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Up and about since 2003.

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Mat Kearney

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Sep 23 | Naoshima Trip Report

Naoshima’s art museums feel like a cross between a hidden concrete paradise and an asylum.

Tadao Ando is a genius, and Naoshima is an odd but deeply satisfying testament to his vision. Naoshima sits about an hour north of Takamatsu by boat, 3 hours south of Tokyo by train, and is more or less a quiet artist’s enclave (or colony, as Providence, RI or Rocky Neck, MA).

The three hallmark establishments made in some or whole part by him are the Ando Museum, the Chichu Museum, and the famed Bennesse House. All three museums carry his signature concrete slab construction, evoking memories of a Swiss military bunker or modern mountaintop chalet (simple, rugged, and unpexpressive). You experience each with a confused rollercoast of emotions ranging from boredom, confusion and sheer awe. The Ando Museum is perhaps the most underwhelming, laying tribute to the architect with a particular focus on the Church of Light, a building built in Osaka under a variety of well-documented financial constraints that smelled too strongly of an individual who clearly could not fathom undertaking projects that did not involve large sums of money.

It had a deeply satisfying aesthetic for those keen on symmetry in architecture.

Benesse House and Chichu Museum are fitting examples of this, though perhaps the latter is more impressive, as Benesse has catered to the variety that would be desirable to its clientele, the ones who decide to spend a night or two there.

There’s Bruce Nauman, there’s Jannis Kounellis, there’s a bit of scuplture and recyclables and a weird arrangement of Ultramans all banzai-ing, and then there’s Jonathan Borofsky’s Three Chattering Men, repeating a recording of “chatter chatter chatter” by some man who clearly thought he was vastly underpaid to say repeat “chatter” for 10 minutes straight. It’s disappointing that you can’t see the Oval, either, unless you’re staying overnight at the hotel.

Chichu Museum (”Underground museum”) is much more demure and sparse, but each piece in it is worthy of contemplation in a slightly uncomfortable way. It certainly doesn’t help that the attendants in the museum are all women, and all wear white doctor’s scrub-like material that seem to suggest that they could restrain you and send you the the asylum should you even consider taking a photo inside.

Not my photo. Courtesy

At times, it feels as though the viewer (you or I) is the subject of the art piece. For example, James Turrell’s Open Field evokes images of stepping into a TV screen, while the square “Open Sky” room can be viewed as both a canvas for the skies or as a way for someone larger than us to peer inside a box in which humans wander curiously about. The three Monet pieces sit inside a completely white room, with white square pebbles forming part of the floor. The squishy white slippers that you’re required to wear also add to the rather disconnected experience. Lastly, the altar to abstract art manifests itself in a black marble ball sitting midway up on a set of staircases surrounded by golden wooden bars shaped in squares, triangles or hexagons. Enter, and you’re almost a card-carrying member of the Tadao Ando cult. To be fair, this is not his piece. But it all fits in to his grand vision of the abstract, the contemporary, the modern. It had a deeply satisfying aesthetic for those keen on symmetry in architecture.

Three-day itinerary

I didn’t factor this into my plans, but if you do go, consider actually staying at the Benesse House.

Leave Tokyo station at around 7:30am on Nozomi shinkansen towards Hiroshima (~¥31,000 round-trip). Get off at Okayama and transfer to the Seto Ohashi line towards Takamatsu. At Takamatsu, eat udon for lunch, wander around Tomomo castle before checking in, then make your way to Ritsurin Park (¥410). Opt for a walking guide tour if possible (free).

In the morning, take the ferry towards Naoshima (¥1220). The boats drop you off at Honmaru. Walk through the Art House Projects and/or Ando Museum, wander through several temples before hopping on a bus towards Miyanomaru (100 yen). At Miyanomaru, check in, then rent a bike from Cinnamon (¥400 per day, late returns available until 10pm), then bike towards Benesse House. If you’re not feeling up for the hilly bike ride, consider taking the bus from the marine station or spending a little more for an electric bike from the rental store in front of the marina. Stop first at the Chichu Museum (¥2060). If it’s later in the afternoon, consider a snack there, as Benesse’s cafe closes at 4:30. Afterwards, consider a trip to Lee Unfan museum, or head directly to Benesse House (¥1030) by foot. Continue towards the yellow pumpkin before either taking the bus or bike back to town. Head straight to the I heart Yu bathhouse (take your own soap and towel, or buy a towel there - ¥310) to relax. Grab dinner at New Olympia (choose the Washoku-teishoku or Sashimi-teishoku) before turning in for the night.

As alternate detours for the third day, consider going to Teshima.


  • Rihga Zesta Hotel, Takamatsu (¥7900 per night). No wifi unless you rent a router for ¥510. Close to the centre of town, within walking distance of the train station and a short jaunt to Ritsurin.
  • Seven Beach, Miyanomaru (¥4200 per night). Futon, clean, quick access to the marina, more or less a hostel feel to it. Wifi and breakfast.
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