A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

Touring the Inland Sea: Part 2 - Teshima and Naoshima


We left Shodoshima early this morning, boarding another ferry, skirting around the south coast and heading west to Teshima.


This is the second and briefest stop (just half a day) on our island hopping trip.

After disembarking we jump on a bus and cross the island to get to what I wanted to call the island's most famous site.... but I have just discovered that actually the island is most famous for something I wasn't even aware of during our visit. Apparently the island is most famous for being the stage of one of the biggest ever industrial waste scandals. Over a period of time, up until the early 90s almost 600.000 tons of waste were illegally dumped on the island

"Teshima Residents took Kagawa Prefecture to court over the waste scandal and made the prefecture take responsibility for correctly processing and clearing the waste from the island. Since 2003, the waste has been transported to nearby Naoshima and processed in one of the most modern facilities in the country. The residents group offers guided tours of the site and of the island in Japanese."

As I say, at the time I knew nothing about that, but it does kind of explain some odd, industrial looking, seemingly abandoned buildings we could see in the distance. Anyway, oblivious to this fraught past, what we came to see was the island's second most famous point, it's UFO crash site. (See bottom right below).


OK, so it not an actual UFO crash site, it an art facility that looks like a UFO crash site from the outside.

When I say 'art facility' that's what I mean as well, it's not a gallery. The structure itself is the art. Primarily it's an experiment in form and space, but learning about the waste scandal certainly lends a bit of back story to this place that helps make a bit more sense of it's abstract aesthetic. After enduring such a massive and prolonged assault on the local environment the idea of a work of art to re-affirm the possibility of a finding a balance, and harmony, between man and nature must have appealed to the local residents.

The shell like body of the building is punctured with two wide holes that frame ever-changing planes of sky, forest and sea. They also open the whole to the elements allowing the seasons, weather and the facility to influence each other. If that didn't make the structure fragile and permeable enough, the floor is also peppered with small holes that birth (and consume) a network of small rivlets, and pools of water that criss cross the whole area inside.

As photography isn't allowed on site, I've had to scavenge photos from around the net to put together a collage that gives you a sense of the place.
Also you can read a fuller article about the facility by clicking here if you want.


Teshima isn't the only local island to dabble in the world of art though. In fact it's something of a local trend in the area, and several of the Seto Inland Sea islands play host to art in one form or another. It's a good way of drawing visitors to the islands, and (truth be told) it's why we are here too. Checking out some of the best art installations on the islands is actually the main goal of this trip. Without a doubt the biggest collection of art to be found here is housed on Naoshima, and that's our next stop.

We'll be spending two nights on Naoshima, and our transport of choice...


... bikes. Noashima is the perfect size for cycling around, and it's a great way of hitting all the various galleries and enjoying the scenery at the same time. As you can see on the road sign below there are three main galleries on the island, however there are also a lot of smaller art installations and incidental art scattered around; such as the giant red and yellow squashes which have almost become the icons of the island.


On our first day we only had the time to visit the Benesse House gallery. To get there it was a nice run along the coast, passing through a sculpture park full of simple, brightly coloured animals. Then a short steep hill climb to reach the gallery itself, which sits on a atop a small peninsula overlooking the sea.


Again the photography was mostly off limits in the gallery, though I managed to work around this in a few places by standing outside and taking photos through open doors into the gallery... so I wasn't in the gallery taking pictures... it's a grey area :-)

The exhibits were all modern art and tended towards abstraction, often imposing order and form onto naturally chaotic and random objects; for example see the circle made of stone chunks below. There is something very Japanese about this aesthetic sense that can also be seen in raked lines of a zen gravel garden, the careful placement of flowers in the art of ikebana (flower arranging) or trimmed perfection of a bonsai tree.


By the time we left Benesse House it was already getting dusky and we had to cycle back to our accommodation, we made one brief stop by the harbour to snap some photos inside the red squash (and getting some nice ghosting effects with the long exposure). Then it was time to call it a night.


The next day, we wanted to see the other two main galleries (The Chichu art museum and the Lee Ufan gallery) and also check out some of the smaller sites. I able to take any photo, at either the Chichu or Lee Ufan galleries. Stylistically though they were very similar to Benesse house, all three place being mostly built from large smooth white slabs, and the style of art also continued in the abstract aesthetic vein.

Despite not being able to take my own photos I did find this collage of photos from the Chichu museum that give a good overall impression of the place. In the top right picture you can see how most of the museum is actually underground with 'skylights' carved into the earth to allow natural light into various parts of the gallery.


It is worth saying that that touring these islands can soon get quite expansive, as each of the main art sites is charged for separately (though you can get a 'passport' ticket that covers all of the smaller sites). With each site (and the 'passport') costing around 1'000 yen per person it soon adds up, so if you do find yourself here and running low on cash, or short of time, I can say without a doubt that the Lee Ufan Museum is the one to skip. It is the smallest and least impressive by quite a margin.

Anyway, one thing I could take pictures of was the water garden near the Chichu museum. A series of Lilly ponds, modelled on Monet's water garden in France, line the road side. This is obviously in honour of the fact that the museum, in addition to it's modern art collection, is home to three huge Monet canvases. According to the museum's website, 'The rationale behind Chichu Garden is one where, through physical experience, it is believed one's understanding and appreciation of Claude Monet's work can be deepened'.


Again, this next picture isn't mine, but it shows the room where Monet's pictures are displayed, and you can see how (whilst the roof isn't totally open) the sunlight is bounced off the white walls to provide natural light inside the room.


As I already mentioned in addition to the main galleries there are also a number of smaller installations, called 'art houses' scattered around the island. These smaller sites were each the work of a different artist and varied wildly in terms of style and content; from very formal displays of traditional Japanese crafts to much more personal and quirky pieces. Here are couple of my favourites.


At first glance this shrine (above) looks no different to thousands of others you can see anywhere around Japan. However, take a closer look at the steps leading down to the ground - they are made of massive blocks of glass and they don't stop when they hit the floor (Below, right hand side). To really appreciate this place you have to follow a small path that winds down the behind the shrine, and then enter a narrow passage that cuts under it. There you'll find those same glass steps cutting down into a world that was invisible from above, and where, when you decided to leave, the passage you came in by now leads out to a flare of light that blooms at it's mouth.

The beauty of this place is that it uses it's location to do something that it couldn't do in a gallery. The spiritual nature of the shrine naturally shapes the way you think about the experience of moving between these various, discrete yet connected, spaces. There is something very Buddhist about passing from the plain above, to the plain below, and then being 'reborn' into the light as you leave the dark.

The left hand side of the collage (below) is an old dentist clinic that has experienced an id explosion, there isn't any apparent rhyme or reason to why the artist has filled it with the things they have, but it's interesting to walk around inside someone else's head-space made real for a while.


Between visiting the various art sites we were of course still cycling around the island and enjoying the natural beauty of the place as well. The weather was glorious, and still warm enough for swimming in the sea. As the day wore on, and the sun began to set, we were treated to some truly wonderful sea views.




We still had one more night on Naoshima, but we'd be leaving early tomorrow the last leg of our journey. So what better way to spend the evening than relaxing with a soak at the local spa. So, ladies and gentlemen, I7ll leave you with the final art site of our from Naoshima tour - the rather funky local bath house.



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