I traveled to Takamatsu, a port city in Kagawa, which is located in Shikoku, across from Honshu but separated by the Seto Inland sea. This year they are holding the third Setouchi Art Festival on the islands and ports throughout the Seto inland sea. The event takes place during spring, summer, and fall. The art is a mix of installations, large sculptures, entire houses transformed, art experiences ( if that’s a term), more traditional art, and a few museums. A passport grants you access to all exhibits, although some are free. Additionally, you can use it to get a stamp at all exhibits. I’m not sure the point of this but it’s common in Japan and was actually kind of fun to see how much we saw in the end.
The art festival is a way for the islands to bring in tourism and money as many of the islands have a declining population and more elderly than young families. Therefore they were pretty deserted and lacked convenient stores but everyone was really friendly and many cafes were around to accommodate tourists. The artwork is mainly created by Japanese artists but there were also works by Brazilian, Chinese, and Vietnamese artists.
To see the artwork, we stayed by the port in Takamatsu and took a ferry to different islands each day. One day we took a faster boat because the ferry didn’t have a direct route. The Terry’s were all really nice. I also saw giant jellyfish in the water from the outside deck of the ferry!
There were plenty of signs and volunteers around on the islands. Local buses were available or a motorized bike/regular could be rented. Unfortunately, the one day I really needed one they were all sold out.
The first island I went to was Megijima, otherwise known as Onigashima. On the island there is an old quarry cave that is now said to be the cave where Momotaro went to defeat the oni (anime/folktale). The cave is decorated throughout and contains student artwork- ceramic oni in a dark grey clay. Walking through it was fun, despite being a tourist trap/ child attraction. The art that was part of the festival was scattered throughout the very small town close to the shore. Some art was an entire building turned installation and others were out in the open like a piano/sailboat piece on the beach. We went through the area quickly, collecting stamps in our art passport, before catching the ferry to Ogijima.
Ogijima was a pretty island with a small town cascading over a hill that overlooked the sea. Plenty of winding “roads” and cats hanging out on roofs made it quite different from anywhere else in Japan. A few cafes have popped up due to tourism from the art festival, otherwise there were no convenient stores or restaurants anywhere. I really enjoyed the artwork on this island and wandering around to find them was part of the appeal. After seeing the art, we walked a few kilometers to the lighthouse and then came back for the return ferry.
Naoshima was great but definitely had a different vibe from the first two islands. Naoshima is the main and original “art island” in this cluster of islands, boasting a museum, hotel, and other things created by architect Tadao Ando. We couldn’t take photographs of most of the indoor art or inside the museums so most of the trip will be stuck in my brain unable to share. We had to pay extra and take a faster boat instead of a ferry to avoid taking two ferries and traveling for two hours (versus 30 minutes). It was also raining and extremely windy, so we were prepared for a difficult day of getting around by bus and on foot. Luckily, the rain wasn’t too bad and the sun came out later in the day. We took a bus a short distance to the first area, explored, and had lunch. One place was cool where we went into a completely dark room and sat until our eyes adjusted and began to see a rectangle on the back wall. Eventually, the illusion was revealed and we stepped forward to see it. We walked to the next area and went to the two museums. After we had seen everything, we decided to walk back to the port instead of waiting for a bus which was a good idea because it was a nice walk along the coast and we pretty much circled the whole island on foot! I was excited to get a photo with Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin sculptures.I’ve seen her art at the MOMA and have her illustrated version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking Glass.
On the last day, we went to Teshima because the other main island seemed to require renting a car or moped to get to it all, or even just a few things, in one day. There was some art I would have liked to have seen but it just didn’t seem possible. After getting off the ferry in Teshima, we hoped to rent motor assist bikes but they were all rented out. Since we read the island was quite hilly, we decided regular bikes with no gears was a waste. We opted to just walk and try to get on the bus loop when possible. Because of this and the ferry times, we had to skip some areas of art for the day to work out. The first exhibit was held in a modern looking building right on the beach. The artist started a project in several cities around the world where people can record their heartbeat. The art is a collection of heartbeats. However, the “display room” is a room lit by a single lightbulb hanging from the center of the ceiling. The room is painted black and appears to go on for a long time. The light flashes to the rhythm of the heartbeat. It was really scary, especially since the first recording was really slow, so it was really dark. The sound vibrates through the room and well- I didn’t last long. The island has a museum built within the earth alongside terrraced rice fields.We walked to the second location along the steep road and got a nice workout in. A donation based fruit stand was at the top so we bought some oranges. I was definitely envious of the people on their motor assist bikes. We walked from there to the next spot where several exhibits were scattered but close. Random- I saw a cute little cow which was probably the first cow I’d seen in Japan. We opted to take the bus to the other port area where we would be leaving from. The bus was full and we got to sit in the seat next to the driver. It was crazy because the engine isn’t in the front, so you’re right at the front of the bus. We walked around that area which had a cool exhibit and bought some amazing strawberries from some kids selling them outside their house. Later, we took the ferry to Ono Port on Honshu and had lunch at a cafe and checked out the sculptures by the port.
Each day my body was tired from walking around all day, but it was one of the best times I’ve had in Japan. Everyone was friendly and kind, the event was organized, the artwork was great, and there was food I could eat most places.