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Naoshima in the Age of the Pandemic

So, things are kinda sorta getting better in Japan. A second wave of the pandemic could be coming, it may even have started in Tokyo where the number of new cases has been rising again. And a few days ago I was being asked and I wondered whether it was sensible to visit the Setouchi islands or not just yet.

For more details about the answers, I advise you to read the previous post if you’ve missed it:

Setouchi Islands and Covid-19 – an Update


Of course, going or not going to the islands is a question that only concerns Japanese people and foreign residents at the moment. If you live overseas, you won’t be able to visit for quite a while, I’m afraid.

Personally, I’m not going to lie, I really really miss the Setouchi islands. My last visit to one of them was Ogijima in early March. Almost four months without setting foot on an island! The last time it happened was the last time I lived in France. After talking with my friend Andrew who lives on Naoshima, we concluded that because all art sites have now reopened on the island (the three museums at the beginning of June, the other art sites a few weeks later), because Japanese people haven’t returned in mass yet, and foreign visitors are stuck in their countries anyway, now was actually a great time to visit the island while being able to practice social distancing quite effectively.


I don’t talk much about Naoshima on this blog (which is a shame, it’d bring me more readers). I like the island. I do. However, I don’t like it as much when it’s full of tourists at every corner, which has been happening quite often for the past five years or so. Nowadays, the island is world-famous, and this close to having reached the dreaded “mass tourism spot” status. When I hear about the island being “off-the-beaten-track” I smile a little… It has reached the one million visitors mark in 2019. If you want my opinion, the track has been quite beaten. And as a consequence, I don’t go there much nowadays.

Despite all that’s beautiful and attractive on Naoshima, what I like most about the Setouchi islands is their calm and quietness. Two things that are usually very rare on Naoshima.

Except at the moment…


So, two Sundays ago, a decision was made. Cameras around our necks, masks on our mouths, my daughter and I went to Naoshima in order to rediscover the island in a way that had been near impossible in recent years: without zillions of tourists!

And it was a pleasure and a wonderful experience.


Of course, I thought of you, dear readers, and took many pictures.

A small warning before going any further. I think a lot of the pictures look a bit weird, especially the colors. Sure, the sky was a little cloudy, you know that’s annoying “white sky” that always makes taking beautiful pictures a difficult endeavor, and in addition, the main goal of the day was to have a good time with my daughter, show her the island (she was much younger the last time she went and didn’t remember much), so I left my camera on automatic mode for the entire day. As a result, the pictures could have looked better. They don’t. Sorry about that.

Ok, let’s check them out.


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Meon (in the background) is leaving right before us, reminding me that I haven’t ridden it in more than three months, and it makes me so sad.


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People who went to Naoshima during the Setouchi Triennale 2019 will probably be bewildered by this picture. Ok, I admit, it’s a little misleading. I took it right as I boarded the ferry. There were actually around 20-30 people on board. And a bit more in the evening, maybe a little less than a hundred or so.


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Ogijima and Megijima, from a direction where I rarely get to see them.


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No one on the beach at 11 am!


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I can’t remember the last time I saw Yayoi Kusama‘s Yellow Pumpkin with no one around (the way it’s supposed to be seen, basically).

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I (almost) can see my house.


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After these few minutes enjoying the Pumpkin with almost no one around (you will have noticed two little girls on the pictures above, one of them is not mine – there actually was another family with us at that moment, but it was easy not to get into each other’s field of vision when taking pictures), we headed to the Chichu Art Museum.


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The “waiting line” to enjoy the Chichu Art Museum.

Once again, I’m sure it’s bringing back memories to those among you who visited it last year (or who couldn’t visit it because it was sold out).

Of course and as you probably know, no pictures are allowed inside, so just a few words instead.

What to say, except that I have finally visited it in the way it was meant to be visited?

  • What do you think about having Monet‘s room and his Nymphéas (Water Lilies) all for yourself? I gotta admit, despite not being a huge Monet fan, it was quite enjoyable. (also fun fact, the actual water lilies in the garden near the entrance of the museum were in bloom, so perfect timing indeed).
  • I have finally experienced James Turrell‘s Open Field (the blue rectangle) the way that it is supposed to be experienced. That is: Don’t rush. Wait. Take your time. Look the other direction. Back to the original direction. Again. See the colors mixing, the lines blurring, the blue turning purple, and more. I really can’t believe I had never paid attention to all those details before (maybe the very first time I saw it years ago? I can’t remember).
  • Walter de Maria‘s room was a little noisy as it was occupied by two families with kids (three if you include us) and it was hard to keep all those kids completely quiet even though the voice that echoed the most was one of a dad). There is no way I will complain about that. Naoshima’s museums are not the most kid-friendly places (actually, my daughter wasn’t impressed by the Chichu Art Museum) especially because a lot of the rules are a bit too restrictive for them. However, the fact that there isn’t anybody visiting the island and apparently several families (mine included) had the same idea: with very few people in the museum, kids will feel more at ease in it, will be less likely to “misbehave” and the staff will be more relaxed than usual anyway. Indeed, on a regular day, anyone making noise in this room will be “scolded” by a staff member. So it was nice, even if a bit louder.
    Thinking about it, those museums really should have some “family days.”


One thing that did interest my daughter was this poor (?) crab in the “Monet Garden” next to the museum. How did it climb the hill and ended up there? How long has it been there? Who knows?

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Next stop: the Lee Ufan Museum.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been inside since its opening, back in 2010!

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The newest, most interesting and quite amazing piece of the museum is actually outdoors, and if you’ve been to the Triennale last year, you’ve actually seen it before me:

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This ark, made of one single bent giant stripe of metal was all sorts of impressive.

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Daughter for scale


And inside the museum, we were alone with the staff.

Yes, you’ve just read me right: we were the sole visitors to a museum on Naoshima!

And to my great surprise, my daughter enjoyed Lee Ufan’s art, whereas personally, my opinion about his various works can go either way. As usual, no pictures inside.


Oh, by the way, you may be wondering how visits are taking place in these times of Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing.

First of all, know that the number of people who are allowed in a museum at the same time as been drastically reduced. For example, only 10 people are allowed every 15 minutes inside the Chichu Art Museum (in regular times, I think it’s around 30 – I may be wrong). Next, facemasks are compulsory. Rubbing your hands with alcohol before entering is too. Finally, right before buying your ticket (or entering the area in the case of the Chichu, as you must buy your ticket online beforehand), a staff member will check your temperature with a “thermometer gun.” If it’s above 37.5°C, you can’t enter.



Next, I have a scoop!

I’m very likely the first English language place to give you the news, but… Tadao Ando is building a new museum on Naoshima at the moment!

So, apparently, it’s going to be called the “Valley Gallery” and it’s located across the street from the Lee Ufan Museum.

The entrance will be where Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s Slag Buddha 88 was. (Benesse Art Site’s website says that the removal of the artwork is temporary).

I don’t have any other information at the moment, I’ll tell you more when I know more.

It’s a shame, Tadao Ando was on Naoshima on that day. If I had run into him, I could have asked. Just kidding. We’re not exactly intimate. We’ve never met, and I seriously doubt that he’s aware of my existence.


Meanwhile, let’s walk to the Park and Beach.

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Benesse House Hotel


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Three Squares Vertical Diagonal by George Rickey

It is one of my favorite artworks on Naoshima. The last time I saw it, it had been damaged and was being repaired (I don’t want to guess why it was damaged, I’m afraid that the answer was some stupid and brutish visitors). It’s been fixed,  but unfortunately, the square in the middle doesn’t seem to react like it used to (yes, it’s an artwork that “reacts” to its environment, but you’ll need patience and respect to see that aspect of the work).


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Drink a Cup of Tea by Kazuo Katase


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The most beautiful artworks are often the ones found in nature.


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The “Beach” section of the Benesse House Hotel.

It was open but almost empty (only two rooms didn’t have their shutters down). By the way, there is currently a 50% discount if you want to stay in the Benesse House Hotel (it may only apply to residents of Kagawa, though).


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The “Park” section of the hotel was not more crowded and had a lot of closed shutters too.


The cylinder in the photo above is Dan Graham’s Cylinder Bisected by Plane and when you get inside, you see interesting things, such as:

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One of us is a reflection, the other one is not.


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Teresita Fernandez’s Blind Blue Landscape, seen from outside

I really like this artwork, but I’m afraid that nowadays not many visitors pay much attention to it. Oh well, I do.


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In the park itself, Niki de Saint Phalle’s and Karel Appel’s sculptures (reminder: Frog and Cat is the very first work of contemporary art to find its way to Naoshima way back in 1990, 30 years ago).


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I’m pretty happy that my daughter is getting interested in photography again. She was really into it when she was two years old (yes!), but kinda lost interest shortly after. Since last year, when we go to islands, she asks once in a while to take her camera (i.e. my old camera thanks to which most of the pictures on this blog from before 2019 were taken) and she takes pretty interesting pictures at times. I’m not teaching her anything, I let her do what she wants with it until she asks to know more (not that I’m a specialist)… or not…


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A few more visitors compared to the morning – still manageable.


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An empty beautiful beach + a little girl = a missed bus…

So after walking the two kilometers from the Chichu Art Museum to the Torii (not mentioning the distance walked in the museums and parks), we walked another two kilometers or so to Honmura. I’m always impressed by the stamina and energy that my daughter has. We probably walked around 10 km that day. She was fine. I think a 2 km walk was a big walk when I was her age.


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I’m not exactly used to seeing Teshima from this direction.


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Minamidera with nobody around! I’m not used to such a sight.


Oh, and I really wanted to make it to Honmura on that day for two reasons. First, get to see my friend Andrew who lives on the island (if you want to know more about him, I advise you to go check out his site: Art Island Center), as well as visit Hiroshi Sambuichi’s The Water, at last.

When people talk about Naoshima, they usually talk about Tadao Ando, but personally, my favorite architect on the island (and beyond) is Hiroshi Sambuichi. His “specialty” is to build and renovate buildings in a way that uses the local forces of nature (mostly sun, wind, and water) and integrates them in the structure and functionalities of the building. You probably know the Seirensho Art Museum on Inujima and its use of sunlight and heat.

On Naoshima, his first project was the Naoshima Hall with its natural ventilation system that cools the building in summer (and heats it up in winter? I’m not sure).

As I just said, Naoshima Hall is Sambuichi’s first project on Naoshima, but not the last. Under the moniker of the Naoshima Plan, he has renovated and plans on renovating a certain number of buildings on the island. If I’m correct the second building he worked on is a private house that he built, and The Water is his most recent project on the island.

Here is what it is about. Contrarily to some other islands, Naoshima does have groundwater, so many old houses on the island have wells. Sambuichi renovated an old building, centering the work around the well and using it to create a space revolving around water. The main attraction is a large “pool” with water straight from the well that is not only very beautiful but also functional. You can dip your feet in the water as long as you have a towel with you (or you can buy one for 200 yen on-site). And after walking so much, this is exactly what we needed.

Also, to the surprise of no one who knows me, The Water is probably my new favorite building on Naoshima.


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Unfortunately, it soon was time to return to Miyanoura Port if we didn’t want to miss the last ferry to Takamatsu. Also, Hana really wanted to play at the Red Pumpkin, she hadn’t really done it since she was a toddler.

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Every time I go, the artificial floor around the pumpkin has gotten larger. Can you believe that a few years ago (when it was not constantly surrounded by people) it was grass all around?

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… my daughter is showing the way to…


Naoshima Pavilion by Sō Fujimoto

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Well, you’ll only see glimpses of it in this post. You can see more in these posts (I can’t believe that I don’t have at least one post devoted to it! 😮


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I rarely take pictures of strangers, but this couple visibly had no intention to go anywhere and they looked good, so now, they’re a permanent part of this blog.


Oh, and if you’re a Pokémon fan, know that the Naoshima Slowpoke manhole cover is right next to the Naoshima Pavilion:

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Long story short, Slowpoke is now the unofficial mascot of Kagawa prefecture. Why? Well, you may know about the “Udon Prefecture” promotional campaign from a few years ago (how to promote Kagawa, famous for its udon? Well, let’s rename it “udon”)… And Slowpoke’s original Japanese name is Yadon. Udon rhymes with Yadon. Well, that’s enough to have a Yadon Prefecture campaign.

As part of the campaign, 16 manholes all over the prefecture have been redecorated with a Slowpoke/Yadon drawing (one per municipality in the prefecture). Well, here is Naoshima’s.

Apparently, since this campaign (that’s still more or less going on), The Pokémon Company has teamed up with various cities and prefectures and are running similar promotional campaigns.


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Finally, the sun is showing up… at almost 5 pm…


And right after the sun returned for a few minutes, it was time to hop on the ferry and ride back home to Takamatsu.

It was really a pleasant day indeed. I may do similar trips again in the near future if the Covid-19 situation remains as it is now.

We’ll see.

Stay tuned and stay safe.

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3 thoughts on “Naoshima in the Age of the Pandemic”

  1. Thanks for your story about Naoshima and how lucky you’re for visiting without the crowds. I’m happy to see that your daughter and yourself have enjoyed visiting the Lee Ufan museum that is for me something unique in the word with some feelings difficult to explain, the same kind of those you can sense when looking at some Zen gardens.
    If possible we will try to get there this fall, but probably we will have to wait for next year. To ease our nostalgia I résume to read mostly japanese littérature and I discovered OGAWA Ito and his book like Papeterie Tsubaki or Le restaurant de l’amour retrouvé ! Delightful
    Kindly yours

  2. Now I definitely wish I was magically transported to Japan! The first time I visited Naoshima was in 2006. It was a ‘mystery’ excursion organised as part of our university exchange. I was so impressed with the Chichu Museum. It was my first James Turrell experience and I was able to spend lots of time with each piece. Fast forward to 2016 when we went to the Autumn session . Crazy! People everywhere and soooo many people. My partner was less than impressed and couldn’t wait to get out of there. We didn’t visit Lee Ufan because the busses were so full they weren’t picking people up. Etc etc

    We enjoyed what we saw of Honmura, but couldn’t spend enough time there between timed tickets and ferry timetables.

    Maybe one day we can return and see the new museum.

    1. The difference between 2006 and 2016 must be quite a shock.
      I’m afraid Naoshima really has become a victim of its success, and nowadays I really only go to show it to people or special situations like this one.

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