Silver Week: Naoshima

A couple days after my trip to Mt. Rokko, I planned my day trip to Naoshima.  Naoshima is an island famous for its art museums and outdoor exhibitions in Kagawa Prefecture, which is quite a ways away from Osaka. Using the Shinkansen, it takes about a couple of hours to get there from my place but I opted not to use it because I figured as long as I wake up super early, I could get there for cheaper.  As a result, it took me a whopping 4 hours to reach Naoshima, so I ended up getting there around 11:30.  I didn’t mind the time it took because I love riding the train, especially when I’m traveling.  There’s just this feeling of freedom and enjoying the unique scenery each area has as you gaze out the window.

As weird as it sounds, riding the train is one of my favorite parts when it comes to traveling.

As weird as it sounds, riding the train is one of my favorite parts when it comes to traveling.

When I finally arrived in Uno Port, I was lucky to be able to catch a ferry to Naoshima almost immediately.  The thing with Naoshima is that the ferry time is very sporadic, especially towards the evening; if you miss one time, odds are you will be waiting for awhile for the next ferry.  It’s essential to plan your trip around the ferry times if you are doing a day trip; you really can’t afford to miss one if you want to get the most out of the island.

The ferry ride itself was wonderful.  The weather was sunny and around the 80s, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions.  Feeling the sun rays while the cool sea breeze blew in our direction as we passed through several islands was something else.

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When we docked at Naoshima, I had a quick lunch and started making my way around the island.  The main things to check out in Naoshima are the Benesse Museum, the Chichu Art Museum, and the art house projects, a project in which certain houses in a neighborhood were redesigned to be an art exhibit.  All three things are spread out throughout the island so one has to plan out their route if they want to see everything.   Luckily the island itself is quite small, you can get around rather easily, especially if you are on a bike.  Otherwise, you can walk or catch a bus, but the buses don’t come as often as you would want to. The art house project caught my attention so I decided to check it out first.

In total, there are six houses that have their own art exhibit inside.  Without realizing it, I went to Minamidera first and was given a ticket and told to come at the allotted time.  This gave me about an hour to kill so I tried my best to hit all of the other places before then.

I first wandered in Kadoya, which looked like an ordinary Japanese house.  When I stepped inside though, it was completely black except for this pond inside a giant room.  In the water where a plethora of colored LED number counters going from 1 to 10 at different rates.  The work was called “Sea of Time ’98” and it ended up being my favorite place in the island.  Unfortunately, no pictures where allowed.

Unfortunately I don’t have many “art” pictures because of this but the neighborhood itself was gorgeous.

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Minamidera was strange mainly because my Japanese isn’t fluent so I could barely understand what the guide was telling us.  We were instructed that the house itself was pitch black so we had to cling onto the walls and make our way into a giant room.  I ended up getting lost until the tour guide annoyingly dragged me back into the line.  Geez, sorry man.

Anyways, we were instructed to sit on the benches provided in the room.  Keep in mind it is completely dark inside, so it felt very strange, I almost felt like I had died if the others weren’t talking to each other.  After a few minutes, a faint light in front of us appeared.  We were encouraged to walk slowly towards it and touch the space where the light was.  Here is when the tour guide said something I didn’t understand and it blew everyone’s mind.  Thanks to this blog entry, I later found out that the light was there all along, it didn’t simply magically appear. A neat trick and the message was interesting after reading the blog but at the time I was frustrated for not “getting it”.

Having to stay in one area for awhile sort of cut my schedule so I had to make a decision whether to visit the Bennesse House or the Chichu Art Museum.  I had heard good things about the former so I went with that.  The road leading to it was amazing; viewing the sea and the nature alongside it as well as the famous pumpkin designed by Yayoi Kusama was an experience in itself.  I wish I could’ve enjoyed it longer but I had to hustle.

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The famous pumpkin in the flesh.

The Benesse House turned out to be a big disappointment.  I’m sure certain art lovers love it but it has the kind of art that I really can’t relate to.  For me, it felt like the kind of stuff you would see a pair of art critics looking at a blank canvas while saying “Fascinating.”  At least the surroundings of the museum were pretty.  I flipped a coin and I had lost the toss.  Oh well.  Cutting my losses, I decided to head back towards the port and catch the ferry home.  It was already 5 PM at that point and staying any longer would result arriving back home really late.  The worst part was that even though I took the Shinkansen back to Osaka, it was Silver Week and I didn’t have a reserved ticket so I ended up standing in a crowded hallway for the entire trip back.  Note to self: do not underestimate travel seasons in Japan.

Overall, I loved the atmosphere of Naoshima.  You have to remember that despite it being an island famous for its art exhibits, it is an inhabited island so people are going on with their daily lives while a bunch of visitors are viewing the art, it’s an interesting combination.   While there were tourists, it was small enough that the place didn’t feel like a giant tourist trap.  I think that’s why I really enjoyed Naoshima in general, it wasn’t packed with people or with souvenir stores, it was just its own place.  Also the town itself is really small, traditional and laidback; I felt like I had traveled back in time.  There were no tall buildings, loud pachinko parlors or huge billboards, it was just streets filled with traditional houses.

Looking back, I would have rather stayed the night than make it a day trip–unless you plan everything perfectly, odds are you will miss something.  Plus Naoshima is a place that should enjoy at your own pace and not in a rush.  One thing is for sure is that I didn’t want to leave the beautiful island.  It was a great escape, even if it was for a short time.  I think I will have to stop by again before I leave Japan.

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The best place to relax and forget about everything, just for a little while.

The best place to relax and forget about everything, just for a little while.

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