Top Museums to visit on Naoshima Art Island – Naoshima, with its critically acclaimed contemporary art museums and lovely coastal sceneries, is an absolute gem. A delight to visit even if you’re not a modern art lover or photographer.
The following are the top museums to visit in this artistic paradise. Before reading, do note that the gems of Naoshima are quite spread out over the southern part of the island. If you wish to visit all within one day, some degree of research, particularly on transportation, is necessary.
Chichu Art Museum
Chichu Art Museum is widely considered one of the best museums to visit in Naoshima, and it certainly deserves this accolade.
Located at the southwestern tip of the island, the museum is built into a hillside i.e. mostly underground, and illuminated only by natural light. Thanks to this unique design direction, the surrounding vicinity is part of every visitor’s viewing experience. For many, the feature makes the architecture itself a work of art to be enjoyed.
The actual collection of Chichu Art Museum is, in turn, small but precious. Other than a series of gorgeous murals from Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” series, there are modern masterpieces by Walter de Maria and James Turrell.
Outside of paintings, the museum is home to a lovely garden with over a hundred types of plants, these having appeared in Monet’s paintings or were collected by him. According to promotional literature, the garden is meant to offer insight into the flora that moved the French impressionist so deeply. Before and after viewing the master’s stunning creations, you too can appreciate the natural beauties that inspired him.
Many parts of Lee Ufan Museum are picture-perfect for a science fiction movie.
Lee Ufan Museum
One of the newer museums on Naoshima, Lee Ufan Museum is dedicated to Korean painter and sculptor, Lee Ufan.
A tranquil oasis of minimalist modernity coexisting with nature, the museum houses paintings and sculptures by Lee from the 1970s to now. It is also a collaboration between Lee and Tadao Ando i.e. the renowned Japanese architecture who designed the distinctive structures of many other Naoshima museums. For example, the above mentioned Chichu Art Museum.
While strolling past the Zen-like creations, you will surely notice the way Lee’s artworks complement and contrast with Ando’s solemn simplicity too. With the museum partially underground, the sensation of entering a futuristic world is, on the whole, unmistakable. If you have the joy of visiting alone, standing beside some of the installations could even be described as enigmatic.
Part museum and part resort, Benesse House is the home of the island’s most famous art installation, the iconic Naoshima pumpkin.
Besides this whimsical, Sea-viewing masterpiece, Benesse House also contains a variety of other art pieces, many of which are located outdoors so as to integrate surrounding sceneries into the viewing experience. For visitors with the privilege of staying overnight, the installations could be enjoyed before and after typical opening hours too. For many, that is assuredly an unforgettable experience.
In addition, Benesse House provides other facilities such as cafes, shops, and even a spa. A little pricey as these are, they make the museum-resort a convenient rest point while visiting Naoshima.
Tadao Ando is a name inseparable from Naoshima and modern Japanese architecture. Not only is the Osaka-born architect synonymous throughout the world for emphatic simplicity, he is also the creative force behind the most distinctive buildings on Naoshima art island. The above-mentioned Chichu Art Museum and Lee Ufan Museum were both designed by him.
Ando Museum pays homage to the style of this legendary master in the form of a traditional Japanese residence housing several surprises. While the compound resembles a well-kept residence the likes of which you’d see in many other parts of Japan, the interior is a harmonious mix of the traditional and new. With an emphasis on visual depth achieved through bold contrasts.
Furthermore, there is a collection of photographs, sketches, and models that detail the history of Naoshima and Ando’s creations. The short of it, if you enjoyed the architecture of the above-mentioned museums, Ando Museum is the natural next destination to head to. The architecture aside, this is also one traditional Japanese home unlike any you’d see elsewhere.
I Love Yu
Some travelers may not consider I Love Yu as a museum. However, if you are willing to do so, and to visit, this would be a museum experience unlike anywhere else in the world.
In essence, I Love Yu is a neighborhood bathhouse (sento) that offers two experiences at the same time. While you soak in rejuvenating hot water, you also “soak in” the eclectic artwork that adorns the premises.
Conceptualized by Tokyo-born modern artist Shinro Ohtake, the vibrant collages found everywhere could also be interpreted as a celebration of Japanese bathhouses. In Japanese culture, sentos are where people of all walks congregate.
Lastly, visitors not keen on bathing can still enjoy Ohtake’s art. The exterior of I Love Yu is the most vibrant part of it. The quirky bathhouse also sells a variety of themed souvenirs for you to bring home memories of it.
Naoshima Honmura Gallery
Naoshima is internationally famous as an art island, renowned for its top-notch museums. In a way, the whole island could also be considered a museum. This is especially with many of the art installations located outdoors.
At the Honmura district, an entire residential area forms the stage for a series of art installations known as Art House Projects. Essentially various restored traditional Japanese structures housing collections of art, many of these “projects” incorporate unexpected modern design elements within them. Exploration during any hour is both a delight and a thrill.
To give you an idea of what’s to expect:
Kadoya: This residence looks utterly traditional. That is, till you enter its glittering inner room.
Haisha: Conceptualized by the designer of I Love Yu, this visually striking former dentist’s office wouldn’t look out of place in a Studio Ghibli movie.
Minamidera: A new structure on the grounds of a former temple, Minamidera was designed by Tadao Ando. On its grounds is James Turrell’s Backside of the Moon, an intriguing modern installation that toys with your visual perception.
Go’o Shrine: Other than the rustic compound and structures, there is a glass staircase leading underground. This unusual feature was meant as a metaphor for the connection between heaven and earth.
Of important note, the various houses are spread out across Honmura town, with several on the outskirts. Some planning is thus necessary if you wish to visit all or to avoid lots of roundabout walking.
Miyanoura Gallery 6
An interesting sight in Miyanoura town and a stone’s throw from I Love Yu, Miyanoura Gallery 6 is both an exhibition venue as well as a community space. Architecturally, it is renowned for its louver ceiling. This feature allows natural lighting to seep in as illumination.
Opened in 2013, the façade was also previously that of a pachinko hall, a deliberate design motive to stress the connection of the gallery with the surrounding residential area. Of note, the gallery is connected to a small neighborhood park, one with playground facilities. Resting in the park after a late afternoon visit, while watching schoolchildren play, could be described as a form of modern art in itself.
About Benesse Corporation
The Benesse Corporation, based in Okayama City, manages all of the above museums. If you enjoy their artistic direction and presentation, you might also want to visit the corporation’s other attractions on nearby Teshima and Inujima Islands. Teshima, in particular, is a mini Naoshima, with several memorable large-scale art installations.
A devoted solo traveler from Singapore who has loved Japan since young. His first visits to the country were all because of video game and Manga homages. Today, he still visits for the same reasons, in addition to enjoying Japan’s culture, history, and hot springs.