I’m on Spring vacation! This means that I’ve been pretty much quarantining at home lately and on purpose. This means that I’m pretty sure I’m not carrying the damn virus at the moment. This means that I can go to the islands a little bit without risking infecting the islanders! Finally!
My first (and so far only, but more are planned) trip was last week to Naoshima!
When I first visited Naoshima in 2010 I loved it, but as the years went by, I found myself liking the island less and less. After a while, I understood why. The crowds of tourists, of course. Calm, quietness, and serenity are important elements in what makes the Setouchi islands the magical places that they are. You won’t find a lot of those three things on Naoshima most days. Except at the moment! With the total absence of foreign tourists and a very low number of Japanese tourists, Naoshima has found itself to be a place of calm, quietness, and serenity once again.
If you remember, last Spring, I went just when the museums reopened after shutting down at the start of the pandemic, and I could pretty much have them all for myself:
Well, I did it again, this time mostly staying in Honmura.
The welcoming committee in Myanoura Port, reminding you to wear your mask and wash your hands.
The holy trinity of obligatory Myanoura Port pictures:
As you can see, there were a few more people than in the Spring, mostly college students enjoying their March vacation too.
The weather was wonderful and I’ve been sitting pretty much all day every day for the past 12 months, so it was decided: I was going to walk everywhere! I ended up walking around 13 km for the day, and walking never felt so good! (and my new shoes are very comfy for walking – I bought them with these criteria in mind – my feet didn’t even hurt at the end of the day).
The first cherry blossoms of the year! I usually try my best to enjoy the first cherry blossom of the year on Ogijima. I succeed most years, but this year, it was a surprise, there were some already in bloom on Naoshima. They are very early this year. As I’m typing these lines, just a few days later, they’re starting blooming pretty much everywhere in town.
I really love Naoshima Elementary School and its 1970s-80s Sci-fi building look. Yes, if art started arriving on Naoshima with Benesse in the late 80s, architects started showcasing their creations on the island well before that. Before Tadao Ando’s arrival, it was Kazuhiro Ishii who was the star architect of the island. He also designed the two other schools (preschool and junior high school), city hall, and I’m forgetting some.
In case you forget on which island you are, buses are eager to remind you in the cutest possible way.
Talking about star architects, my own personal favorite architect on Naoshima is actually Hiroshi Sambuichi, and Naoshima Hall (pictured below) is my favorite building:
On the other hand, while I usually like SANAA, I’m not a huge fan of the Honmura Port Terminal. Maybe it would look better if it didn’t feel unfinished, I don’t know:
On top of getting some fresh air and some exercise, I went to Naoshima on that day for two reasons.
The first one was to catch up with my friend Andrew McCormick who lives on the island. And I guess it’s a good opportunity for you to catch up with (and subscribe to) his website: Art Island Center.
The second reason is that more than 20 years after it was started, the Art House Project finally allows pictures to be taken inside its premises!
It’s a pretty big deal. It’s the first time that Benesse allows pictures to be taken inside some of its buildings. I was not going to miss the opportunity to be one of the first bloggers (and possibly the first foreign blogger) to go there in order to show you what they’re like inside if you haven’t had the opportunity to go yet (or if you’ve been but it was so long ago that your memory has become unreliable about them).
Also, make sure you follow the instructions when doing so (basically don’t be obnoxious), we wouldn’t want them to change their mind about this.
So here they are in all their splendor!
Actually, some pictures could have been better, as I also got lucky to have most of the Art Houses for myself, so I rushed a bit taking some pictures (it also was late during the day) for fear of visitors coming and spoiling my shots. But you know why? I still have two weeks of vacations left, so… 😉
Oh, and it also was the perfect occasion to write a complete guide to the Naoshima Art House Project!
Save it for when you’ll be able to come and visit.
Ok, let’s check out some of these pictures.
Well, false start. I will obviously not show you the inside of Minamidera. You understand why if you’ve visited, and I will keep the surprise if you haven’t.
I had it all for myself (except for a few minutes, someone arrived late – they still let them in, because well… it wasn’t exactly crowded – and they left way too early to have fully enjoyed the experience) and it was as amazing as you can imagine. The only little problem was that the two staff members outside were most likely bored and were chatting a bit too loudly. Oh well.
This house is the perfect example as to why the crowds are the reason I don’t love Naoshima as much as I should. Kadoya was clearly designed to be visited by a handful of visitors at most. I never really enjoyed it much in the past, but I realize now that every time I visited it before, it was at full capacity. That’s way too many people!
For example, I never cared much for Naoshima’s Counter Window before. Of course, when there are five or six people in the room, you’re kinda missing the point, especially when everyone is stepping on the shadow on the ground.
It was one of the two places that I had to share with people that day, but they didn’t spoil any of the fun, I just needed to wait for them to leave.
When will Kinza reopen to the public? No idea.
Probably my favorite art house, the perfect combination of an amazing house and wonderful art.
And finally, Shinro Ohtake’s Haisha, the craziest (former) dentist office in the East (and probably the West too).
It was soon time to go back to Miyanoura Port (sorry Go’o Shrine, it’ll be for another day).
I missed the bus. Not really, I wanted to walk, so I didn’t try too hard to catch it.
But I’ll return soon. I didn’t tell you everything. There is one other location where pictures are now allowed! This will be for a future post. Stay tuned…
And hopefully before that, Ogijima!