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Naoshima Island, also known as Japan’s Art Island is famed for its art museums and outdoor sculptures.
Most famous is the “giant pumpkin” by artist Yayoi Kusama which is the unofficial icon for Naoshima.
For me, visiting Naoshima started off as a crazy pumpkin hunting mission, but turned into a full-blown love affair. To help others visiting, I’ve put together a guide of things to do in Naoshima.
If you’re visiting Naoshima Island, read on!
Important Note: most museums on Naoshima Island are closed on Mondays, so if you’re planning a trip to Naoshima do not visit on a Monday. There is a fair amount of planning and effort involved in visiting Naoshima Island, so it would be a waste to visit on a day where most of the museums are closed!
How to get to Naoshima Island
Naoshima Island is located in Kagawa Prefecture in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. The best way to visit Naoshima Island is via the city of Okayama. You can get to Okayama from just about anywhere in Japan.
Osaka / Kyoto to Okayama
The best way to travel from Osaka to Okayama is to take the JR Sanyo Line. This takes approximately 45 minutes and costs 6000 JPY (JR pass valid except for when taking the Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
The best way to travel from Kyoto to Okayama is similar, via the JR Sanyo or JR Tokaido Lines. This takes approximately 1 – 1.5 hrs and costs 7500 JPY (JR pass valid except for when taking the Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
Tokyo to Okayama
It takes approximately 3.5 – 4 hrs to travel via train from Tokyo to Okayama. If you are traveling from Tokyo, I’d recommend spending a night in Okayama before traveling to Naoshima the next day as a day trip.
Okayama to Naoshima
Once you get to Okayama, you need to take a train to Uno Station before walking 5 min to the Uno Ferry Port where you will take a ferry to Miyanoura Port on Naoshima Island. It takes approximately 1.5 hrs to travel between Okayama and Naoshima Island.
Note: Naoshima Island has 2 ports, Miyanoura Port and Honmura Port. Both are accessible via ferry. I’d recommend visitors to take the ferry to Miyanoura Port rather than Honmura as the ferry is more regular between Uno and Miyanoura.
Train from Okayama to Uno Station: JR Uno Line
The Train from Okayama to Uno Station will take approximately an hour, and may require a change at Chayamachi Station.
- Train Duration: 45 – 60 min
- Price: 590 JPY one way (covered by JR Pass)
Ferry from Uno Ferry Port to Naoshima (Miyanoura Port)
From Uno Station, the walk is 5 minutes to the Uno Ferry Port (pro tip: if you’re feeling lost, follow the crowds and walk towards the ocean!)
- Ferry Duration: 20 min
- Price: 300 JPY one way (covered by JR Pass)
Make sure you look up the Naoshima Ferry Timetable before you plan your trip. Waiting time between ferry departures is nearly 1 hr!
How to get around Naoshima Island
While Naoshima Island is relatively small, unless you’re a keen walker I’d recommend either taking the bus or renting a bicycle to get around Naoshima Island.
Taking the bus on Naoshima Island
Each trip on the The Naoshima Town Bus costs 100 JPY (approximately $1 USD), and buses come every 30 – 60 min. The route operates from Miyanoura Port to Tsutsuji-So where the Ando Museum and the Art House Project are located.
Beyond this, there is a free shuttle bus from Tsutsuji-So to Benesse House Museum, the Lee Ufan Museum and the Chichu Art Museum.
Make sure you check out the Naoshima bus timetable to plan your trip, as the wait time during some times of the day can be 30 – 60 mins. The free shuttle bus only operates from March to September.
Cycling Naoshima Island
Cycling is the best way (in my humble opinion!) to get around Naoshima Island. Renting a bike gives much more flexibility, and there are few cars on Naoshima Island, making it a great place to cycle.
Electric bike rentals cost 1,500 JPY (worth it for those hills!) or 1,000 JPY for a regular bike. If you don’t have a lot of experience bike riding, I’d recommend spending a bit extra for an Electric Bike. I visited during summer, and I was so glad I had an electric bike for the hilly areas!
TVC Service is the main bicycle shop on Naoshima Island and is just across the road from the Miyanoura ferry terminal. Opening hours: 9 am – 6 pm (hours may vary depending on the season so check ahead!) Location: 2249−6 (Sonota), Naoshima-chō, Kagawa-gun, Kagawa-ken 761-3110, Japan. Price: ¥ 1,500 for an electric bike for one day (or ¥ 1,000 in December / January)
Renting a car on Naoshima Island
Car rental is a great option if you are planning on staying on Naoshima Island for a couple of days or if you are traveling in a big group.
Car rental is via smaller operators on Naoshima Island, so make sure you phone ahead to book:
- Naoshima Rent a car: +81-90-2862-7040
- Cafe Ougiya: +81-90-3189-0471
- Fu0chan Rent a car: +81-90-6435-3615
Where to stay on Naoshima Island
If you have time, I would highly recommend staying on Naoshima Island. While I visited for a day trip, it felt rushed at times and I wish I had more time to take in the art and relax.
If you’re not on a budget: Benesse House
This is my #1 recommended place to stay when visiting Naoshima Island. The Benesse House is part of the Benesse House Museum. Yep you read that correctly, you can spend the night in a museum (I promise this won’t be like the movie “Night At The Museum”)
If you stay here, you’ll be able to visit the artwork whenever you want (yes, even in your pajamas!) Read more on Tripadvisor here
For backpackers: Naoshima Backpackers Guesthouse
The Naoshima Backpackers Guesthouse is near Honmura, making it convenient if you’re only staying for one night. One thing to note is that the dorms are mixed (they don’t have female-only or male-only rooms).
For travelers after an authentic Japanese experience: Guest House Shimayado Aisunao
Here you’ll find tatamis floors, paper screens, and wooden floors! You can sleep on a futon, or if you’d rather a bed, they have rooms with beds too. They even offer a complimentary breakfast daily!
Naoshima Island Itinerary
Naoshima Island can be visited on a day trip, or if you have time, you can spend the night here and visit for 2 days.
One Day Naoshima Island Itinerary
- Chichu Art Musem: 2-3 hrs
- Benesse House Museum: 1 – 1.5 hrs
- Visit the Giant Pumpkin
- Art House Project: 1 – 2 hrs (don’t miss Minamidera!)
- Naoshima Public Bath House: 1 hr
Two Day Naoshima Island Itinerary
Everything outlined in day one – you can take your time, you have two days to experience Naoshima Island!
- Lee Ufan Museum
- Ando Museum
Things to do on Naoshima Island
Had enough preparation talk about how to get to Naoshima Island? This is where we get to the exciting stuff and talk about things to do on Naoshima Island!
1. Rent a bicycle
It might be a bit strange to add this to the list of to-dos, but genuinely renting a bike will add to your experience on Naoshima Island.
Naoshima is first and foremost an island, and boy are the views beautiful!
It can get very humid in the summer, so I’d rather be flying downhills on the back of my bicycle instead of waiting for a bus in the sun!
If you rent a bicycle not only can you stop whenever you want, but you can also leave whenever you want and do things on your own schedule.
2. Visit the Chichu Art Museum
“Rethinking the relationship between nature and people” – Chichu Art Museum
Designed by architect Tadao Ando, it’s hard to describe what makes the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima Island so special.
Here you won’t find stuffy rooms, packed with paintings or statues. You won’t find little plaques filled with dates and names you don’t understand.
Instead, there is a focus on bringing the outside world indoors. Lighting is a focus here and exploring the way light impacts the human experience.
As someone who isn’t an art expert, I still couldn’t help but want to spend hours here.
Can’t miss: I loved seeing how natural lighting was used to illuminate Monet’s paintings, without the distractions of artificial light. The walls are painted a stark white, so you focus on his work.
Price: ¥2,100 (approximately $20 USD), children under 15 enter for free which you can purchase ahead of time
Opening hours: 10 am – 6 pm, closed on Mondays
Tips for visiting the Chichu Art Museum:
- The Chichu Art Museum can get really popular, so make this your first stop of the day (by midday during summer there were lines to see some of the art)
- Photography is not allowed in the museum: the focus is on the artwork and the architecture.
- Keep in mind that for some artwork you will need to take off your shoes.
3. Browse the artworks at Benesse House Museum
“Based on the concept of coexistence of nature, art, and architecture.” – Benesse House Museum
The Benesse House Museum has endless paintings, sculptures, photography, and installations in its collection, making it the kind of place that has something for everyone.
On site, you’ll also find outdoor installations and sculptures which are fun to look out for when in the area.
Price: ¥1,050 (approximately $10 USD), free for both children under 15 and overnight guests of Benesse House
Opening Hours: daily 8 am – 9 pm (hours may vary depending on the season)
Note for bike riders: the road leading to Benesse House Museum is closed to bikes. This means you will have to leave your bike at a nearby stop and take the free Benesse Museum shuttle. My suggestion would be to leave your bike at the Chi Chu museum and take the free shuttle.
4. Visit the Giant Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama
No trip to Naoshima Island would be complete without visiting the Giant Pumpkin, by artist Yayoi Kusama.
The pumpkin is the unofficial symbol of Naoshima, and probably the most popular artwork on the island.
It seems to change with its surrounds and is said to even be a different color when the sunsets!
As with most tourist areas in Japan, it’s quite common for people to wait in line to get their photo. So fear not, you’ll get a chance to have the Giant Pumpkin all to yourself!
Another pumpkin that is worth visiting is the Red Pumpkin, also by Yayoi Kusama. The Red Pumpkin is located just next to the Miyanoura Port and is more interactive – you can even climb inside. While it doesn’t appear as photogenic as the Yellow Pumpkin, it still a lot of fun (especially if you have kids!)
How to see the Giant Pumpkin on Naoshima Island
The Giant Pumpkin is a short walk from the Tsutsuji-so bus stop. If your primary mode of transport is the bus, you can just get off here and walk. If you’ve taken a bike, just remember that you can’t ride your bike between the Chichu Art Museum and the Tsutsuji-so bus stop.
My recommendation would be to take the free shuttle to the Benesse House Museum Stop and check out the museum while you’re there. Then when you’re done, walk to the nearby outdoor exhibitions and then walk to the Giant Pumpkin (about a 10 – 15 min walk).
5. Go house-hopping at the Art House Project
June 2020 Update: between 20th June 2020 and 17th July 2020, the Art House Project can only be visited via tour. Tours are conducted in English. The information below about self-guided visits is not valid during this time, but I’m leaving up the advice for when this is allowed again!
The Art House Project is a series of vacant houses (many of which were built more than 400 years ago) which have been transformed with art work.
These are worlds away from stuffy museums and are a lot of fun. One of the houses even has a Statue of Liberty poking out through one of the windows!
Highlight: Minamidera House. This house has artwork by the artist James Turrell (who also has work in the Chi Chu Museum). Visiting here is definitely an experience – I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say the artist has played with the perception of light (or lack thereof!)
Price: multi-site tickets are ¥1,030 (approximately $10 USD) or single site ticket is ¥410 (approximately $4 USD)
Opening Hours: 10 am – 4: 30 pm, closed Mondays
Tips for visiting the Art House Project on Naoshima Island:
- The Multi-site ticket is worth it if you have time to see more than 3 houses
- Not all of the houses have bicycle parking: since they are walking distance from each other, my suggestion would be to leave your bike at one and walk to the others. If you’re taking the bus, get off at the Yakuba-mae stop, and you’ll be able to buy a multi-site ticket from the “Haisha” house.
6. Visit the Lee Ufan Museum
“inviting to peaceful and quiet contemplation, in a society overflowing with material goods” – Lee Ufan Museum
Lee Ufan is a Korean artist, sculpture, and academic who spent some time in Japan. This museum is a result of the work between Lee Ufan and architect Tadao Ando.
This minimalist, largely underground museum is perfect for art lovers who are after quiet moments of contemplation. The museum is smaller than the Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House Museum, which can leave visitors wanting more.
Price: ¥1,030 (approximately $10 USD), children under 15 enter for free
Opening hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily, closed Mondays
7. Visit the Ando Museum
Fans of architecture or Tadao Ando can’t miss the Ando Museum. This museum is based in an 100-year-old traditional wooden house, with the inside re-designed by Tadao Ando.
Through sketches, photographs and models, you’ll learn about Tadao Ando’s work and the history of Naoshima Island.
Price: ¥520, children under 15 free
Opening hours: 10 am – 4:30 pm, closed on Mondays
8. Bathe at the Naoshima Public Bath
If, after all the exploring you’re feeling a lil’ sore, the Naoshima Public Bath is the perfect place to relax. More than just a public bath, this is also an art museum created by artist Shinro Ohtake.
Bursting with art work from mosaics to the way the baths are decorated, this is a great place to finish your adventures on Naoshima Island.
Price: ¥660, ¥310 for children under 15
Opening Hours: 1pm – 9 pm, closed on Mondays
Budget travel on Naoshima Island
Unfortunately, a visit to Naoshima Island is not exactly budget friendly.
This was definitely one of my more expensive trips in Japan.
Bicycle costs, train costs, and ferry costs can quickly add up. There aren’t too many food options on Naoshima, so my suggestion would be to bring your snacks and food. The food options are limited, but each of the museums has a cafe or restaurant (though they are on the expensive side!)
Naoshima Island was one of my favorite places to visit in Japan, and I hope you have a wonderful time when you visit too!
One of my favorite memories from visiting was whizzing down the hills on my bike. I still remember the wind in my hair, my hands gripping the handlebars and the most beautiful views of the sea. You definitely won’t regret a trip to Naoshima!
Psst – are you planning your Japan trip? Here are some helpful links:
Heading to Naoshima? Book your hotel room now!
Don’t forget to pick up a guidebook: this is my favorite Japan guidebook!
Want more Japan tips? Check out my posts here, or if you want some help packing I’ve got the ultimate packing guide here!