Travel Destination: Setouchi Islands, Japan


There are thousands of islands scattered across the Seto Inland Sea. The Setouchi Triennale, first held in 2010, is a contemporary art festival held once every three years on several islands and around the ports in the Seto Inland Sea. One of the festival's main goals is to revitalize these islands, which are suffering from depopulation.
In order to save time and also to combine my itinerary to Miyajima and Kurashiki, I spent two nights on Naoshima during my art triennale trip. The upside was I got to experience the tranquil atmosphere on the island at night. The best route in the Benesse House Area, where all the buildings were designed by well known architect Tadao Ando starts with a pleasant walk from Chichu Art Museum (online booking required), then a visit to Lee Ufan Museum and Benesse House Museum along the way. This is followed by a walk through Benesse House park, scattered with sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle, along the picturesque coast and ends at the iconic Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.
Art House Project is located in the port town Honmura. Among all the houses, Go'o Shrine with an optical glass staircase on the hill turned out to be one of my favorites (and it's a real Shinto shrine). You might find a little surprise when entering the underground chamber in the darkness.
The very smart tunnel of mirrors in Inujima Seirensho Art Museum impressed us tremendously. We explored the outdoor refinery ruins and brick walls, and visited the art houses through the lanes of the village. When we were in the glass greenhouse of Life Garden, it started pouring rain. We did not want to leave in the heavy rain but we didn't find being stranded on the island a good idea either, so we decided to catch the next available boat. I have also visited other locations in the Setouchi Islands, such as Megijima, Ogijima, Shodoshima, and Shamijima. Each one is different and special in its own way.
This rewarding art trip recharged my spiritual energy in the best possible way. If you are up for experiencing art in laid back, slow paced rural villages surrounded by beautiful scenery, the Setouchi Islands are perfect destinations. You will find the magical collide when contemporary art is set in traditional surroundings. There are many permanent art installations from the previous festivals, in addition to a number of museums and old buildings converted into artworks, therefore the area is recommended to visit even outside the art festival period.