Naoshima and Teshima: Art heaven from once abandoned fishing villages

Shirleyfest followers know that mid-month I leave my host city for one or two nights to find a special experience in the host country. Until now I would have said flying from Melbourne Shirleyfest to the island of Tasmania to visit the MONA ( Museum of Old and New Art) was my most extreme mid-month excursion. My last two days in Naoshima and Teshima have set the bar even higher.

I’m on the train at the moment heading back to Kyoto. By the time I’m back at my apartment, I will have taken 8 trains, 5 ferry boats, rented two different electric bikes and walked for miles. And it will all be worth it.

I arrive Saturday morning at Uno Port and walk three minutes to the stunning Airbnb I had rented. It is called Uno Nido and I highly recommend it. h ttps:// Yumi, the owner meets me and shows me the place I will be staying, designed by her architect husband. If it wasn’t for the ferry beckoning me, I would have just stayed there the rest of the day. I hop on the ferry which is 5 minutes away and we sail along the Seto Island Sea.

I get the first of my electric bikes and start my pilgrimage to the amazing art sites. It is the Setouchi Triennial while I’m here so in addition to the permanent installations there are lots of special exhibits. It’s a gloriously sunny day and I would be content to just be riding my bike around the island, but art beckons. I stop first at the Bernesse Art Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, an unorthodox, iconic, self-taught Japanese architect whose presence is felt all over the islands (and globally).

My favorite piece at this museum was the Jennifer Bartlett triptych painting Yellow and Black Boats with two objects in front in the form of the boats. When you turn around from the painting and look out the window to the Seto Island Sea you see the actual black and yellow boats. Do you see the boats? I also loved these three chattering men.

Back on my bike, I pay homage to the famous Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin, which has become a symbol of Naoshima. I’m off to the Lee Ufan museum. It’s an underground house designed by Tadao Ando with the art work of Korean artist Lee Ufan. While all the rooms in this museum speak to me, I absolutely adore the art in the Silence Room called Relatum Silence. I am frozen in front of it.

No pictures were allowed in this museum so the snap above is from a postcard I bought. There is a projector and the pool in front of the stone goes from solid to a hole to water crashing on a beach. I know– hard to explain but trust me it was cool.

After viewing the house, I walk down to the beach below. Surprise! There I find the black and yellow boats from the painting! I’m so happy that I sit in the black boat and snap a selfie. Now I am off to see the Chichu Museum where I had to buy a special ticket online weeks ago. This is also a Tadao Ando museum. It is subterranean with only three rooms. One contains Monet’s water lilies , one has an experience art by James Turrell and my favorite is the third room: Walter de Maria’s exhibit Time/Timeless/No Time of a black ball surrounded by 27 sculptures of gold painted pillars. How did they get that ball in the room? ( I’m curious. I have to know, so I find someone and ask. The art went in first and then they built the roof. Wow!)

Now I just drift around the island admiring the beautiful waters. Finally I lock my bike up and take the ferry back to Uno as the sun is setting. Yumi has suggested a sashimi restaurant nearby for dinner. The fish couldn’t be any fresher with the sea right here. It’s a husband and wife operation and I enjoy watching the sashimi being prepared right before me. Also, sake goes very well with sashimi!

The next day I want to get the early boat to Teshima because I was unable to rent a bike ahead of time and also I was unable to buy a ticket online to the Teshima Art Museum which I’m dying to see. I grab a coffee and catch the boat to the small island. Luckily when I get off the boat a young Japanese girl tells me about a place to rent a bike about a half mile away. I sprint off and they have one for me! Off I go, heading straight for the Teshima Art Museum. More luck! I can get a ticket to the museum in one hour. With the hour available, I pedal to the “Les Archives du Coeur” by Christian Boltanski exhibit. There are three rooms. In one you can hear thousands of recorded heartbeats that Boltanski has collected since 2008, in the next you can go to a registry and pick out a specific person’s heartbeat to listen to and in the third you can elect to have your heartbeat recorded and added to the registry. I pass on the last one as I go off to claim my museum ticket. However, I couldn’t resist stopping at this multiple basketball hoop installation and watching people having fun.

There is a winding path thru the woods to get you to the tunnel opening of the Teshima Art Museum. It is a concrete shell resembling a water droplet with two oval openings. You take your shoes off and go in and sit and you see water droplets forming everywhere and moving along the concrete floor and forming puddles and you hear the wind and the birds and well…’s meditative and mesmerizing. No one talks and some people lay down and others walk among the droplets. I just watched and I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the time and 45 minutes had passed. I took the picture below when I left. No pictures allowed inside so the inside one is from the museum.

I do a few other art installations on Teshima. One that I’m sure American safety and accessibility folks would have a fit over was the Storm House. We all crowd into a dark house, with only one small exit up a flight of stairs and then the show begins with violent rain, thunder and lightening with the experimental work using light, movement of water and sound from speakers to recreate a storm approaching and then retreating. It was fun, but growing up with 5 siblings in a small house in Indiana where we experienced rainstorms pretty often…not such a unique experience for me.

After downing a bowl of ramen at the port in a cute cafe from the nicest old lady, I ferry back to Naoshima and get my bike there again. Now I head to the other side of the island to see the Art House Project. Artist have taken empty houses scattered around the residential area and turned the spaces into works of art. One is actually an old Eno Period shrine. You get a flashlight and tunnel underground to see this glass staircase that the artist Hiroshima Sugimoto designed to link the above ground temple to an underground stone chamber thereby uniting the worlds below and above. I couldn’t take pictures of the below ground part but here is the above ground part.

After that I get in line for the ferry with everyone else including this cute girl. Tonight I’m going to try the Japanese Onsen baths for the first time. I walk over to the Onsen under a beautiful night sky.The Onsen is separated by men and women, each side has 5 different types of baths and saunas. I try them all. It is pretty cool to be sitting in the Japanese bath looking at the Seto Island Sea and gazing at the moon. Some of the baths are filled with peonies, hydrangeas and irises. Afterwards dressed in the lounging kimono and pants provided to each guest, I have dinner in the restaurant. I order the local sea bream two ways– sashimi and then diced into a dashi broth and poured over rice, called Tai-Chazuke.

I’m really glad I made the effort to make this excursion. The ambiance of the islands was soothing and relaxing. I really want to return again to this special place in Japan.

8 thoughts on “Naoshima and Teshima: Art heaven from once abandoned fishing villages

  1. I think I just experience a trance-like state reading through this and tying your words and images to my imagination. Wonderful soul-inspiring excursion.


  2. Wow! What a great article. The islands sound like such a peaceful and relaxing place. No crowds and such amazing art. What a great experience. You definitely had a great time!! I really enjoy your writing!!

    Lace should be place

    > e of the islands was soothing and relaxing. I really want to return again to this special lace in Japan >

    Alex Buccieri Mobile – 650-740-3700 Sent from my iPhone



  3. Shirley, what an amazing place! I had heard about and seen pictures of Naoshima and Teshima before from friends who had visited, but your blog brought them to life for me! Thanks for sharing your experiences.


  4. Years ago, I was told by an american that he was very happy living in Japan. That Japan was an special place to live… I can see you going back to that special place!



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