Naoshima Island is something special. An island of Japan, dedicated to art, hence becoming known as the art island.
As a tourist, it’s not necessarily the easiest place to get to, but it is so worth it and an experience like no other. It’s not like going to Disneyland or something where you’re surrounded in an overwhelming way (not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, that’s just not the vibe here). You kind of have to work for your art on Naoshima.
It’s like going on a nature trail style art hunt and you are rewarded regularly along the way. And these are unusual rewards. It’s a beautiful, peaceful island in its own right so walking around is a calm, quietening experience as it is. The beaches are stunning and the water is really clear. Although it was chilly and sometimes cloudy and rainy, sometimes it felt like being on an exotic island, surrounded by the turquoise water.
There’s literature (which isn’t always that easy to find), which guides you to the main artworks and I would suggest, let it be that – a guide. This place isn’t about ticking things off the list. I started out with a manic need to find and see everything, as you might in a gallery, but as time went on I realised that stumbling across things and even the walk while seeing nothing was part of the experience.
Although as I’ve said, it’s not about ticking things off, there’s no denying that the works of Yayoi Kusama, her pumpkins, are a huge draw and a highlight. If you google or read any article on Naoshima, you will undoubtedly see the imagery of these works. Partly because they are large, colourful, whilst other works might not be a good advert or example, but partly also because they really are, as the artist is, quite unique, extraordinary and beautiful.
I wouldn’t dream of describing all the different artworks and installations we experienced on the island as, apart from the fact that I’m sure some of them change from time to time, a large part of the island is the experiences. The types and scales differed greatly. There were some extreme sensory, interactive work, some huge work and little pieces that you would blink and miss.
You get to the island by boat and we stayed in the port town of Uno, where, although small, you’ll find is setup to accommodate Naoshima visitors. I wouldn’t suggest just chipping up and hoping to find accommodation, I think booking is best here. As with everywhere in Japan, the food is great in Uno. There’s some great diner-style food and being so far away from the big cities, the prices are pretty good too. We took the bullet train (swoonsome experience, swoonsome price) to Okayama and then caught a local train down to Uno. I’m not going to lie, it’s not super straightforward, quick or and easy, but just leave yourself plenty of time and as ever in Japan, someone will always help you.
Naoshima would be ideal on an itinerary for a second time trip to Japan. If you can fit it into your schedule then it’s un-deniably worthy and unforgettable.