How to Design Your Amazing Art Scavenger Hunt in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea

Art Tours are increasingly popular. It is not just about the art museums, but also, many tourists are now visiting places across the world for art festivals and street art. In fact, hosting such events is a great way to promote tourism and boost commercial activities.

This Yellow Pumpkin is probably one of the most recognizable works of art in the Seto Inland Sea, created by Yayoi Kusama. If you want to learn more about Naoshima, read on.

Setouchi Triennale

Have you heard of the Setouchi Triennale?

Liminal Air, is one of the “oldest” artworks of Setouchi Triennale on display at Takamatsu Port since 2010.

It is an art festival that is held every three years, showcasing contemporary artworks from artists in different places. Instead of putting these works in a confined indoor exhibition space, as most of the other art events do,  they will be showcased on several islands within the Seto Inland Sea.

The first festival took place in 2010, with an aim to revitalize the outlying islands as they suffered from depopulation. Over 150 artworks were brought in and they were put on display on these islands for a period of eight months (in three seasons and some of them permanently remained). Many exhibition spaces were actually abandoned homes, and they have found a new purpose through this event.

Takamatsu is the main hub of the Setouchi Triennale.

This festival is also an inspiration for some other Rural Art Festival Tourism (RAFT) in Asia, like Hong Kong’s Yim Tin Tsai art festival.

The year 2022 celebrates the fifth anniversary of this event and this year, more islands are participating in the festival, and more important artists are showing their work. While art is not just paintings, but also architecture, performing arts, local crafts, tradition, culture, and more. Visit the official website and download their official for more about the exhibition schedule and visiting details. The event dates of the Setouchi Triennale in 2022 are April 14 – May 18, August 5 – September 4, and September 29 – November 6.

Ritsurin Garden is said to be one of the best examples of Japanese traditional garden design.

Takamatsu and outskirt areas

Takamatsu Castle is also called the “Tamamo Castle (Seaweed Castle)” for its seawater moats.

It takes at least a week (or even more) to complete all the artwork and get a full experience of the festival. The major factor that may affect your itinerary planning is ferry schedules. Since the islands are not connected by roads, visitors’ mobility is limited by the ferry connections.

In other words, it is suggested to take a slow pace and also, to spend some time doing some planning and research about what to see and do. Of course, it is perfectly fine to just scroll through the app and head to anywhere that you are most drawn to.

Takamatsu in Shikoku is the main transportation hub connecting these islands to the mainland. Many ferries depart from Takamatsu Port, and several temporary exhibitions are held during the festival period.

Take a stroll toward the Takamatsu Breakwater Lighthouse.

Takamatsu is the capital of Kagawa prefecture and it was developed as a castle town by the feudal lords during the Edo period. The Takamatsu castle is also called the Tamamo Castle (literally “seaweed castle”) for its seawater moats; the historic site is located nearby the port and it is one of the only three castles in Japan that has a seawater moat, along with Imabari Castle and Nakatsu Castle.

A little bit further into the city, the Ritsurin Garden is a Takamatsu must-see. This large-scale historic Japanese Garden is a perfect example of a traditional Japanese Garden design. The park dated back to the early 17th century when the feudal lord of Takamatsu began construction of this garden around the South Pond using Mount Shiun as a backdrop. You may have heard of the Three Great Gardens in Japan – Kenroku-en, Koraku-en, and Kairaku-en, but some say Ritsurin Garden is an even finer example of the traditional Japanese Garden. In 1953, the garden was designated a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.

Oboke is a lesser-known tourist area with dramatic rock formations and crystal-clear stream water. hop on a boat and get close to learning more about the interesting facts about the area.

If you have more time and want to go a little bit further, head to Marugame and visit the Genichiro Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art (MIMOCA) and the Marugame Castle, one of the twelve “original” Japanese castles that survived damage during the wars. Oboke and Koboke are lesser-known scenic spots located in Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture. The two narrow canyons are on the edge of Iya Valley in the mountains. The names, literally, mean “big step dangerous” and “small step dangerous”, because the steep and rocky surfaces of the cliff and the rapid currents of the Yoshino River make traversing on foot very challenging. The rock formation is a million-year process – creating spectacular and unique sceneries. While Yoshino River is an excellent location for rafters, one can admire the beauty of the rocks by walking on safe scenic trails or riding a boat cruise to get much closer to the gorge.

Yayoi Kusama

Kusama cafe
Yayoi Kusama’s work is recognizable and featured in many art exhibition all over the world in the passt decades. This is an pop-up cafe few years back in Taipei’s Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

There are a few big names in Japan Art World that you may encounter, and Kusama’s signature polka dot artwork is among of the those that dominates the world’s contemporary art cultures in the lasts decades.

Yayoi Kusama, age 93, is an influential contemporary artist who focuses on sculptures and installation arts. Her art shows evolve around the theme of feminism, minimalism, and surrealism. She was raised in Matsumoto and trained at the Kyoto City University of Arts. In 1958, she moved to New York City and become part of avant-garde art scene in the 1960s. Since then, she has been active in many art movements and in pushing the development of art to the world. Today, her works can be seen across the world – her permanent installations can be found in Japan, the US, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Canada… and one of the most notable permanent art commissions, red pumpkin and yellow pumpkin, are located on Naoshima in Seto Inland Sea. (Note: the iconic artwork Yellow pumpkin was swept up by a tropical storm in August 2021. It was luckily rescued and been taken away for repair.)

Her next major exhibition will be held in M+ Museum in Hong Kong, Yayoi Jusama: 1945 to Now. The exhibition features over 200 works of art from paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, and archival materials.

Planning your trip

Setouchi Triennale’s official site has all the information you need about planning your visit, what to see, and what to do while you are there. However, the amount of information could be so much that it can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. After all, there are 12 islands and hundreds of artists participating in the festival (a total of 214 works, and the number is growing!).

Here I have a useful guide to help you plan your itinerary with tips that are not mentioned on the official website.

  • The key to planning your trip is to understand the ferry connections and schedules to make sure you use your time well.
  • Contemporary art can be in different forms and it may be shown in unexpected places around the island.

    Have an understanding of the islands and their locations. There are 12 islands participating in the festival in 2022. Takamatsu port is the main port connecting to East Kagawa islands, namely: Shodoshima, Teshima, Oshima, Ogijima, Megijima, and Naoshima (except Inujima is not directly connected to Takamatsu). There are five “new” islands on the list and they are connected to different ports in West Kagawa, including Marugame Port, Tadotsu Port, Takuma Port, and Kanonji Port.
    To make things more complicated, these ports are located on different parts of the coasts and visitors can get to these ports by JR or other public transportation.

  • Lots of local works of art celebrate Japanese traditional crafts.

    Plot a map. Now you see, It is useful to have a general understanding of the locations and characteristics of each island. Map out which island is a must-see for you, and list out artworks and attractions that you are interested in.

  • Prioritize your interests. Luckily, all the artworks are artists’ information listed clearly with numbers and island codes. With such an impressive number of works, it is quite difficult to walk through them one by one in a short period of time. It is important to prioritize.
  • Estimate the time you need and have.
    If you are into taking photos and sharing Instagram moments, leave around 10 to 15 minutes for each work of interest.

    Estimate the amount of time you plan to stay on each island. Don’t underestimate the time you need to visit some popular attractions, especially during the peak season. For example, there could be a queue outside Chichu Art Museum and Lee Ufan Museum that adds 30 to 45 minutes of waiting time to your plan. The art displays are scattered on an island and therefore you may need more time to look for them if you are exploring the island on foot (truly, it’s like a scavenger hunt). Some art displays are interactive that you may end up spending more time in an exhibit (For one, I simply just stayed in one house exhibit that has a beautiful view for a longer time than I thought).

  • Some exhibitions are interactive or immersive.

    The time you need for each island can be hugely different. The size of the island matters. Shodoshima is a larger island that some of the attractions can’t be reached on foot. You will need a bus connection or a rental bike. On the other hand, Inujima is a small island that you could probably complete in an hour or two. Yet, Inujima has no direct connection with Takamatsu. Its smelter industrial heritage, Seirensho Art Museum, is an impressive site yet this small island is located farther away from the city. The only way to get to Inujima is from Hoden Port in Okayama, Shodoshima, or Naoshima.

    Many of the art displays are created based on abandoned houses on the islands.

    In that case, you probably need to spare a day just for this one location and consider staying overnight on one of the Islands mentioned.

  • Have a plan B. You would probably realize by now that the ferry schedule plays a key role in your island hopping. As I said you should prioritize the list of things you want to see, and you also need a backup plan in case you missed a ferry (Some ferries can be full during the peak season and you will need to decide whether to wait for the next one, that could lose hours of time on an island, or visit another island instead).
  • How long for each Island?
    In summary, most visitors probably should visit one island each day
    Half-day to 1-day: Oshima, Inujima
    1-day trip: Teshima, Megijima and Ogijima (combined)
    1-day trip (stay overnight and extend to 2 days or more): Naoshima and Shodoshima.
  • Download the app. Make sure to download the festival mobile app so you can check information about the artwork and map in real time.
  • Take advantage of the Ferry pass. Another important reason to plan your itinerary for the visit is to make sure of is three-day ferry pass. The fare varies for each route and does you calculate to make that the cost of a ferry pass is lower than the cost of your ferry rides in three days? Keep in mind that there are other routes between the islands and the ports that are not included in the Pass.

There are 12 islands (excluding Takamatsu port) on the list in 2022:

East Kagawa islands are the “original” islands of Setouchi Triennale and they will be open for all three seasons.

  • Oshima
  • Inujima
  • Shodoshima
  • Ogijima
  • Megijima
  • Teshima
  • Naoshima

West Kagawa islands are newly added, and they are involved in one season only.

  • Shamijima
  • Honjima
  • Takamijima
  • Awashima
  • Ibukijima

Now let’s dive into the key islands on East Kagawa and their highlights:

Oshima

Highlights: Oshima is two of the smallest islands (together with Inujima) among the 12 islands. While it is close to Takamatsu, the small island is frequently overlooked. However, it is a unique location for being home to Japan’s only island leprosarium. The treatment facility is now transformed by artists into an immersive museum of walkthrough exhibits that showcase Oshima’s creepy past and uplifting present. Visitors can join a group tour to learn all about it.

Number of works of art: 13

Recommended artworks: Ringwanderung by Tomoko Konoike. It was a work of art created in 2019 as the artist restored a 1.5-kilometer walking trail, and a staircase was added in 2022 to give access to the beach.

How to get around: Oshima can be visited on foot.

How long on the island: Half-day to one-day

Inujima

Highlights: The other small island with Oshima, it’s actually closer to the Uno port than Takamatsu. The island was home to a smelter, and the island is now revitalized with an Art House Project and an art museum.

Number of works of art: 10

Recommended artworks: Seirensho Art Museum. It was vibrantly rebuilt from the ruins of a copper refinery. The museum uses renewable energy and was rebuilt with original materials like Karami bricks. The building itself is a showcase of modern industrial architecture.

How to get around: Inujima can be visited on foot.

How long on the island: Half-day to one-day

Lee Ufan

Lee Ufan is a Korean minimalist artist and he made an impact on the world’s art stage in the 1960s. I remembered I visited his themed art exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. His work left a huge and deep impression.

His artwork is deceptively simple and often features a mix of rocks, glasses, metal and fabric. He is recognized for his unconventional artistic process. His work evolves through time, and Lee Ufan Museum pay tribute to some of his more signature works. It’s worth visiting and there’s always a long queue outside the museum.

Shōdoshima

A few islands, like Shodoshima, are connected to the mainland by car ferries.

Highlights: Covers an area of 150 square kilometers (and Manhattan is 60 square kilometers), Shodoshima is the largest island of the bunch – much larger. There are a total of seven ports on the island and four of them are the “official” route connected to Takamatsu post and the other islands. Shodoshima is also known as “Olive Island” for being the first location in Japan to cultivate olives. The Greek windmill in Olive Park is the original attraction of the island. The large island features the greatest number of artworks.

Number of works of art: 39

Recommended artworks: Daidaraurutorabou by Toshimitsu Ito. It is a giant sculpture made of woods and rocks, located in Mito Peninsula, the southern tip of the island. The giant is a creator of Japan and taking a rest at this spot in the Seto Inland Sea. The giant is a symbol of the universe, nature, and humans.

Delicious snacks and local food are also an important part of island hopping!

Human Home Hermit Crab by Daisuke Omi is in Mito Peninsula. A rather visually-stimulating piece of work that is also a great photo=taking moment.

Zero by Wang Wen Chih. This is one of the original artworks on display since the Setouchi Triennial 2010. The enormous sphere is about 15-meter in diameter and it was woven from over 4,000 bamboo poles. It is located in the center of the island in Hitoyama/Nakayama.

How to get around: The island is connected with Takamatsu port by car ferries – that means it is possible to visit the island with your car (if you have one). It is possibly the only island that self-driving is recommended, given its size. All 39 artworks are scattered in different parts of the island and it takes possibly more than one day if you want to finish them all. One alternative plan that visitors may consider is staying on Shodoshima for two to three days and heading to Inujima or Naoshima from Shodoshima.

Bikes are not recommended because the island is too big for getting around by bikes and the island has steep slopes. There are buses running on the island, connecting visitors from place to place, yet it is quite crowded during the festival period.

How long on the island: one to multiple days

Ogijima and Megijima

The scavenger hunt is also a good hike, rewarded by breathtaking views of the Seto Inland Sea.

Highlights: The two islands are like a couple – “Ogi” means “man” and “Me” means “woman” in Japanese. They are small-sized hilly islands that are close to Takamatsu, with viewpoints here and there that offer breathtaking views of the Seto Inland Sea. Small villages are sprawling on steep slopes on these islands, and the abandoned houses are now used for art displays. These two islands have consistently introduced new artworks since the beginning of the Setouchi Triennale.

Number of works of art: Ogijima – 14, Megijima – 20

Recommended artworks: Ogijima’s Soul by Jaume Plensa is located at the port of Ogijima. It is the visitor center of the island and it has been on the list since 2010. The roof of this translucent space is covered with letters from various alphabets. Check out No.105 by Wang Te-yu, it is an interactive experience that departs from the traditional approach to art.

Ogijima’s visitor center is named Ogijima’s Soul, an art itself created by Jaume Plensa.

The Navigation room by Nicolas Darrot is filled with nautical charts made from fibers and shells; Oninoko Tile Project 2 by Oninko Production is a collective effort on Megijima, using ornamental tiles, a traditional craft to create the exhibition around the Ogres’ Cave, with the help of over 3,000 junior high school students.

How to get around: The only way to get around Ogijima is on foot, because vehicles have to be left at the port, and the island is filled with slopes. While you may consider driving or taking a bus to visit the Ogre’s Cave on Megijima; it is possible to take a walk and reach there.

How long on the island: one day (combined)

Teshima

Highlights: Teshima is medium in size, covering an area of 14.5 square kilometers. Teshima Art Museum is part of the Benesse Foundation (Benesse is a Japanese corporation of education and publishing). It has a rather unique look, “hidden” in the terraced rice fields on the island, featuring a freestanding concrete shell with a hole in the center that reaches only 4 meters in height. From afar, it looks like a white watercolor droplet landed on a yellow furry canvas.

The art museum, in fact, is more like a showroom of the collaborative creation of architect Ryue Nishizawa, and sculptor Rei Naito. The organic, lofty, spacious, and clean architecture is a modern artwork itself, and the entire space hosts only one piece of sculpture created by Rei Naito.

Number of works of art: 13

Recommended artworks: Teshima Art Museum has been the highlight since its opening in 2010. Don’t forget to check out Shima Kitchen by Ryo Abe, it is a restaurant in a renovated Japanese house. The curved outdoor terrace is sheltered beneath a long sweeping canopy. There is no better place to have a refreshment when you are actually sitting in art. However, there could be a long line waiting for a table during the festival.

Check out the Remains of Shadowing by Yuma Tomiyasu. An immersive installation artwork based on an abandoned old house.

How to get around: The island has a car ferry connection with Uno port, yet given its size it’s not difficult to explore on foot. Besides, the displays are scattered around the island and it is even more convenient to explore these places at your own pace. Parking and navigating through narrow, hilly streets on the island could be a headache in such cases.

Tadao Ando

Awaji Yumebutai (2000) 

Concrete walls, simple geometric structures, and large windows – they are the signature of self-taught Japanese architect Tadao Ando, which has made his mark in the modern architectural world. He is the winner of the 1995 Pritzker Prize, and his works can be found in many places around the world. Notable buildings include Awaji’s Awaji-Yumebutai (2000), Tokyo’s 21 21 Design Sight (2007), Taichung’s Asia Museum of Modern Art (2013), and Matsuyama’s Setouchi Aonagi (2015).

In the Seto Inland Sea, Lee Ufan Museum, Benesse House, Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum (and Annex), and Chichu Art Museum were all designed by him.

Naoshima

Naoshima has long been known and established itself as a haven for art lovers even before the beginning of the Setouchi festival. It’s packed with modern art facilities, thanks to the support of Benesse House as early as the 1980s and the involvement of two big names in Japan’s art world: Yayoi Kusama and Tadao Ando. Their works made Naoshima rapidly shine so much brighter on Japan’s art map. Still. It is the most visited island among all others in Setouchi Triennale.

Number of works of art: 24

Recommended artworks: 

With the Yellow Pumpkin swept up by storm, only the Red Pumpkin remained on Naoshima’s list of artwork.

Naoshima’s artworks and sites are located mainly in three clusters. In Miyanoura, visitors can find the Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, possibly the most featured artwork in the area. The Yellow Pumpkin was originally set on a pier at the waterfront, and it was swept up by a tropical storm in 2021. The work is not removed for repair.

On the other side at the port, Naoshima Bath “I❤湯” (I” Love YU”), created by Shinto Ohtake, is one of my personal favorite sites. While the bathhouse is whimsically decorated with wildness, it is a functioning bathhouse that welcomes visitors to have a soak in the bath.

An eye-catching neon signboard, colorful mosaic-like tile, vibrant colors, and two exotic palm trees – the Naoshima Bath (rather, the even more tacky name “I Love “YU”) is a popular site that the two baths are full at all times.

Honmura is located on the east side of the island, with ferry connections to Teshima, Uno Port, and Takamatsu Port. Ando Museum is located in the old street of the village, being a work of art itself. Check out the number of Art House Projects – the Project is to rejuvenate abandoned buildings, houses, and temples with a touch of art flavor. The number is renovated houses are expanding since its launch in 1998. Today, seven houses are opened to the public during Setouchi Triennale.

The Benesse House Area features a number of art facilities: Benesse House Museum, Chichu Art Museum, and Lee Ufan Museum. Not only the museums and buildings were designed by notable Japanese architect Tadao Ando, but the museum also features a collection of Monet’s Water Lilies and Lee Ufan’s sculptures and paintings, for being a famous Korean minimalist artist.

How to get around: Naoshima is connected by car ferry and it’s possible to drive around the island. The island also provides a shuttle bus service, connecting visitors to the three spots. The best way to get around the island is to rent a bike. Of all the islands listed, Naoshima (while it has some slopes to Benesse House), is relatively flat and it’s refreshing to navigate and explore at your own pace. Bike rental can be found at the port and you can conveniently rent and return your bike as you get off the ferry.

The collection of Monet’s work is for certain a highlight of Chichu Art Museum – but you may not know that the shape of the museum is also very impressive. 

39 comments

    1. That’s wonderful that you do! Would you consider planning an art trip, and what would you like to see?

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