The Setouchi Triennale is an artistic, architectural, and more generally speaking cultural festival taking place every three years in the eastern part of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. It’s a must-attend event for art lovers and countryside lovers. On top of being one of the biggest art festivals in Japan, it also aims at promoting the area that suffers badly from depopulation. The main goal of the festival is to revitalize the region through several means, art tourism being one of them. The recurrent theme is “restoration of the sea.”
And if you want to know more about it, you’re in the right place.
What is the Setouchi Triennale?
The Setouchi Triennale (瀬戸内国際芸術祭 – Setouchi Kokusai Geijutsu-sai in Japanese, which can be translated as Setouchi International Art Festival – it actually was the name of the first edition) is a contemporary art festival. It takes place every three years as the name states.
And while we’re on the terminology topic, Setouchi is pronounced more or less like [se-toh-oo-chi].
It started in 2010, and the next edition, in 2022, will be the fifth one.
The term art here must be considered in its broader meaning. It includes contemporary art, but it also prominently features other creative fields such as architecture, performing arts, local crafts, local cuisine, traditional culture, and more.
The Setouchi Triennale is the main event of a larger and permanent endeavor called Art Setouchi.
Also, it must not be confused with Benesse Art Site Naoshima, while the latter is a part of the Setouchi Triennale and of Art Setouchi, it is only a part of the whole thing. In a sense, it’s not even the most important part, just the most famous one. You can read a further explanation about the differences between the different terms in this post.
While the event aims at being international – and the executive committee has made tremendous progress in this domain since the inception of the Triennale – if you don’t understand Japanese, it sometimes remains a little difficult to find useful information about it beyond the very basics.
This page will try to answer some of the questions you may have, hopefully helping you to prepare for your trip to the Setouchi Triennale.
Please note that the following pieces of advice and tips were for the 2019 edition of the Triennale. A lot of things will remain the same in 2022, but some will change too. This page will be updated regularly as soon as new information is released. Please bookmark it. Announcements of updates are usually made on Twitter, the Facebook Page of this site, and a Facebook group devoted to the Triennale (maintained by me, and by no means official).
- If you’re planning on visiting in 2022, you can use the information that follows, just stay aware that things may change between now and then. There will be completely accurate information by the start of the event in April 2022.
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, nor on the site’s FAQ, feel free to ask me. I’ll reply to you as well as update the page with an answer to your question as long as I know it.
Why is there even a Setouchi Triennale in the first place?
The Setouchi Triennale is not just an art festival. The purpose of such an event taking place on those somewhat remote islands is to revitalize the whole area. One that is rich in culture and history but that is currently threatened by depopulation at a greater rate than most parts of Japan. The goal is to revive the islands and the area through art and culture.
Fram Kitagawa, one of Japan’s most prominent art directors had started a similar project in Niigata Prefecture with great success in 2000. After meeting with Soichiro Fukutake, Benesse Art Site Naoshima’s founder, they decided together to start a similar project on the islands of the Kagawa Prefecture in the Seto Inland Sea. The success of the first edition in 2010 surpassed all expectations, and it kept on growing at every edition. Nowadays, the Setouchi Triennale has become the largest art festival in Japan and has been gaining notoriety all over the world in recent years.
Thanks to its success, newcomers have settled on the islands and have helped revitalization their communities. Even though the battle against depopulation remains ongoing, things have been looking up in recent years for the first time in decades.
Where is the Setouchi Triennale?
It is located in the eastern part of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, more precisely at the following locations in the Kagawa Prefecture (or Okayama for two locations):
- Inujima (Okayama)
- Uno Port (Okayama)
- Shamijima (Spring only)
- Honjima (Fall only)
- Takamijima (Fall only)
- Awashima (Fall only)
- Ibukijima (Fall only)
What is there to see during the Setouchi Triennale?
A lot of art, architecture, and more on all of the sites.
For more detail, please, check my art guides:
When is the Setouchi Triennale taking place?
Usually, the festival is divided into three sessions following the seasons of the year (except winter, because who wants to be cold when visiting art?)
The dates for 2022 will be as follows:
- Spring: April 14 – May 18
- Summer: August 5 – September 4
- Fall: September 29 – November 6
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 east of the Great Seto Bridge 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.
You can also access Shodoshima by direct ferry from Kobe and Himeji in addition to Okayama and Takamatsu.
You can also arrive in Takamatsu by plane. There are direct flights from Narita, Haneda, and Okinawa. From the airport, a shuttle bus will drive you directly to Takamatsu Station which is located within walking distance of the port.
If you’re coming from abroad, know that Takamatsu has an international airport with flights to and from Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Shanghai. 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 than taking the train from Tokyo).
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 onto 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 issue is that the islands have very few ferry routes between each other. Some are 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 and its main hub. Especially because 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.
With that being said, if you are very good 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 to 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 exciting nightlife, the islands pretty much shut down at sunset). The sunrises and sunsets are hard to beat, though.
Should I get a “Triennale Passport”?
Important note: this is information from 2019. Triennale Passports may work differently in 2022.
It all depends on how long you’re going to stay and, more importantly, how many artworks you’re planning on visiting.
To give you an idea, the Triennale Passport that is valid for the three sessions of the Triennale (Spring, Summer, and Fall) costs 4,800 yen for adults (3,800 if you buy it before the beginning of the Triennale – it’s also cheaper for high school students and free for under 15). There also will be passports that are valid for only one season and they’ll cost 4,000 yen.
Now, if you don’t get a Triennale 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 yen, sometimes 500 yen for places housing several artworks. Access to museums usually costs between 1,000 and 2,000 yen (a passport will allow you to enter some at a reduced fee, except for the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima and the Teshima Art Museum).
So no need to start counting artworks 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 a Passport will always be a good idea (visiting a big island alone may end up costing more than the Passport).
If you want to buy a Triennale Art Passport in advance (it will save you 1,000 yen), you can get them (soon) on the official website, in convenience stores as well as ticket agencies.
Should I get a Three-Day Ferry Pass?
Important note: this is information from 2019. Ferry Passes may work differently in 2022.
There is a Ferry Pass that is valid for three consecutive days and that costs 2,500 yen (2,200 if you buy them before the beginning of the Triennale) and allowing access to a certain number of ferries linked to the Triennale.
The ferries should be the following ones (with the usual one-way trip fares for these rides – prices may not be up-to-date, make sure you double-check on site):
- Takamatsu – Uno Port: 690 yen.
- Takamatsu – Naoshima (Miyanoura): 520 yen.
- Uno Port – Naoshima (Miyanoura): 280 yen.
- Uno Port – Teshima (Ieura) – Teshima (Karato) – Shodoshima (Tonosho): 770, 290 and 480 yen.
- Takamatsu – Megijima – Ogijima: 510 yen to Ogijima, about half to Megijima.
- Takamatsu – Shodoshima (Tonosho): 690 yen.
- Takamatsu – Shodoshima (Ikeda): 690 yen.
- Takamatsu – Shodoshima (Kusakabe): 690 yen.
As you can see, it may or may not be useful depending on your plans. I’ll let you do the math.
If you need more detail about the Three-Day Ferry Pass, please read the following post:
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 term “ferry” you will take many different types of boats. Some are able to carry vehicles, some not at all. From Takamatsu, you can load your vehicle on ferries to Naoshima, Megijima, Ogijima, and Shodoshima 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 (expect around 10,000 yen for a one-way trip)
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, you’d have to leave it at the port.
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, 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 visiting the art sites for 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 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 unless you’re short on time. Teshima is an island that is best experienced when being visited as slowly as possible. You’d miss interesting seemingly random spots here and there if you go around by car. On the other hand, you can visit all of the art on Teshima in one day without rushing if you have a car. You can rent some of the island as bringing one can be difficult (and impossible directly from Takamatsu.)
As far as bicycles are concerned, 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. Just know that if you don’t reach the island aboard the first couple of boats of the day, don’t really expect to find any available, they get rented very very quickly during the festival. It is totally possible to make reservations.
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 will drive there, or take a bus, not a ferry.
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 (a bicycle too for Awashima only).
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 – and don’t care at all about enjoying the islands themselves – which would be silly – and are very lucky with waiting lines, then maybe, just maybe, those time frames are realistic. Otherwise, they’re not. We live in a time when we always rush. We live in a society when we always try to maximize everything we do in order to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. Well, please, leave this way of thinking at home, don’t bring it to the islands.
On the Setouchi islands, there is an expression common to all of them; “Shima jikan” (island time). Time just doesn’t work the same way on the islands. The only time that matters is the hour of the last ferry back to where you’re staying (and sometimes the time of your reservation to some art sites). Before that, just enjoy where you are at the moment you are there. You’ll thank me later.
I advise these 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 a half-day.
- Inujima: a few hours are enough. Note that the scarcity of boats to and from the islands may make it difficult to find a boat at the right time and won’t let you much wiggle room.
- 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: between a couple of hours and half a day, depending on the art that will be shown there.
- Shodoshima: if you don’t have a car, you may need more than three days to see all of the art and you will not have seen much more than the art. The island is large and art sites are quite spread out. With a car, visiting most of the art sites may take one full day. You also need time to enjoy the island itself, so two days at least.
In the spring only:
- Shamijima: a few hours are enough.
In autumn only:
- Honjima: you’ll need about one day without rushing.
- Takamijima: half a day.
- Awashima: half a day to one full day.
- 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 (with extra if you visit in the spring or the fall).
I fully understand that most visitors don’t have that many days to devote to the festival. If you don’t, my main advice will be to skip some islands altogether and take your time on the islands you’re going to. Don’t try to go to all the islands, rush through them, and don’t really take the time to experience them.
Way too many times, I heard people only saying that they had a great time, but couldn’t remember for the life of them what happened on what island, it was just one big blurry memory a few weeks later. Do you really want your memory of the festival to be that?
Anything else I should be aware of?
Yes, many, but this page is getting a bit long already. However, one thing I want to emphasizes is that keep in mind the reason why this art festival exists. Sure your enjoyment is important, but the goal of the festival is first and foremost to revitalize the islands.
Do not forget that these islands are not a giant amusement park, but places where people live. Most of them are elderly. The islands have their own specificities and their own ways of doing things. Partly because of the culture of each, partly because of the geography of what it is to be on a small island. Yes, some things will be inconvenient, that’s the way it is. Those islands were not created for the Triennale and for visitors. Once again, they’re not an amusement park.
When you’re on the islands, it’s very important to respect the rules and the locals. That is among other things:
- Be polite and considerate to the locals, don’t ignore them; a smile, a nod, or a Konnichiwa will be greatly appreciated.
- Respect private properties, do not enter people’s houses or courtyards. It sounds obvious, but believe me, it’s not for some visitors.
- DO NOT LITTER! Keep your trash with you. This is the Japanese way of doing things (trash cans will be waiting for you when you’re back in Takamatsu Port).
First, littering is wrong – anywhere in the world – but more importantly, the islands cannot sustain the visitors’ trash. The quantity of the trash that a given island can handle is the quantity generated by the locals and nothing more. This a very important point that many urban visitors have trouble understanding because it’s usually not something they need to think about in their everyday life. It is something you need to think about on the islands.
- Public restrooms are rare. Keep that in mind when you’re on the islands, and use them when you see them, you never know where and when you’ll encounter the next one.
- Some streets, some buildings, some areas, will be unpractical. The islands were not designed for visitors, and they’re not urban areas.
- If you’re not used to Japan, remember that there are many places in the country where shoes need to be taken off indoors. This is also true for many art sites, cafés and such. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes that are easily taken off and on. It will make your visits much easier (not just on the islands, but in all of Japan).
- If you visit in Summer, don’t forget that summers can be brutally hot in Japan. The islands are no different. Stay hydrated, wear hats and sunscreen. Heatstrokes among visitors happen too often as too many visitors underestimate the heat. You don’t want that to happen to you.
And that’s a wrap for my Setouchi Triennale advice and tips page. It is updated regularly when more questions or more information 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).
A few last words while you’re here.
If you have found this page useful to prepare your trip to the Setouchi Triennale
While it is not solely dedicated to the Setouchi Triennale, this site also has a FAQ that may answer some of your questions:
Credits, Sources & Disclaimers:
- This site is by no means official.
- Opinions expressed on this site are my sole responsibility.
- While I try to keep the information up-to-date and accurate, they are not contractual and may change at any time.
- I do not use second-hand sources (i.e. copy from other sites). All my sources are either official or come from my visits on-site and my conversation with the people doing the Setouchi Triennale.
If you want to use the information contained on this page for your own site, please mention your source with a link to this page. Thank you.
- All pictures are mine unless stated otherwise. Be kind to not steal them, however, if you ask to use them, I may say yes.
- The Setouchi Triennale 2019 poster and visuals may sometimes be used on the site. However, they belong to the festival’s Executive Committee.