Traveling with Art

A Travelogue

By Sarah Leck

Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” (1994)


Naoshima is a remote island in the Japan Seto Inland Sea, accessible only by ferry from Uno Port in Okayama or Takamatsu Port in Kagawa. It is one of the islands part of the Setouchi Triennale International Art Festival, a contemporary art festival next taking place in 2019. Tadao Ando and Yayoi Kusama are probably the biggest names whose work most people will recognise on the island. Thoughtfully designed museums with clean lines emphasising minimalism, abandoned houses turned into permanent art exhibitions, and quirky sculptures with eye-popping colours – there’s something here for anyone interested in contemporary art and architecture.


Chichu Art Museum

“I like ruins because what remains is not the total design, but the clarity of thought, the naked structure, the spirit of the thing.”


–  Tadao Ando

Built primarily subterranean so as not to affect the natural landscape of the island, the museum stuns with its masterful juxtaposition of light and shadow, clean lines and intersections.

It is not immediately apparent to visitors from within, but the museum is made up of several basic shapes that can only be viewed from an aerial perspective.

Permanent exhibits include work by Claude Monet, Walter de Maria, and James Turrell.

Sou Fujimoto’s “Naoshima Pavilion”, constructed for the 2016 Setouchi Triennale – photographed at sunset


While there are several museums and an art house project that you can pay to visit, there are also many installations that dot the island. Grab a map, hop on a rental bicycle, and take your time exploring the entire island, which is easily traversed on wheels though hilly at parts. If there are no more bicycles available for rent, the Naoshima Town Bus will take you to the main parts of the island (¥100/ride), where you can take a free shuttle bus to the museum area.

Steps in the outdoor area of the Benesse House Museum
Yayoi Kusama’s “Red Pumpkin” at Miyanoura Port
Kazuo Katase’s “Drink a Cup of Tea” (1987-1994)
Sunset from Miyanoura Port

Ogijima Port, featuring Jaume Plensa’s “Ogijima’s Soul”


Another island part of the Setouchi Triennale, Ogijima is accessible by ferry from Takamatsu Port and its sister island, Megijima. It is decidedly smaller than Naoshima at only 2 kilometers long and a kilometer wide, home to about 200 people. The terrain is also much steeper, hinted to by the dearth of bicycle rental shops, compared to the glut of transport rental options on Naoshima. However, it is still very walkable, and the island can be explored quite easily within 2 hours. Aside from the art installations set into the side of the hills, there is also a lighthouse and its accompanying museum on the northern side of the island. It is a relatively easy half-hour walk on a paved road through fields and forests.

*If you’re planning to go to the lighthouse in the warmer seasons, it is recommended that you apply a healthy dose of insect repellant before starting the hike.

Ogijima Lighthouse

Azaleas of Nanko (South Pond) in Ritsurin Garden


With Takamatsu as a base, it’s easy to get to all the art islands on day trips, coming back at the end of the day to slurp up bowls of Sanuki udon for dinner, the thick wheat flour noodles that Kagawa prefecture is famous for. However, not all of the area’s charms lay a ferry ride away.

A few train stops from Takamatsu Port is Ritsurin Garden,  an immaculate landscape garden with a rich history, built by the local feudal lords from 1625 to 1745 during the early Edo Period. In 1953, the garden was designated a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.

After paying the ¥410 entry fee, you can grab some maps (offered in several languages) that have suggested walking routes to cover the garden as efficiently as possible. Upon entering, you will get a sense of the scale of the place – this is somewhere you’ll want to set aside at least a couple of hours to complete at a leisurely pace.

Lotus bloom in Fuyo-sho, the lotus garden; in summer, about 1000 lotuses can be seen
Ritsurin Garden as photographed from Hiraiho, featuring Fukiage Tei (a rest stop) on the left, Engetsukyo (Crescent Moon Bridge), and a Japanese-style wasen boat on the right
All photographs featured were taken by and belong to Sarah Leck.
You can check out more of her photography & travels on her Instagram.