Update: The Setouchi Triennale 2016 has ended. However, some of these tips are valid if you plan on visiting Art Setouchi (that is the permanent artworks that are part of the Triennale). Most of them will also be valid in 2019. Look out for updates.
The Setouchi Triennale is an amazing cultural event that takes place every three years (as the name says) in the eastern part of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. It’s a must-attend for every art lover, as well as nature lover. On top of being one of the biggest art festivals in Japan, it aims at promoting the area that suffers badly from depopulation, in order to revitalize it through several means, art tourism being one of them.
While the event aims at being international, the name in Japanese even means “Setouchi International Art Festival” truth is that it sometimes may be a little hard to find useful information about it, beyond the very basics, if you don’t understand Japanese.
This page will try to answer some of the questions you may have, hopefully helping you to prepare your trip to the Setouchi Triennale.
Setouchi Triennale Advice and Tips
So, here are a few general tips, advice and ideas about the festival.
First of all, if you have a question or concern and you don’t find the answer here, do not hesitate to ask, and I’ll update the page with an answer to your question as long as I know it. Those updates will be announced on the various social networks that I use (see the links on the sidebar). Talking about social networks, I also have two links that may be useful to you. I created a Google+ community about the Setouchi Triennale, where you can find blog posts and articles about various events and news (feel free to add your own content or finds), I also created a list of the artworks on Foursquare/Swarm. If you’re a user of any of those services, I warmly advise you to follow them.
How to go to the Setouchi Triennale?
Obviously it depends on where you’re leaving from.
If you’re already in Japan, the easiest way is most likely by train. You can go to Okayama City by shinkansen and from there take another train to Takamatsu or Uno Port in Tamano City, as they are the two main access points to the islands. Note that from Takamatsu you can directly access any island except Inujima, you may need to take a train to access the islands on the western side of Kagawa. From Uno Port, you can only access Naoshima, Teshima or Shodoshima. For access to Inujima you can take the ferry on Teshima, Shodoshima (the latter only during the Triennale), or from the port of Hoden in Okayama Prefecture.
If you’re coming from abroad, know that Takamatsu has an international airport with flights to and from Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei. In other terms, while it may not matter much if you’re flying from the American continent, if you’re coming from somewhere else it may be more convenient to connect from one of those three places, you would avoid having to make a detour to Haneda or Narita. It’s much faster and cheaper than flying to Tokyo and then back to Takamatsu (or then taking the train from Tokyo).
Of course, Takamatsu airport also has flights to various Japanese airports (Narita, Haneda, Okinawa).
Where to stay during your time in the Setouchi area?
You may be imagining yourself staying in a small minshuku on one of the islands and hopping to the other islands for day trips and then returning to your minshuku at night. While it would be the perfect way to discover the area, it’s sadly one that is not too realistic. One of the effects of depopulation is that the islands have little to no ferry routes between each other. Some are being added during the festival, but overall, it’s just not a practical way to experience the Triennale.
A better and easier option is to stay in Takamatsu during your time in the area. Takamatsu is pretty much the “center” of the Triennale as it’s the only place that has direct access to almost all art islands (with the exception of Inujima). It’s also the place that has the most lodging options, restaurants and more.
That being said, if you are a champion at planning trips, and are fluent in Japanese, an interesting option is to sleep on a different island every night; spending the day on one island, sleeping there, moving on to the next island in the morning, sleeping there and so on. It’ll be hard work planning it beforehand, as you’ll have so find and make as many reservations as islands you want to visit, but it will be worth it. It would also allow you to discover the islands by night (don’t expect a crazy nightlife) and experience amazing sunsets and/or sunrises.
Should I get an “Art Passport”?
It all depends on how long you’re going to stay and, more important, how many artworks you’re planning on visiting.
To give you an idea, the Art Passport that is valid for the three sessions of the Triennale (Spring, Summer and Fall) costs 5,000 yens for adults (3,500 for high-school students and free for under 15 – if you buy it before the beginning of the Triennale it’ll only cost 4,000 / 2,500 yens). You can buy it until the end of the Spring session.
Season only passports will be available too, they’ll only be valid during one session. I’m not sure yet about how much they’ll cost, but in 2013, they weren’t much cheaper than the three-season passport (about 4,500 yens for adults and 3,000 for high school students).
Now, if you don’t get an Art Passport, there is a fee to access a lot of the artworks. Outdoors and public art is obviously free. Access to individual artworks (installed in formerly abandoned houses for example) usually costs 300 yens, sometimes 500 yens for places housing several artworks. Access to museums usually costs between 1,000 and 2,000 yens (note that not all of them become “free” with the Passport, but all of them will at least be cheaper).
So no need to start counting artwork one by one to get an idea of the overall cost; unless you’re only spending one day on a smaller island and/or visiting only a couple of things, buying an Art Passport will always be a good idea (visiting a big island alone may end up costing more than the Art Passport).
Should I get a three-day Ferry Pass ?
There is a Ferry Pass that is valid for three consecutive days and that costs 2,500 yens and allowing access to a certain number of ferries linked to the Triennale.
The ferries are the following ones (with the usual one way trip fares for these rides):
- Takamatsu – Uno Port: 690 yens.
- Takamatsu – Naoshima (Miyanoura): 520 yens.
- Uno Port – Naoshima (Miyanoura): 280 yens.
- Uno Port – Teshima (Ieura) – Teshima (Karato) – Shodoshima (Tonosho): 770, 290 and 480 yens.
- Takamatsu – Megijima – Ogijima: 510 yens to Ogijima, about half to Megijima.
- Takamatsu – Shodoshima (Tonosho): 690 yens.
- Takamatsu – Shodoshima (Ikeda): 690 yens.
- Takamatsu – Shodoshima (Kusakabe): 690 yens.
As you can see, it may or may not be useful depending on your plans. I’ll let you do the math.
Bringing a car or a bicycle to the islands?
Maybe you live in Japan, maybe you’ve rented a car to visit the country. Now, you’re wondering whether bringing your car or your bike to the islands is a good idea or not.
I’m tempted to answer “no” right away, but it’s a bit more complex depending on your destination.
First of all be aware that under the name “ferry” you will take many different types of boats, some being able to carry vehicles, some not at all. From Takamatsu, you can load your vehicle on ferries to Naoshima, Megijima, Ogijima and Shōdoshima only. From Uno, you can bring your vehicle to Naoshima, Teshima and Shodoshima. I don’t know the fares for the trips with a vehicle though, but they tend to be quite pricey.
However, in my opinion, it’s a terrible idea to bring your car to Naoshima, Megijima or Ogijima. On Ogijima, it’ll simply be useless. On Megijima it will only be useful to go to the Oni cave, but you can also go there by a small bus trip or even by foot if you don’t mind walking uphill. On Naoshima, if a car can be useful to go to and from various locations, but I think parking lots are few and rare, especially in the villages.
Concerning bicycles, they’re also pretty much useless on Ogijima (except to go to the lighthouse), not that useful on Megijima (don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful on Megijima, actually I want to ride my bike around the island one of these days; here I’m talking in terms of attending the Setouchi Triennale), on Naoshima though, a bicycle may be the best way to go and visit the island (it’s a bit too big to be walked, and busses have a tendency to be overcrowded during the festival).
What about Teshima and Shodoshima?
Shodoshima is a large island, much larger than the other ones (just check on a map) and if you have the opportunity to bring a car to Shodoshima, please do so, especially if you’re not staying more than a day there. As far as bicycles are concerned, unless you’re an excellent cyclist, I wouldn’t advise it, as large parts of the islands have steep slopes.
Concerning Teshima, a car may be useful, but I wouldn’t advise it as, if possible, Teshima is an island that is best experienced when being visited as slowly as possible. You’d miss interesting spots here and there if you go around by car. For bicycles, while the island’s size is perfect, it also has some steep slopes here and there. However, know that you can rent electrical bicycles, and they really are the best vehicle to visit Teshima. But if you don’t get to the island with the first couple of boats, don’t really expect to find any available, they get rented very very quickly during the festival.
And the other islands?
Inujima is to be visited on foot.
Shamijima can be visited on foot, however, as the island is “attached” to Shikoku, you can drive there.
On Honjima, a car can be useful, although I’d advise a bicycle if possible. There’s also a bus service.
On Takamijima, Awashima and Ibukijima, walking really is the best way to visit the islands.
How much time does it take to visit each island?
You will read here and there that one day is necessary for big islands and only half a day or less for smaller islands. I completely disagree with those statements. If you only visit the art sites – quickly, don’t care at all about enjoying the islands themselves (which would be silly), and are very lucky with waiting lines, maybe, just maybe, those time frames are realistic.
Instead I advise you those time frames if you plan on seeing all the art sites on each island as well as experience the island itself at least a little:
- Naoshima: one and a half day to two days.
- Teshima: it is possible to visit it in one day, but a little more would be better, maybe one and half day.
- Inujima: one day is enough, even a bit less, but the scarcity of boats to and from the islands may make it difficult to find a boat at the right time.
- Ogijima: while half a day is enough to see all of the art, it’d really be a shame to not enjoy all the other things the island has to offer, it really is one of the most beautiful small islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
- Megijima: half a day is more than enough.
- Oshima: a visit on Oshima is a bit special as it will be a guided visit and it lasts about two hours.
- Shodoshima: if you don’t have a car, you may need more than two days to see everything; the island is large and art sites are quite spread out. With a car, all the art sites may take one full day, but you also want to be able to enjoy the island, so two days at least.
- Shamijima: a few hours are enough.
- Honjima: you’ll need about one day.
- Takamijima: half a day is more than enough.
- Awashima: half a day is feasible, but I’d advise one full day, it’s an island where you want to take your time.
- Ibukijima: you may not need a full day to visit it, but it’s quite far from the other islands, there aren’t that many boats, so you may want to be able to take your time and see what the island has to offer and spend the whole day there.
So to visit the seven main islands you will need around six to nine days.
Shamijima’s art is open only in the Spring, and a few hours are enough to visit it.
The other islands, Honjima, Takamijima, Awashima and Ibukijima are part of the festival only in the Fall and it will take between three and four days to visit them.
And that’s a wrap for Setouchi Triennale advice and tips. The paget will be updated if more questions arise and/or if I forgot important points (because I overlooked them as obvious but maybe they’re not for someone who doesn’t know the area).