30 years ago, Naoshima was just one of 3,000 tiny fishing islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Now, it’s home to an extraordinary collection of world-class modern art, spilling out of galleries and museums into abandoned houses, workshops, shrines and beaches.
Naoshima’s artistic flowering began when Benesse House first opened its doors on the island in 1992. Part gallery, part swanky hotel, the Tadao Ando-designed institution aimed to promote “the coexistence of nature, architecture and art” — and we’re darned if it hasn’t succeeded.
Today, Naoshima is awash with art. At the Chichu Museum, you’ll find works by Monet, de Maria and Turrell housed in ethereal spaces designed to bring them to life under ripples of natural light. In the island’s towns and villages you’ll find Tatsuo Miyajima’s Art House Projects, which turned abandoned buildings into works of art. At the “I Love Yuu” bathhouse you’ll find a delightfully kitsch onsen — complete with giant elephant statue, tiled mosaics and stained glass — while on the seafront you’ll find Yayoi Kusama’s famous polka-dot pumpkins looking out to sea. What’s more, every three years Naoshima hosts the Setouchi Triennale, an art festival that sees exhibitions and installations across the islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
Even for those who know Japan well, Naoshima is refreshing, unexpected, and utterly unlike anything else you'll experience on your trip. Through the originality and industry of a few innovative artists, architects and thinkers, a lovely yet obscure fishing island has turned itself into one of Japan's most fascinating destinations: it is a truly remarkable success story.