On my recent visit to Japan, I was looking to expand my trip by going to a part of the country that I hadn’t been to before. In my search, I was looking for a place that was off-the-beaten-path. Having been to Hokkaido earlier in the trip, I was excited about discovering Shikoku and the potential of building an itinerary around the island. As I continued to plan, I learned that Naoshima was right there as well and it became a no-brainer to add it in.
With the meteoric rise of Yayoi Kusama in recent years, I had seen photos of her work without realizing they were on Naoshima. This gave me another reason to visit. As part of my 12 days in Shikoku, I ended up going to Naoshima for a day and a half, and while short, I managed to squeeze in a lot – visiting the Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House Museum and seeing large amounts of open-air sculptures scattered throughout the island.
I was able to see how massive of a role art plays on the island, to the point that it felt like a pilgrimage for contemporary art. While I’m certainly not an art aficionado, I could appreciate the union of art, architecture and nature. I certainly wish I had more time to see some of the smaller galleries and art sites, but I felt like I was able to cover a lot of the island in the time I had.
I would highly recommend Naoshima to anyone that’s coming to Okayama, Shikoku or the Setouchi region. It has a laid-back vibe and it’s an island that has a bit of that Mediterranean vibe. Combine that with its incredible art, its beaches and how bikeable it is – and you end up with an island that is so different from anything else you’ll find in Japan.
7 Best Things To Do on Naoshima
1. Visit the Chichu Art Museum
The Chichu Art Museum is easily the best museum on the island. No cameras are allowed inside, but it’s an incredible museum built into the ground and it features three art exhibits. The minimalist design and natural lighting of the building enhance the immersive experience of the artworks.
2. Explore the Benesse House Museum
The Benesse House Museum encompasses a large part of the complex here, which is also home to hotels and outdoor sculptures. The museum was designed by Tadao Ando, based on the concept of the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture”. This place makes up a huge section of the island and will be a core part of anyone’s visit to Naoshima.
3. Take Photos of the Iconic Yellow Pumpkin
Created by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, this iconic pumpkin sculpture sits at the water’s edge welcoming visitors to the Benesse Art Site Naoshima. Its vivid yellow hue and distinctive shape against the scenic backdrop make it a symbol of the island’s artistic allure, blending nature and art seamlessly. The Yellow Pumpkin has become a must-see attraction, drawing art enthusiasts and tourists alike to capture photos of its charm.
4. Walk Inside the Red Pumpkin of Naoshima
Equally as impressive as the Yellow Pumpkin is the Red Pumpkin, located by the main port of Naoshima. What I love about this one is that you can walk inside, poke your head out of a few of the polkadot holes and it lights up at night. This is another contemporary art installation by Yayoi Kusama.
5. Discover the Open-Air Art of Naoshima
By walking, bicycling or taking the bus – you can find sculptures scattered all over the island. Some of the open-air art is within the grounds of the Benesse House Museum and others you’ll find in random spots. This, of course, includes the two pumpkins but there are so many others to see.
6. Go for a Swim at Gotanji Beach
If you’re visiting Naoshima in the warmer summer months, this makes for a nice beach to relax or swim at. It boasts excellent facilities which makes it family-friendly. Gotanji Beach is also easy to get to as it’s one of the stops on the island bus and a stop on the shuttle for the Benesse House Museum.
7. Watch the Sunset from Miyanoura Port
There’s something magical about watching the sunset from Miyanoura Port. The hues of red, orange and yellow light up the sky while the backdrop of the Red Pumpkin – and the bobbing fishing vessels and the bridges that connect Honshu with Shikoku – add to the appeal.
Favorite Experience on Naoshima
Out of everything I got to see and do, the Chichu Art Museum was my favorite. As my profession means I’m constantly capturing content, it was nice to put the camera away and soak in, contemplate and appreciate the art in totality (and in silence). This augmented the experience at the museum’s three primary exhibits and the architecture of Tadao Ando.
Where I Stayed on Naoshima Island
I stayed at Sparky’s House, one of the newer and more unconventional properties on the island. On the property are a set of container-style units in addition to a house that’s been renovated. This is closer to a B&B-style stay but on an island like this, you don’t need anything too fancy because you’ll be spending most of your time exploring the island.
The property also has well-equipped kitchens with all of the equipment you’ll need for cooking and laundry machines as well. Perhaps what’s most important is that they have e-bikes for rent which is critical on the island. E-bikes are a fantastic way to explore everything Naoshima has to offer.
Tips for Your Visit to Naoshima
To get to Naoshima, you can either fly to Okayama (OKJ) or Takamatsu (TAK). From Okayama, there are ferries that run from the Uno Port. From Takamatsu, you can catch a ferry from the Takamatsu Port. There are two ferry ports on the island – Miyanoura and Honmura. Don’t get them mixed.
The more popular of the two is the Miyanoura Port because it has more frequency. Honmura Port only runs between Naoshima and Uno Port in Okayama and has a more limited schedule, but it could be useful for those staying on that side of the island. Remember that Naoshima is a great place to visit all year round but if you would like to spend some time on the beach, you’ll want to come during the warmer months (June – August).
There isn’t a single pass that covers all of the museums. That said, there is the Art House Project which covers six art houses (excluding Kinza). Reservations are required for the Chichu Art Museum and they sell out quickly – so when you figure out when your date becomes available, make sure to set an alarm. The Chichu Art Museum also has special programs such as the Open Sky Night Program. This also requires reservations.
If you’re interested in specific parts of the Benesse House Museum such as the Oval, it’s worth noting that you can only see it if you’re a guest of that property. Also, if you’d like to visit the museum after hours, you need to be guests of either the Oval or Beach. Restaurants are also competitive on the island because there just aren’t that many. As a result, you need to make reservations or you’ll find yourself eating 7-Eleven food.
Finally, make sure to book a property that has bike rentals as this will make your logistic planning much easier. I hope this Naoshima guide inspires you to visit, and gives you all the info you need for a fun and stress-free trip. Naoshima, the Art Island of Japan, will surely leave you feeling captivated.