is probably the worst time to get to Naoshima - the galleries are mostly closed on Mondays and the powerful sideways-rain made it impossible to walk around viewing the outdoor installations. Our original plan was to hop another ferry across to the other "art island" of Teshima on Monday, but we were a little too late arriving so our plan was foiled. After a failed attempt to walk from our campsite to the Benesse House Museum (the only gallery open that day) we returned to our camper van accommodation drenched and a little disheartened. I had waited so long to see Naoshima and now that we were finally here I was confined to the indoor quarters of a van. It was not ideal!  The only 'art' we managed to see on our first day was the bizarre 007 James Bond museum near Miyanoura Port. That, and the pumpkins...

So, first things first. You can't mention Naoshima without an image popping into the mind of your listener: Yayoi Kusama's famous pumpkin statues. One sits at the harbour (the red pumpkin) and one around the bay (the yellow pumpkin). Having already met the twin of the yellow pumpkin in our Japanese hometown of Fukuoka (you'll find it outside the art gallery in Ohori Park), it was really lovely to finally see Naoshima's pumpkins in the flesh, so to speak. Our accommodation was located a five-minute stroll from the yellow pumpkin so we passed it often in our travels, yet I couldn't resist stopping to say hello each time. Perched at the end of a little jetty, it is a reliable and comforting symbol of Naoshima. Even in the heavy downpour of Monday afternoon we were able to pay a visit to the yellow pumpkin which lifted my soggy spirits a little (but only added to the problem of my soggy shoes). 

On Tuesday morning we woke up - with great relief - to a perfectly hot and sunny day and set out early by foot to see the main galleries - hoping to beat the crowds.

I absolutely loved the Chichu Art Museum. Sleek and clever architecture by Tadao Ando, art by James Turrell, Walter de Maria and Claude Monet. It was a perfect and harmonious selection of art that you could step into, melt into, become a part of. Turrell's exploration of light and space is enthralling in both "Open Field" and "Open Sky", and Walter de Maria's "Time/Timeless/No Time" is positively regal, like a futuristic, minimalistic throne room. Slipping into a pair of clean cotton slippers to view Monet's water lilies series, bathed in natural light is also an exceedingly pleasing experience.

The Benesse House Museum had some solid highlights too: Bruce Nauman's spectacular neon piece "100 Live and Die" and Kan Yasuda's "The Secret of the Sky" were stand-outs for me, but overall it couldn't compete with Chichu for my affections. We didn't enter the Lee Ufan Museum, but wandered its peaceful exterior gardens.

After the morning's gallery-hopping, we returned to the campsite to check-in to our second night's lodging: a Mongolian yurt. If you are visiting Naoshima, I urge you to book this accommodation (when you see the photos below, you'll understand, and the price is really reasonable). But there was no time to waste lazing around in our yurt. For the afternoon's activities we hopped in the car and headed to Honmura to see the Art House Project.

Thinking back on our trip, the Art House Project area was one of my favourite parts of Naoshima. You find yourself walking through the residential Honmura village on an art-treasure hunt of sorts, armed with a list of artworks and installations that are found at seven locations in the village. The participating artists were given empty houses in the residential area to use as they pleased. The traditional streets and houses of Honmura are well preserved, and wandering through the little but vibrant community in search of the artworks is a special experience. The stand-out pieces for me were "Minamidera" which houses another perception-altering James Turrell work,  "Go'o Shrine" - a real shrine restored and reimagined with a glass staircase by Tokyo artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, and "Haisha": Shinro Ohtake's conversion of the old home and office of a dentist into a surreal multi-room installation featuring Lady Liberty herself.

Down by Miyanoura Port after dinner, we encountered another Shinro Ohtake piece: "I♥︎湯" (I Love Yu, where Yu=bath in Japanese) which was hands-down one of the best bathing experiences I've had in Japan. Coming from five years living in the onsen-heaven of Kyushu, that is saying a lot.  Ohtake has created an artwork/bathhouse hybrid in which imagination and reality blur in a humid, naked way. Sadly but understandably there are no photos allowed inside, where you sit in a communal bath (women and men are divided, of course) looking up at a huge elephant, with vaguely erotic illustrations on the bath tiles, unreal tropical plants behind foggy glass, jungle noises being played and a million other strange little details. It felt like something out of a Goosebumps novel, or a dream where things are slightly altered from their usual state. I can't recommend it enough.

Fresh and clean and in our pyjamas, we enjoyed an illuminated night-view of Sou Fujimoto's white geometric Naoshima Pavillion before retiring to our yurt for the evening. The next morning held a quick goodbye to both Kusama pumpkins before the ferry ride and 6-hour highway drive home to Fukuoka.

Now, if you made it this far reading I would like to reward you with some photos. 

photo source

ありがとう!Thanks for looking. This was my final Shikoku island post (for now!) - soon I'll resume regular Fukuoka/Kyushu-based exploring x

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