A complete guide to Naoshima, the island of art! From major and hidden tourist spots to gourmet foods and souvenirs

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Written by Editorial department

Naoshima, located in the Seto Inland Sea, is known as the island of art and is full of unique features that only Naoshima can offer. It is an island with beautiful, photogenic nature, and we recommend it to anyone, not only art lovers, because of its variety in tourist spots. In this article, we would like to introduce the must-know highlights of Naoshima Island.

Table of Contents

What is Naoshima like?

Naoshima Island belongs to Kagawa County, Kagawa Prefecture. Despite its small circumference of 16 km and 8k㎡, it is an increasingly popular place for having some of the world's best contemporary art.
From the Okayama Prefecture side, it takes about 20 minutes by ferry from “Uno Port” to get to Naoshima. From the Kagawa Prefecture side, it takes about 50 minutes on the ferry from Takamatsu Port or about 30 minutes on a high-speed boat.

Scenery of Naoshima
Scenery of Naoshima

5 places to see art on Naoshima

As its nickname "island of art" suggests, Naoshima is dotted with several art museums. This section will introduce five places to enjoy art in the Miyanoura, Honmura, and Museum areas.

1. ANDO MUSEUM

The ANDO MUSEUM was renovated from a 100-year-old wooden house in the Honmura district of Naoshima by architect Tadao Ando. The exposed concrete space breathes new life into the wooden house. Ando purposely left the old house and blended it in with the modern style of architecture. Past and present, wood and concrete, light and dark. The opposing elements that overlap reflect Tadao Ando's unique philosophy on architecture. Inside the museum, there are displays of photographs, sketches, and models that tell the story of Tadao Ando's activities and the history of Naoshima.

ANDO MUSEUM 
Photo:Tadasu Yamamoto
ANDO MUSEUM
Photo:Tadasu Yamamoto

2. Naoshima Bath "I♥湯"

Naoshima Sento "I ♥ Yu (Yu meaning hot bath)" is an art facility and hot spring created by artist Shinro Ohtake. It was created as a place for social interactions between tourists from Japan and abroad and Naoshima locals.
The exterior reflects the worldview of Shinro Ohtake, and the interior is filled with elaborate art. The bathtub, wall paintings, mosaics, and ceramics in the bathing area are all made using the scrapbook method. Visitors can enjoy a unique experience of the collaboration of a bathhouse and art.

Shinro Ohtake Naoshima Bath “I♥湯”
photo:Osamu Watanabe
Shinro Ohtake Naoshima Bath “I♥湯”
photo:Osamu Watanabe

3. Chichu Art Museum

World-renowned architect Tadao Ando designed the Chichu Art Museum. Most of the museum is intentionally built below the earth's surface to avoid taking away from the Seto Inland Sea's beautiful landscape. Inside, you can see five pieces from "Water Lilies," an oil painting series by Claude Monet, a leading artist of Impressionism. Other noteworthy art includes Walter De Maria's installations lit with only natural light and the three installations by James Turrell that celebrate light itself.

Chichu Art Museum 
Photo:FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa
Chichu Art Museum 
Photo:FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa

4. Lee Ufan Museum

This art museum exhibits the works of Lee Ufan, an internationally acclaimed artist who is primarily active in Europe. Many of Lee Ufan’s paintings and sculptures from the 1970s to the present are exhibited here in a partially-underground building designed by architect Tadao Ando. Private tours guided by museum staff are also available (reservation required; paid).

Lee Ufan Museum
Photo:Tadasu Yamamoto
Lee Ufan Museum
Photo:Tadasu Yamamoto

5. Benesse House Museum

The Benesse House Museum opened in 1992 as a combination museum and hotel. Based on the idea of "coexistence between nature, architecture, and art," the art pieces are installed not only in the exhibition areas but throughout the entire building. Some pieces are even scattered about the coastline and forest surrounding the museum, so taking a stroll to look at them can be a fun activity.
Architect Tadao Ando designed the building. It is on a hill that overlooks the Seto Inland Sea, and its structure helps to guide the island’s nature inside through its large open areas.

Benesse House
Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto
Benesse House
Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto

3 gourmet restaurants you should visit on Naoshima

Naoshima, known as the island of art, also has many stylish cafes and other gourmet spots. Another place you might want to see is the only sake brewery on Shodoshima, another island close to Naoshima. If you like sake, why not.
In this section, we would like to introduce the 3 must-visit gourmet spots you should check out when you visit Naoshima.

1. Garage dining cafe “maimai”

Garage dining cafe maimai, as the name suggests, is a cafe converted from an outdoor garage. At this cafe, you can have a local fish burger called "Naoshima Burger," which sandwiches fresh Hamachi (young yellowtail) with big fluffy buns. The cafe provides fresh juice and Naoshima's local craft beer, which go perfectly with the burger. You can eat your food in the stylish restaurant or take it out and enjoy it at your favorite place in Naoshima by the public art scattered around the island.

Naoshima Burger
Naoshima Burger

2. Benesse House Museum Café

This café is located on the 2nd floor of the Benesse House Museum, a combination museum, and hotel. Natural light shines through the wide-open windows on the south and west sides, so you can relax and enjoy a light meal or a drink while looking out over the Seto Inland Sea. On top of coffee and tea, the café serves drinks made with lemons from Setouchi and alcoholic beverages. They also have a food menu including sweets, curry, and pasta.
There are also pieces of art exhibited on the terrace where you will forget your busy life in a luxurious space created by the combination of nature and art.

Photo: Naoharu Obayashi
Photo: Naoharu Obayashi

3. MORIKUNI

Shodoshima is an island located near Naoshima, and MORIKUNI is the only sake brewery on the island. With these high-quality ingredients from along the Seto Inland Sea’s coast perfect for sake brewing, the brewery’s talented crafters carefully make the sake by hand. There is also the MORIKUNI CAFÉ & BAR on the premises, located within a renovated Tsukudani factory that is 70 years old. At the MORIKUNI Bakery, you can enjoy koppe pan (Japanese hot dog buns) that use rice flour made from sake rice.

Exterior of Forest Sake Brewery MORIKUNI Gallery
Exterior of Forest Sake Brewery MORIKUNI Gallery

The best place to buy Naoshima souvenirs

“Umino-eki Naoshima (a.k.a. Miyanoura ferry terminal)” is the place to go for Naoshima souvier shopping. At the souvenir corner next to the cafe, you can buy products like Naoshima Macaroons and nori (dried edible seaweed sheets) made with seaweed from the Seto Inland Sea. Another highlight of this place is that you can see Yayoi Kusama’s art installation, “Red Pumpkin.”

“Umi-no Eki Naoshima," an innovatively designed building with its prominent roof
“Umi-no Eki Naoshima," an innovatively designed building with its prominent roof

The best places to stay on Naoshima

A day trip to Naoshima, the island of art, will surely satisfy you. Still, if possible, it is nice to stay overnight and take some time to enjoy the elaborate art and nature. Among the many minshukus (guesthouses), ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), and hotels, we would like to introduce you to the best of the best.

1. Naoshima Furusato Umi No Ie Tsutsujiso

Tsutsujiso is the inn closest to the beautiful sea on Naoshima island. You can choose from three types of rooms: “Pao,” a faithful reproduction of a Mongolian tent, “Trailer House” where you can enjoy an American movie-like stay, and “Wafu (Japanese) Cottage," a tatami room with a traditional Japanese mood. The rooms are each separate buildings.

“Pao,” a faithful reproduction of a Mongolian tent
“Pao,” a faithful reproduction of a Mongolian tent

Address: 352-1 Naoshimacho, Kagawagun, Kagawa

2. Benesse House

Benesse House opened in 1992 based on the idea of “coexistence between nature, architecture, and art.”
The hotel consists of four different types of accommodations that each have their unique atmosphere. At the "Museum.” as the name suggests, you can stay in a museum. At “Oval," you can enjoy the spectacular view of the Seto Inland Sea, At "Beach," you can immerse yourself in the sound of rippling waves, and at "Park," you will be surrounded by the sea, greenery, and art. All of the architecture that perfectly harmonizes with the surrounding environment is designed by Tadano Ando. You can experience modern art inside and outside of the buildings with your whole body.

Benesse House
Photo: FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa
Benesse House
Photo: FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa

Must-buy souvenirs of Naoshima

After thoroughly enjoying the art and nature on the island, the next thing to do is check out some souvenirs you can only find on Naoshima.

“SOLASHIO” Sun-dried Salt Factory 

“SOLASHIO,” a salt made with only two ingredients: ocean water from the Seto Inland Sea and the heat of the sun. Only a few sun-dried salts in Japan are made using only the heat of the sun. Salt made with this method is richer in potassium, calcium, and magnesium and has a deeper flavor than common salts.
Not only the salt itself, but other popular souvenirs use SOLASHIO as an ingredient, like sweets and dressing.

“SOLASHIO,” a carefully made sun-dried salt of Naoshima
“SOLASHIO,” a carefully made sun-dried salt of Naoshima

Recommended events on Naoshima

On Naoshima, you can go to many events and festivals related to the art and the traditional culture of Naoshima. In this section, we would like to introduce the three events that represent Naoshima.

1. Naoshima Himatsuri (Fire Festival)

The “Naoshima Himatsuri (Fire Festival) is a summer tradition of Naoshima. The festival is held every August, and you can watch a gorgeous fireworks show over the sea from the beach. Other features include live music, dance performances, and more. One of the best parts of this festival is the collaboration of “Naoshima Tsutsuji Daiko (Japanese Drum)” and the fireworks.

Naoshima Himatsuri (Fire Festival)
Naoshima Himatsuri (Fire Festival)

2. ART SETOUCHI / Setouchi Triennale 

"ART SETOUCHI" is the collective name for the Setouchi Triennale (held once every three years) and the activities that are undertaken during the festival.
The Setouchi Triennale is held for 105 days in the spring, summer, and fall. Locations include 12 islands (Naoshima, etc.) and two ports of the Seto Inland Sea. This large-scale event has been gaining attention from many people worldwide for its abundance in modern art.

“Ibuki no Ki (Trees of Ibuki)" by Takashi Kuribayashi 
Photo: Miyawaki Shintaro
*From Setouchi Triennale 2019.
“Ibuki no Ki (Trees of Ibuki)" by Takashi Kuribayashi 
Photo: Miyawaki Shintaro
*From Setouchi Triennale 2019.

3. Naoshima Akimatsuri (Autumn Festival)

The Autumn Festival is held every year in October at three locations on Naoshima: the Tsumuura, Miyanoura, and Honmura districts. The festivals are held on separate days in order at each district. In the Honmura district, you can see the mighty parade of local people dressed in white, carrying an omikoshi (portable shrine) that protects the goshintai (sacred object), as well as the taiko drummers following them. Naoshima Akimatsuri is a festival where you can experience the traditional culture of Naoshima to its fullest.

Naoshima Akimatsuri (Autumn Festival)
Naoshima Akimatsuri (Autumn Festival)

Summary

This article introduced the best tourist spots, gourmet foods, places to stay, and souvenirs of Naoshima. All art facilities except “Benesse House Museum” are closed on Mondays, and many restaurants and other facilities are closed on Mondays to match them. You may want to keep that in mind when planning your visit. (If Monday is a national holiday, they close on the following Tuesday as well)
Transportation on Naoshima is easy with the buses and rental electric bicycles so that you can enjoy the art easily, even on a day trip. If time allows you to, we recommend you stay for a few nights to relax and have the whole experience of art and the nature of Naoshima.