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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!
The “giant pumpkin” by artist Yayoi Kusama
Here are my suggested things to do in Naoshima Island:
1. Rent a bicycle
You’re probably thinking – girl, just get to the good stuff already! But genuinely renting a bike will add to your experience here. Naoshima is first and foremost an island, and boy are the views beautiful!
The main mode of transport on Naoshima is via bus. Each bus trip costs 100 JPY (approximately $1 USD), and buses come on average once per hour. They can get packed during peak season, and they don’t come too often. Naoshima is super hot in the summer, so I’d rather be flying down hills on the back of my bicycle instead of waiting 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.
Recommendations for renting a bicycle on Naoshima Island:
TVC Service is the main bicycle shop on Naoshima island and is just across the road from the Miyanoura ferry terminal. I would highly highly HIGHLY recommend renting an electric powered bike, especially if you are not an active bike rider. There are lots of hills here, so the electric bikes get very popular. You’ll probably also enjoy the views much more if you aren’t completely and utterly puffed out (unless you like this, then by all means, go ahead!!)
Opening hours: generally 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)
2. Visit the Chichu Art Museum
Before visiting, I had read so many mixed reviews about the Chichu Art Museum. I um-ed and ahh-ed about spending my hard earned $$ here, but in the end, I was so glad I did. It’s hard to put into words what made this experience so enjoyable. After all, as a non-art-lover, it’s hard for me to truly appreciate the significance of work by Monet or James Turret.
I think if I had to put it into words, I loved the idea that the museum was designed around the art.
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 inside. There’s natural lighting to illuminate Monet’s paintings, without the distractions of artificial light. The walls are painted a stark white with soft edges, so you focus on his work.
While I am not an art expert (HA!) I couldn’t help but want to spend hours here. If you only had time for one thing on this list, I would highly recommend the Chichu Art Museum as the #1 thing to do in Naoshima!
Tips for visiting the Chichu Art Museum:
If you’re planning on visiting, make Chichu Art Museum your first stop! I arrived at the ferry terminal around 10, and it took me about 10-15 min to sort out my bicycle rental and ride to the museum. It was already busy when I arrived, and they had only just opened! By about midday, there were lines to see some of the artworks.
The other thing to keep in mind that for some artwork you will need to take off your shoes.
Photos are also not allowed in the museum – the focus is on the artwork and the architecture.
Opening hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily, CLOSED mondays (hours may vary depending on the season so check ahead!)
Location: ３４４９―１ (Sonota), Naoshima-chō, Kagawa-gun, Kagawa-ken 761-3110, Japan
Price: Adults ¥2,060 (approximately $20 USD), children under 15 enter for free
3. Browse the artworks at Benesse House Museum
Benesse House Museum is worth a visit if you’re already in the area looking at the outdoor installations. They have a wonderful combination of photographs, paintings, and sculptures. While the museum is not as considered as Chi Chu, there is a lot more variety here.
Tips for visiting the Benesse House Museum:
If you’re getting around Naoshima Island via bike, 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. The buses depart every 15min starting on the hour from each end of the free bus route.
Opening hours: 8 am – 9 pm (hours may vary depending on the season so check ahead!)
Location: Japan, 〒761-3110 Kagawa Prefecture, Kagawa District, 直島町琴弾地
Price: Adults ¥1,030 (approximately $10 USD), children under 15 enter for free.
There’s also free locker storage (put in a 100 JPY coin and you’ll get your coin back when you return).
4. Visit the Giant Pumpkin and the many other outdoor installations
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!)
You’d mistaken for thinking that Naoshima Island is one big pumpkin party – there are bucket loads MORE outdoor installations than just the pumpkins. I would highly recommend going for a wander around the Benesse House Area.
Tips for seeing the outdoor installations 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).
Opening hours: 24 hrs!
5. Go house-hopping at the Art House Project:
The House Installations may at first feel like a tourist trap. After all, they’re not nearly as well known as the Chi Chu Art Museum or the Benesse House Museum.
I nearly gave these a miss, but I am so glad that I didn’t because they were the unexpected highlight of my trip!
You’re probably thinking – girl, what on earth is the Art House Project? Well, they are a series of vacant houses (many of which were built more than 400 years ago) which have been transformed with artwork.
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! My favorite was Minamidera. This house has artwork by the artist James Turrell (who also has work in the Chi Chu Museum). Visiting here is more of an experience, rather than “oh here look at this artwork”.
I don’t want to spoil the experience because it is worth the surprise, but the artist has played with the perception of light. My one suggestion would be to 100% make sure that the staff knows that you don’t speak Japanese. This way they can give you written instructions in English when visiting. I made this mistake, and would have struggled so much here if it weren’t for the lovely lady who translated everything for me!
Tips for visiting the Art House Project on Naoshima Island:
If you have time, purchase the multi-site ticket for 1,030 JPY (~ $10 USD). If you only want to visit a single site, these are 410 JPY (~ $4 USD). The multi-site ticket is definitely worth the extra dollars, especially if you’ll be visiting more than 3 houses.
Another thing to note is that 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.
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm daily (Minamidera Last admittance 4:15 pm), CLOSED Mondays (hours may vary depending on the season so check ahead!)
Price: Multi-site ticket ¥1,030 (approximately $10 USD) or single site ticket is ¥410 (approximately $4 USD)
6. Visit the 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. While I didn’t have time to visit this museum (as I was visiting Naoshima on a day trip!) it would be worth a visit if you are staying on Naoshima Island for longer.
Opening hours: 10 am – 6pm daily, CLOSED Mondays (hours may vary depending on the season so check ahead!)
Location: Japan, 〒761-3110 Kagawa-ken, Kagawa-gun, Naoshima-chō, (Sonota), 香川郡直島町字倉浦１３９０
Price: Adults ¥1,030 (approximately $10 USD), children under 15 enter for free
7. Visit the 007 Red Tattoo Museum (CLOSED!)
Update 2017: unfortunately the 007 Red Tattoo Museum is no longer open – but I wanted to leave this here to share a cool piece of info with you guys – Naoshima Island features in Raymond Benson’s Bond novel, The Man with the Red Tattoo.
The residents of Naoshima were so excited to have their Island featured in this book that they started a petition to have the book made into a movie. While this particular James Bond book is yet to be made into a movie, they created a museum dedicated to the book in hope that one day their island will feature in the latest James Bond movie.
Unfortunately this museum is no longer open, but hopefully one day this particular James Bond novel is made into a movie!
Other tips for visiting Naoshima Island:
Staying on Naoshima Island
If you have time, I would highly recommend staying on Naoshima Island. While I visited for a day trip (it was a very full day!) if I visited again, I would spend the night.
For backpackers (or those on a small travel budget), the Naoshima Backpackers Guesthouse is a great option.
They’re located close by 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, the Guest House Shimayado Aisunao should be at the top of your list!
Think: tatamis floors, paper screens, and wooden floors! Here you can sleep on a futon, or if you’d rather a bed, they have rooms with beds too. They even offer a complimentary Asian-style breakfast daily!
For families or groups, I’d recommend staying at the vacation rental, Mrs. Maroulla’s HOUSE
This vacation home sleeps 4 (on futon beds) and has free wifi, a small kitchenette to prepare meals.
For families who are after beds (not futons), accommodation is a little hard to find, your best bet would be a rental through Airbnb.
Getting to Naoshima Island
Getting to Naoshima can be a bit tough. Depending on where you’re traveling from, it will most likely involve a combination of JR train + ferry. From Okayama, it’s about 1 hr via train and then 15 min on the Ferry. When visiting, you should make sure that you look up train and ferry times before departing. Otherwise, you could end up waiting for nearly 1 hr for a Ferry. They come approximately every hour – so do your research ahead!
Budget travel on Naoshima Island
Another thing to note is that Naoshima Island is not budget friendly. This was definitely one of my more expensive day 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!
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