From above you’d never guess that the tiny islands that make up the Seto Inland Sea are host to the finest permanent exhibitions in East Asia, but they are – thanks in no small part to the Setouchi Triennale.The islands in this corner of the Land of the Rising Sun include Tadao Ando-designed properties, natural wonders, and quiet island exhibitions built in abandoned factories and underground.
Of particular interest to art lovers should be Teshima Art Museum that resembles a water droplet at the moment of landing. The rural island of Teshima boasts a rich cultural tradition that manifests largely in its many modern art pieces, strewn throughout the island incorporating raw materials.
The Teshima Art Museum is a minimalist concrete structure that is intentionally open to the elements. Another Teshima island art stop is Les Archives du Coeur, or “Heart Archives.” The Heart Archives is a contemporary art installation allowing visitors to make a recording of their heartbeat that is added to a worldwide database. Along with the art offerings, Teshima is also home to a forested mountain and three small fishing villages.
Just east of Teshima is Shodoshima. While there are more than 40 works of art in the port towns along Shodoshima’s southern coast, the region is also known for its beaches, olives, and wild monkeys. Taking a break from the galleries, travelers can explore Kankakei Gorge, the beach land bridge of Angel Road, or walk the rice terraces.
There is no end to interesting island stops in this art paradise. Inujima – a much smaller neighbor to the north – can be explored in a single day, the highlight being the Seirensho Art Museum built atop the ruins of a copper refinery. Located primarily underground, the museum makes use of building materials such as old brick and chunks of granite from the refinery in its construction. One of the more notable works housed in the Inujima Seirensho is a tunnel of mirrors that takes on a different ambiance depending upon the light filtering in from the outside at different times of the day.
“Teshima is a larger island with small inns where one can stay, and it is covered with over a dozen fascinating museums and art installations. Shodoshima is much larger still with multiple fishing villages and soy sauce factories that provide the livelihood for the local residents. It has an excellent ryokan as well as many art installations, especially during the Setouchi Triennale.” – Remote Lands Co-founder and CEO Catherine Heald
Where to Stay
The Benesse House is the place to stay on Naoshima, and if you aren’t already among the Tadao Ando-obsessed, prepare to be. Ando wanted guests to be able to get close to great art and have a rewarding dialogue with it, so each room in the post-modern hotel-museum compound is uniquely designed with its own artwork. From here, you can easily visit the other Tadao Ando properties on Naoshima, such as the remarkable Chichu Museum, or discover installations by other artists, like Shinro Ohtake’s funky Naoshima Bath.
Travel between islands in the Seto Inland Sea is typically handled by ferry, but recent years have seen the arrival of private yacht options for travelers who want to see all of the Triennale without the crowds.
What to Do
The hundreds of art sites on 12 islands and two coastal areas are best accessed with an expert Triennale guide. Be sure to check out the Art House Project to see one way the Setouchi Triennale is trying to revitalize the Seto Inland Sea; artists take empty residential houses and turn them into works of art.
JAPAN’S BEST ART MUSEUMS
Thanks in no small part to the Benesse Foundation’s investment in the arts beginning in the 1990s, Naoshima, Teshima, Shodoshima, Inujima, and the other islands of the Seto Inland Sea are home to worldclass museums and installations. The Chichu Museum is a subterranean masterwork of light modulation, and once back on the big island, head to Kurashiki’s Bizen Pottery Museum and the Ohara Museum for works by Picasso, el Greco, Gauguin, Modigliani, and others.
EXPLORE THE ISLANDS
Uno Port is the gateway to the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. Shodoshima is a break in the natural world, and the Mediterranean-like climate in this region is fantastic for exploring the outdoors for short hikes