We love this place and feel Naoshima represents nothing less than aesthetic perfection! The island’s relatively remote, picturesque, location, coupled with its array of world class contemporary art and architecture makes for a truly unique stopover destination. Naoshima welcomes a greater number of foreigners year by year, yet it has been thankfully missing from the Japan mass tourism travel circuit.
Where To Stay
The Benesse House Hotel can truly be categorized as an immersive experience. The 65-room Benesse House Hotel, the central lodging facility within “Benesse Art Site Naoshima” consists of four buildings: Museum (10 rooms) allows close contact with the artworks both in a public exhibition space and in each guestroom; Oval (6 rooms; 2 suites & 4 twins), offers beautiful panoramic view of the inland sea and is connected to the museum by a monorail; Park (41 rooms) looks out to the green lawn with open-air artworks to the ocean and the mountains of Shikoku on the far shore, and contains an exclusive lounge, a shop, and Spa; and Beach (8 suites), located on the shoreline with suites only, provides beautiful view of the Seto Inland Sea. Benesse House is both a museum and a hotel. It offers guests opportunities to get close to great art and spend a uniquely rewarding time in dialogue with the works and with themselves.
At the Benesse House, the Museum restaurant Issen offers Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and the Terrace restaurant offering French cuisine is available as dinner options. We were particularly fond of the desserts there since they looked like they could be part of the museum as well. This golden orb of sugar and cream with pink flowers was delicious.
The Benesse House SPA, which can further enhance your relaxed stay, offers various therapeutic treatments (advanced reservations recommended!). The Park Lounge has a wide selection of art books and self-serving tea/coffee. We enjoyed having morning coffee/tea at the guestroom in Park and at the Park Lounge while admiring the sculptures and landscape. The Park Lounge is now called “Lounge”, as it has become a part of Hiroshi Sugimoto Gallery which newly opened in Park wing in March 2022. We felt that all of the Benesse House team were sincere and high-touch and that the high-end service is provided at everywhere at the Benesse House. No doubt the staff are proud to work in such a unique and engaging atmosphere.
Among our favorite village is Honmura, home to the Art House Project. We loved every artwork of Art House Project, but the one we were mesmerized by the most is Minamidera. Minamidera, named after the temple, that had once existed on the site, is designed by Tadao Ando with James Turrell’s artwork inside. When you enter, the building opens on a huge expanse of ebony darkness and after 10-15 minutes of observation, a seemingly optical illusion gradually unfolds. To see the true beauty of this piece, you need patience and need to conquer a little bit of fear. Turrell’s piece must be among our most memorable artwork experiences anywhere.
“Benesse Art Site Naoshim” is the collective name for all art-related activities conducted on the islands of Naoshima and Teshima in Kagawa Prefecture and on Inujima island in Okayama Prefecture. Among the many compelling art museums of the “Benesse Art Site Naoshima”, the Chichu Art Museum stood out to our teen travelers, Zen and Sophia. The Chichu Art Museum requires an advanced reservation. With this reservation, you can see that the museum exists in harmony with the nature around it, having been built mostly underground so as not to interfere with the surrounding landscape. Despite its almost-completely underground location, the museum lets in an abundance of natural light, providing a variety of experiences with the art contained within, depending on the time of day and season of the year. The concept of the museum is to provide a place for people to reflect on the relationship between mankind and nature. The reasons this museum stood out was because of yet another piece of Turrell’s work that uses artificial light. “Open Field” experience by James Turrell allows the viewer to move through space in a new way. You are physically able to walk through the piece and see your perspective change in real time.
At the Miyanoura Port there is the Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. On the island, you can also find “Pumpkin” by Kusama, which is yellow. These pumpkins have become a calling card for Naoshima Island. The difference between the two is that the red pumpkin is large enough to go into which is a worthwhile adventure. Yayoi Kusama’s famous pumpkins have a unique, spotted art style. This style has left its mark on Naoshima and become a must see when visiting. Regrettably, Kusama’s famous yellow pumpkin was washed away and damaged in august of 2021. At the moment there are no plans to replace the pumpkins, but we are crossing our fingers to see it reinstalled.
Tips & Tricks
Try avoiding visiting on Mondays since all the museums, except for Benesse House Museum (including Valley Gallery), are closed. The weekends and holidays can also be tough since there will be more of a crowd.
You will encounter many small eateries offering Udon, a specialty of Kagawa prefecture (most delicious!) to which the town of Naoshima belongs and get a fun snapshot of Japanese daily life in local villages, while exploring the island. On our visit, we stopped at the Apron Cafe which is filled with classic Japanese ingredients and dishes such as lotus root, daikon radishes and miso soup with Okayama vegetables. When we went there it was raining so they had the perfect meals to warm us up.
16.6 kilometers (10 miles) in circumference and with a population of a mere 3,100, the small island is comprised of three districts: the Miyanoura District, the Honmura District, and the Tsumu’ura District. For Benesse House Hotel guests, courtesy shuttle bus service is available, but you may also want to try walking or biking (bike rentals available at local shops) to get around the island. We recommend the bike rental seeing as it’s a freer way to explore the island. Since there are some larger hills, the electric bikes will make your experience that much more enjoyable. We always suggest using one of our private guides to take you through the museums to receive a more in depth understanding of the artwork.
Enjoy this truly amazing place!
Randy, Bev, and Zen Lynch
Benesse House Oval
Photo: Osamu Watanabe
Benesse House Beach
Photo: Osamu Watanabe
Art House Project “Minamidera”
Architect: Tadao Ando
Photo: Ken’ichi Suzuki
Chichu Art Museum
Photo: Ken’ichi Suzuki