Let’s go to Naoshima!

Naoshima Island has been in our sights for years. A tiny spot on the map, just a few kilometers off the coast, it has an outsized reputation among fans of modern art. When we realized we’d be driving by the port town of Uno, gateway to Naoshima, we thought, what the heck, let’s see this place for ourselves!

Getting there is easy enough — two ferry companies make the trip from Uno almost hourly. The big decision we had to make was whether to take the van or go on foot. After speaking with a couple who’d just returned from the island, we decided that in the interest of “keeping it frugal,” we’d take the van so we could save on the cost of a room as well as cook our meals (we’d just done some grocery shopping so we had tons of food to cook up).

The rainy weather wasn’t going to make it any easier to get around on foot or bike, either, so we made the decision to go with the van.

With the next ferry leaving in just a few minutes, we bought tickets and got ourselves ready to go. Not thirty minutes later we were on Naoshima, driving on the island’s main road, asking directions for the information center and doing our usual scanning of the roadway for likely spots to sleep.

The island itself and drop dead beautiful. As we explored, we sometimes hugged the coast and beaches. Other times the road took us up and over the green hills that make up the interior.

There is art and museums everywhere. As night fell, we were able to visit one of the island’s main museums, the Benesse House Museum. We were unprepared for the art — by Sam Francis, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney and Claude Monet, to name a few big names hanging on the walls.

Artists represented outside include Yayoi Kusama, whose “pumpkin” sculptures are probably the best known Naoshima art pieces, and also Karl Appel’s many playful cats.

The island’s main town, Honmura, is the setting for what the Benesse Foundation (which owns most of the island and all the art) calls the Art House Project, eight traditional houses turned art projects we can walk through and experience on the various artists’ terms.

Naoshima is definitely worth the trip, but there is a lingering feeling that the whole experience is just too contrived. Maybe Meg and I are living too hand to mouth as we “vanlife” around Japan — the last thing I expected to see between our instant ramen breakfasts and our two banana/two apple lunches was a museum wall heavy with Claude Monet’s Water Lilies.

Naoshima take-away? Visit if you are in the neighborhood but don’t build a trip around it.

Cheers for now!

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