Naoshima: An Island Museum In Japan
Even if you are passionate about Japan, you may not have heard of Naoshima Island. This small island in the Seto Inland Sea is like an open-air museum of contemporary art. It is world famous for its modern art museums, the architecture of some of its buildings and the outdoor sculptures that can be seen all over the island.
An island dedicated to art
Naoshima is an island in the Japanese archipelago located in the Seto Inland Sea, between Honshu and Shikoku. It belongs to the prefecture of Kagawa.
Almost deserted at the end of the 1980s, the island has become a very popular tourist spot. Popular with Japanese tourists for its climate and sandy beaches, it also attracts visitors from around the world for its contemporary art.
This island with modest dimensions (only 8 km2) has a little more than 3000 inhabitants who live there year round. But it has developed an important tourist activity around contemporary art and has thus attracted one million visitors in 2019!
A Mecca for contemporary art
The special feature of Naoshima Island is that it is home to several leading contemporary art museums.
An art site called the Benesse Art Site Naoshima was established there in the late 1980s by Benesse company president Soichiro Fukutake, with the complicity of the famous architect Tadao Ando.
The architect notably designed, from 1989 to 1992, a hotel complex coupled with a museum: the Benesse House. This luxury hotel complex offers about forty hotel rooms, provided you pay between €225 and €600 per night.
Even if you don't stay there, this house is a must-see on the island because of its architecture combining concrete with large volumes and the works it houses. The collection of this museum is very eclectic, with works by Alberto Giacometti, Richard Long, Yves Klein or Walter De Maria.
Around this main building, walkers can admire many sculptures in the park or near the beach.
At the Chichu Art Museum, another museum not to be missed, the collection of contemporary art is completed by 5 paintings from the Water Lilies series by Claude Monet.
Art integrated into nature
Today, Naoshima is home to many contemporary artworks and installations, mostly to be admired outside. On this open-air museum island, the works can be discovered as you walk or bike.
Most of these installations play with the elements such as the wind or the sun and highlight the surrounding landscape.
As you walk, you will come across a monumental sculpture by Walter de Maria or an installation by American artist James Turrell, not to mention works by Niki de Saint Phalle and Yayoi Kusama.
In the park of Benesse House, a polyester and ceramic zoo was created by Niki de Saint Phalle: this colorful bestiary includes an elephant, a camel and a cat.
On the island, you can also discover the Art House Project, i.e. traditional Japanese fishermen's and farmers' houses that have been restored and transformed into art projects. They too house artworks while being artworks themselves.
In Naoshima, art is really everywhere!
It should be noted that the entrance fees are quite high in the museums on the island. The only free museum is the one dedicated to James Bond and which echoes a short story published in 2002 The Man with the Red Tattoo.
To discover more easily the different art installations spread over the island, we recommend renting a bike: it is the best way to ride around Naoshima and discover its surprises.