Since we came back from Naoshima and Teshima last April, I’ve been sharing my enthusiasm for one of the most moving artistic experiences I’ve been given to live, however I’ve kept postponing this blog-post. Last week-end, all these soul-shaking and heart-moving feelings were revived while reading an inspiring novel “Croire au merveilleux” by Christophe Ono-dit-Biot (for my French readers), an unexpected and poetic reminder to get back to my blog and share our family’s travel experience on these unique Japanese islands. I can’t think of another destination that combines with such perfect harmony local traditions, stunning landscapes, innovative architecture and moving artistic creations.
Plunge into traditional Japan
Naoshima and Teshima are traditional fishing islands in the inland sea of Seto, they were brought back to life in the 90’s with the creation of the Benesse Art Project. Despite these artistic and touristic developments, the islands have remained traditional in the architecture of their villages, the slow path of the local inhabitants and the quiet countryside.
We stayed in Naoshima at the Tsutsuji-so camp in a tatami-style one-room cottage facing the sea. This was our kids first time sleeping on Japanese beds and they loved it, especially the fact that we were all together in this very intimate setting. I am so keen on these continuous family-bonding experiences brought by traveling together. Japanese-style breakfasts were also new to them, I confess quite unequally appreciated, still it was a great way of experiencing local habits. You will find very few alternatives to Japanese food, actually very few restaurants in general, which also illustrates how the impacts of tourism have been limited, for the best!
(Tip: I strongly advise that you plan your meals in advance either by booking or buying food from the local grocery, options are limited and opening hours quite strict)
Slow down and contemplate the natural setting
It is not hard to slow down when your day starts by a stroll on the beach, walking through the mysterious mist, glimpsing unknown shapes through the graceful ribbons of clouds: is it a traditional tori? Is it “the” yellow pumpkin (by Yayoi Kusama)? Aren’t you just dreaming? The intense scent of pine trees reminds you that all is real and you have reached a land where your senses and emotions will constantly be triggered.
We did most of our visit of Naoshima and a good part of Teshima on foot (cycling is another great option), it allowed us to contemplate the changing landscapes and appreciate the nature’s diversity. The tree line in full bloom was mesmerizing. We had the most peaceful strolls, generally by ourselves, listening to chanting birds. It was neither too hard nor too long for the children, as if everything had been tailored for them.
Let contemporary architecture reveal the beauty of nature
You may wonder how such a peaceful and harmonious environment has not been spoiled by contemporary architecture and that is the genius of Tadao Ando: his minimalist structures on Naoshima constantly reveal the beauty of the surroundings. Every building (Benesse House Museum, Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum) brings a new surprise: hidden entrances, underground structures, spacious rooms, creative circulation of natural light, etc… All his concrete structures seem surprisingly light!
The Teshima Art Museum (artist Rei Naito and architect Ryue Nishizawa) is another spectacular illustration of how nature, art and architecture can come together in the most harmonious ways, engendering the deepest sensations and emotions.
These innovative buildings are naturally welcoming for children since they have plenty of space to move, to explore, to sense, I’ve never seen my kids happier in a museum before!
Get ready for artistic experiences that will trigger all your senses, emotions and feelings
It is incredibly comforting to discover that somewhere far away, on secluded Japanese islands, ART has its very own sanctuary, a place where you could always go back to fill your soul with beauty, emotions and feelings that have the power to reconnect you with life.
We were impressed by the diversity of art works exhibited: the colorful and graphic outdoor sculptures on Naoshima (Yayoi Kusama, Niki de Saint Phalle, Walter de Maria, etc), the masterpieces such as Monet’s Nympheas at the Chichu Museum, the minimalist works of Korean artist, Lee Ufan, the creative installations of contemporary artists in the traditional houses of Honmura (Art House Project)… and last but not least the deeply moving installations by Christian Boltanski on Teshima (Les archives du Coeur and La forêt des murmures) which can’t be missed!
Once again, it struck me how all these artistic experiences were immediately available for our children, raising genuine questions, astonishment, wonder, joy, worry and therefore opening a lively discussion.
Traveling to these islands with our children was a lifetime experience that I would recommend to every family.
* HOW TO GET THERE?
From Hong Kong we flew to Okayama on Hong Kong Airlines, took a taxi to Uno port and a ferry to Naoshima. Daily ferries connect Naoshima and Teshima. You will find all useful information on Benesse's website.
* WHERE TO STAY?
There aren’t many accommodation available on Naoshima. For families, I highly recommend the cottage at Tsutsuji-so camp. For couples, I believe staying at the Benesse House or Benesse beach hotel must be a unique and memorable experience but it has to be booked long time in advance (I tried on the opening day which was six months before the stay and was told it was already full). There are also several guesthouses in Honmura.
* HOW TO GET AROUND?
On both islands we combined walking and traveling on the local buses for which you must really be on time as there are few of them and they fill up quickly. A great option is to rent bicycles.
* HOW MANY DAYS?
I believe three nights and two days are a minimum to fully enjoy your stay. I would have liked staying longer.
* WHAT TO DO?
- Day 1 on Naoshima: start from Tsutsuji-so bus stop, enjoy the outdoor artworks as you walk to the Benesse House Museum, then walk to Lee Ufan Museum, then to Chichu Museum, late lunch at Chichu café, take the bus to Honmura to visit some of the Art House Projects (be aware of the closing time).
- Day 2 on Teshima: morning ferry to Teshima, Bus to Karato port, walk to les Archives du Coeur (we went early and had the chance to be alone which tremendously changes the experience), walk or take a bus or bike to Teshima Art Museum, followed by lunch (Shokudou 101 or neighboring Shima Kitchen), walk to La forêt des murmures, then take the bus from Shimizu Mae stop to Ieura port, visit Teshima Yokoo House and more if you have time which we did not.
* WHERE TO EAT?
On Naoshima, we had breakfast and dinner at the Tsutsuji-so camp (must be ordered in advance) and lunch at the Chichu café. Benesse House has two upscale restaurants that we did not have a chance to try. On Teshima we had lunch at the charming vegetarian restaurant: Shokudou 101.