Naoshima is Japan’s “art island.” Located in the Inland Sea in western Japan, it’s the perfect addition to the standard Tokyo-Kyoto itinerary. Here’s our full Naoshima guide and map.
Kusama Yayoi’s pumpkin sculpture on Naoshima: Anthony Shaw Photography / Shutterstock.com
Naoshima Art Island Introduction
About 175km southwest of Kyoto, Naoshima (pronounced like “now-she-ma”) is a small island in the Inland Sea between Japan’s main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. Like many islands in the area, Naoshima was suffering from genteel decline until the Benesse Corporation started a series of art and architecture projects on the island in the late 1980s. Now, Naoshima is one of the top travel destinations in western Japan.
I Love Yu sento (public bath) in Miyanoura on Naoshima: hedgehog111 / Shutterstock.com
The main attractions on the island are three art museums, all of which were designed by Ando Tadao (Japan’s most famous architect), six “art houses” that contain various art installations, and various outdoor artworks spread around the island. In addition, the natural beauty of the island and the picturesque traditional character of the island’s main village of Honmura add greatly to the island’s appeal.
The Oval at Benesse House on Naoshima: Creative Supreme NYC / Shutterstock.com
The art and architecture of Naoshima tends toward the modern and the trendy and largely ignores Japan’s traditional arts. Unless you are a huge fan of Ando Tadao’s brutalist concrete architecture, you might be somewhat underwhelmed by the art on Naoshima, but the island is more than the sum of its parts. If the weather cooperates, two days cycling or walking around Naoshima is likely to be a high point of your Japan trip. Here’s everything you need to know.
When to Visit Naoshima
Naoshima can be visited any time of year. The weather is similar to that of Tokyo or Kyoto, or perhaps a few degrees warmer. Like the rest of Japan, Naoshima is most pleasant in spring (March to May) and fall (mid-September to late November). Winter is not too cold on Naoshima and snow almost never falls. The June rainy season can be a little wet and humid, but it doesn’t rain every day. July and August are hot and humid but okay if you take things slowly. Note that the art houses and art museums on Naoshima are CLOSED ON MONDAYS.
Summer on Naoshima: ChunChang Wu / Shutterstock.com
How Long to Stay On Naoshima
Unless you’re coming from somewhere nearby, like Okayama, it’s not a good idea to visit Naoshima as a daytrip. You should spend at least one night on the island or nearby in the city of Takamatsu (see following section). Most people will travel to Naoshima from places like Kyoto or Tokyo, meaning that you won’t arrive on the island until early afternoon. And, after spending a night, you’ll have to leave in the afternoon on the following day to reach your next destination. This makes for a pretty rushed visit, but it’s doable. The ideal thing is to spend two nights. This gives you one full day on the island and two half days on either side of it.
Naoshima streetscape: Simon Poon / Shutterstock.com
Where to Stay On Naoshima
There is only one true hotel on Naoshima: Benesse House, a luxury hotel located at the Benesse House Art Museum. Other than that, there are several guesthouses, B & B’s and “mini-hotels”. There are even a few yurts that you can rent. Since the Benesse House is quite expensive and often fully booked, if you require the comforts of a proper hotel, you should consider staying in the city of Takamatsu, which is on the island of Shikoku. It’s linked to Naoshima by high-speed boat (30 minutes) and regular ferry (60 minutes) and there are several departures of each daily in both directions. For our accommodation recommendations, see our Recommended Accommodations sections later on this page.
Takamatsu City on the Inland Sea: Takamatsu City on the Inland Sea / Shutterstock.com
Getting to Naoshima
The city of Okayama in western Honshu, roughly midway between Kyoto and Hiroshima, is the usual gateway to Naoshima. From Okayama, you can take trains to the two ports that serve Naoshima: Uno, which is on the island of Honshu, and Takamatsu, which is on the island of Shikoku (both routes are shown on our map later on this page). Going via Uno is a little fiddly and involves creaky local trains and (usually) a change in the town of Chayamachi. Going via Takamatsu involves a direct express train from Okayama that takes you over the scenic Seto-Ohashi Bridge. The ferry to Naoshima from Takamatsu takes a bit longer, but the train journey is much nicer. We describe both routes below.
Naoshima-bound ferry in port at Uno – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you’re coming from Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka or Kobe), the shinkansen (bullet train) to Okayama is the best way to go. The Japan Rail Pass can be used for this journey. If you’re coming from Tokyo, you should consider flying from Tokyo (Haneda Airport) to Takamatsu Airport and taking the ferry from Takamatsu Port. This is the most comfortable and fastest way from Tokyo (consider this for at least one leg of the trip). Details below.
Travelling via Takamatsu by Train or Plane From Kyoto, Tokyo Etc
As noted above, going via Takamatsu is the most comfortable way to reach Naoshima. To get to Takamatsu, you can fly to Takamatsu Airport or you can take a train to Takamatsu from Okayama. First, here are details on flying:
Both JAL and ANA offer flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Takamatsu Airport. The flight takes a little under an hour and costs about Y20,000 one way. There are several flights a day; choose a relatively early departure from Haneda in order to arrive on the island in the early afternoon.
ANA plane at Haneda Airport in Tokyo: KITTIKUN YOKSAP / Shutterstock.com
Once you arrive at Takamatsu Airport, you’ll find it very easy to navigate. It’s quite small and pleasant.
Arriving at Takamatsu Airport – image © Chris Rowthorn
Pick up your luggage and then head to the lobby. If you want to take the airport limousine bus to Takamatsu, buy a ticket from the vending machine in the lobby. Buses meet arriving planes and you should have no problem getting a seat. The ride to JR Takamatsu Station (the final stop) takes about an hour. If you choose a taxi, which is marginally faster and more comfortable, it will cost around Y4500. For directions from JR Takamatsu Station to Naoshima, see later on this page.
Takamatsu Airport Limousine Bus – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you choose to take the shinkansen instead of flying (good for Japan Rail Pass holders and those coming from Kyoto etc), here are the directions.
First, take the shinkansen to Okayama and get off there.
Shinkansen : Benson Truong / Shutterstock.com
As you leave the shinkansen section of Okayama Station and enter the regular part of the station, you will see a departure board above you. This will show in Japanese and English the trains departing soon on all tracks. Look for a Marine Liner express bound for Takamatsu. This is the fastest way to Takamatsu from Okayama. There is an information counter in the station if you need help. If you have to kill time, there are some cafes in the station.
Departure board in Okayama Shinkansen Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
The Marine Liner departs from platforms 6 or 8. These are clearly marked.
Signs for Seto Line platforms in Okayama Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
Take the steps down to the correct platform.
Steps down to Seto Line platforms in Okayama Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
The Marine Liner is a “tokkyu” or limited express.
Marine Liner bound for Takamatsu – image © Chris Rowthorn
The regular seats are perfectly comfortable. You can sit in the unreserved car, or, if you want, you can reserve a seat in the station ticket office.
Marine Liner regular seats – image © Chris Rowthorn
For a special treat, purchase Green Car (first class) seats. The Green Car seats are on the top floor of a double-decker train, with extra-wide observation windows. This will allow you to enjoy the views over the Inland Sea.
Marine Liner Green Car – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here is the interior of the Green Car.
Marine Liner Green Car Interior – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here is a shot of the view from the Green Car over the Inland Sea.
Inland Sea views from Marine Liner – image © Chris Rowthorn
The Marine Liner takes about 53 minutes to reach Takamatsu. When you get to Takamatsu Station, exit the station, walk across the wide plaza, go up the escalators, and follow the signs and walkways to the ferry ticket offices and piers (route continues later on this page).
JR Takamatsu Station – image © Chris Rowthorn
The way to the port is clearly marked in both English and Japanese.
Signs to ferry terminal in Takamatsu – image © Chris Rowthorn
When you reach the T-junction, you will see a TV screen showing upcoming departures to Naoshima. The left side shows regular ferry times, while the right side shows fast boat departures. Choose the soonest departure and walk to the relevant ticket office to buy your tickets.
Signs to ferries in Takamatsu – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here’s a view of Takamatsu Port from the elevated walkway.
Takamatsu Port – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here’s a shot of the Naoshima ticket window in the regular ferry ticket office.
Naoshima ferry ticket window in Takamatsu Port – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here’s the ticket office for the high-speed boat.
High-speed boat ticket office in Takamatsu – image © Chris Rowthorn
The regular ferry from Naoshima is a treat for the eyes.
Takamatsu Naoshima ferry – image © Chris Rowthorn
It’s comfortable and spacious, with vending machines and bathrooms.
Takamatsu Naoshima ferry interior – image © Chris Rowthorn
Travelling To Naoshima via Uno
If you choose to travel to Naoshima via Uno Port (on Honshu), take a shinkansen to Okayama Station and get off there. There are one or two direct trains each day from Okayama Station to Uno, but you’ll most likely have to change at Chayamachi. Any train on the Seto Line will stop in Chayamachi. This includes any train bound for Takamatsu, Kojima or Kochi. At Chayamachi, get off your train and board the local train down to Uno. Exit Uno Station, walk toward the convenience store and then cross the street and you will find the Uno-Naoshima ferry ticket office. The ferry leaves from just behind this office. The ferry from Uno to Naoshima takes 20 minutes and costs Y290.
Uno-Naoshima ferry ticket office – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you’ve got some time to kill before your ferry, there’s a good onsen called Tamano-yu Onsen just a short walk from the ferry pier.
Tamano-yu Onsen – image © Chris Rowthorn
Getting Around Naoshima
The ferry pier on Naoshima is located in the village of Miyanoura. Your first stop on the island should be the main tourist information office, which is right at the ferry pier. You can get good maps and brochures and the helpful folks there can answer all your questions.
Naoshima tourist information office and ferry ticket office: Fme21 / Shutterstock.com
Naoshima is only about 5km across and you could definitely explore it all on foot if you weren’t rushed. However, you can cover a lot of ground more comfortably by bicycle. There are several bicycle rental shops just across from the ferry pier. Regular pedal bicycles are okay for exploring the island, but you’ll definitely appreciate an electric bicycle on the hills, particularly on hot or windy days. We rented an electric bicycle from Ougiya Rentacycle and found it very good, but we assume all the shops have similar bicycles and rates.
Ougiya Rentacycle – image © Chris Rowthorn
The cycling is easy and relatively safe on the island. Bicycle routes are marked on the main roads with arrows.
Bike route markers – image © Chris Rowthorn
There are also useful English signs at all major road junctions.
Signs in Honmura – image © Chris Rowthorn
The main settlement on the island is the village of Honmura, which is an easy 10-minute cycle from Miyanoura. All six of the art houses are located in Honmura, as well as several accommodations and restaurants.
Road from Miyanoura to Honmura – image © Chris Rowthorn
While bicycles are the ideal way to explore the island, there are also regular buses that run from Miyanoura to Honmura and on to Tsutsuji-so (and back). Tsutsuji-so is the gateway to the Benesse House Area of the island, where the three art museums are located. You can walk to the museums from the Tsutsuji-so bus stop, or take the free shuttle bus that starts here.
Benesse House shuttle bus stop at Tsutsujiso – image © Chris Rowthorn
Things to See and Do in Naoshima
The main attractions at Naoshima are the three art museums in the Benesse House Area, the six art houses in the village of Honmura, the natural beauty of the island, and various outdoor artworks scattered around the island. It takes a full day to hit the three museums and the six art houses, but you’ll enjoy yourself more if you spread these over two days. And, if you’re a fan of concrete, there’s also the Ando Museum, which is in Honmura. All the places mentioned in this section are shown on our map (later on this page).
Note that the museums are CLOSED ON MONDAYS.
As noted above, the three main museums are located in the Benesse House Area, which is at the southeast tip of the island. The museums allow limited numbers of visitors and advance reservations are recommended through the Benesse Art Site website. If you don’t get around to making reservations in advance, you can go to the Chichu Art Museum Ticket Center in the Benesse House Area. The shuttle bus from Tsutsuji-so stops here. There’s a counter in the ticket center where you can get same-day tickets, but you might have to wait a while in busy seasons.
Chichu Art Museum Ticket Center and shuttle bus stop – image © Chris Rowthorn
Chichu Art Museum
The name “Chichu” means “underground.” Designed by Ando Tadao, this museum was built largely underground to avoid disturbing the natural scenery of the island. It houses works by Claude Monet, Walter de Maria, James Turrell and others. Fans of Ando’s work will enjoy the interplay of light and form here, others might find the concrete structure oppressive.
Chichu Art Museum sign: hedgehog111 / Shutterstock.com
Lee Ufan Museum
This museum celebrates a collaboration between Ando Tadao and artist Lee Ufan, who was born in Korea but studied and worked extensively in Japan. Lee’s minimalist “art of things” fits well with Ando’s stark and spare design. There are both outdoor and indoor works here.
Outdoor work at the Lee Ufan Museum: YingHui Liu / Shutterstock.com
Benesse House Museum
The Benesse House Museum is a truly unique spot that might be termed a “residential art museum” since it incorporates both an art museum and a luxury hotel. The collection includes both installations and paintings and many of the works were created specifically for this museum. If your finances extend to a night or two here, you’ll enjoy the best of the Naoshima experience. Just be sure to book well in advance. For more, see the Recommended Accommodations section later.
The Oval at Benesse House Museum: ChunChang Wu / Shutterstock.com
The small Ando Museum is located in a traditional building in Honmura, diagonally across from the Minamidera art house. Upon entering the building, you will see that Ando has somehow interposed a concrete structure inside a lovely old traditional wooden house. There are a few displays of Ando’s work scattered about.
Ando Museum entrance – image © Chris Rowthorn
If you’re a fan of Ando, this building will confirm his genius. If you’re not, it will serve as an example of exactly what’s wrong with his work. Whatever the case, the museum is an almost perfect symbol of how modern Japan relates to its natural and traditional environment (for more, read Alex Kerr’s “Dogs and Demons”).
Ando Museum interior – image © Chris Rowthorn
The six art houses on Naoshima are all located in the village of Honmura, on the northeast side of the island. It is not necessary to reserve tickets in advance, but you need a timed entry ticket for the Minamidera art house, so the best thing to do is go there first (early in the day) to get your timed entry ticket, and then return there later at the time indicated on your ticket. It costs Y1,030 to visit all six houses and Y410 to enter just one. You can buy a six-house pass at any of the art houses. Note that the art houses are CLOSED ON MONDAYS.
Located on the main road just before you enter Honmura, Haisha is an old house that has been entirely converted into a multimedia art project.
Haisha art house exterior – image © Chris Rowthorn
The main feature is a large white Statue of Liberty in one end of the house. The name “Haisha” means “dentist” and this house used to be occupied by the village dentist.
Statue of Liberty in Haisha – image © Chris Rowthorn
Named for the Ishibashi family that once occupied this house, Ishibashi is located down a narrow lane at the north end of town. It’s a lovely traditional Japanese house that has been largely preserved, restored and converted into a spare gallery space. The main room holds a wonderful painting of black waterfalls on the sliding doors, while the garden courtyard features a large stone set amid grass, sort of a photographic negative of the usual karesansui (“Zen”) garden.
Ishibashi art house exterior – image © Chris Rowthorn
Gokaisho, in the middle of the village, is named for the game of Go that used to be played here. A small house that has been converted into an art space, Gokaisho’s main work is a lovely rendering of a camellia flower, which is reflected in an actual camellia in the garden.
Gokaisho art house exterior – image © Chris Rowthorn
As the name suggests (“kado” means “corner” in Japanese), this house is located on a corner in the middle of the village. The main work on display here is a room where the floor has been replaced by a pool of dark water in which multicolor lights appear to float. It’s an interesting effect and a stark contrast to the traditional structure.
Kadoya art house interior – image © Chris Rowthorn
Located atop a hill on the east side of the village, accessed by a very scenic walkway, Go’o Shrine is a modern reimagining of a traditional Japanese Shinto shrine.
Go’o Shrine – image © Chris Rowthorn
The main hall (honden) here features a marvelous flight of glass steps descending into an underground chamber. The shrine itself is a treat for the eyes and the pathways around it are beautiful. Just take it slow on a hot day or you’ll be soaked for the rest of your visit!
Go’o Shrine steps – image © Chris Rowthorn
Many people’s favorite art house on the island is Minamidera (“Southern Temple,” a nod to the temples located on this side of the village). As mentioned earlier, this art house requires a timed ticket to enter, so come here early in the day and get your timed entry ticket. At Minamidera, you enter a room in pitch darkness and allow your eyes to slowly adjust to the darkness. Out of the darkness, things appear. That’s all we’ll say, for fear of ruining the experience. Just go and check it out!
Minamidera art house exterior – image © Chris Rowthorn
Naoshima Natural Scenery and Beaches
While the human-made works on Naoshima are interesting, for many people, it is the natural beauty of the place that leaves the greatest impression.
Inland Sea Views
If you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day while you’re there, you’ll enjoy lovely views in every direction. The views from the high road in the Benesse House Area are particularly fine. There are also some good views from the hill on which Go’o Shrine is located.
Inland Sea view from high road – image © Chris Rowthorn
The beach at Tsutsuji-so is called Gotanji Beach and it’s easily the best beach on the island. It would be great for swimming or wading on a warm day.
Gotanji Beach – image © Chris Rowthorn
Traditional Streetscapes and Buildings
The village of Honmura is a picturesque Inland Sea village with many well-preserved traditional houses and structures. You’ll notice lots of little artistic touches that reflect the artistic vibe of Naoshima, including beautiful noren (curtains) in many doorways.
Honmura streetscape – image © Chris Rowthorn
Located beside the Minamidera art house, this fine temple is a nice place to sit and think or say a prayer for good forture (or, perhaps, good weather). It also makes for some wonderful pictures.
Gokuraku-ji Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Many visitors to the island wonder about the stark pyramid-shaped building in the middle of Honmura Village. You might assume that it’s one of the art houses or perhaps an art gallery. If you approach closely, you’ll be puzzled by the lack of signage and the fact that it’s almost always closed. In fact, this building is Naoshima Hall, an event and meeting place for island residents. It’s not open to the general public.
Naoshima Hall – image © Chris Rowthorn
Naoshima Public Bath (Sento)
I Love Yu Sento
One of the more interesting features of Miyanoura Village is I Love Yu Sento (“Yu” means “hot water” in Japanese). It’s a whimsical reinterpretation of the traditional Japanese public bath. The baths themselves are not particularly special, but the decorations are incredible, including the elephant sculpture that seems to float above the baths.
I Love Yu Sento – image © Chris Rowthorn
Recommended Accommodations on Naoshima
As mentioned earlier, accommodation can be a bit of an issue on Naoshima. There’s only one luxury hotel on the island (Benesse House) and all accommodations on the island are priced significantly higher than comparable accommodations in the rest of Japan. With this in mind, if the following places don’t suit your needs, consider staying in Takamatsu (see the following section).
:: Reservations are only via the Benesse website.
The only proper hotel on the island is Benesse House, which is divided into four different areas: Oval, Museum, Beach and Park. Most people rate the Oval and Beach most highly. Staying here includes after hours access to the museum, which is a unique experience. There are two restaurants, but no gym or spa. Rates here are much higher than anywhere else on the island or in Takamatsu. Read the reviews carefully.
Benesse House and café: ChunChang Wu / Shutterstock.com
:: Check availability and pricing on Booking.com or Agoda.com
This collection of cute little cottages is one of the better places to stay on the island. The cottages are small but comfortable. The location is quite central and you can walk to both Miyanoura and Honmura from here. Rates include breakfast and bicycles.
Sparky’s House – image © Booking.com
Hotel Wright Style
:: Check availability and pricing on Booking.com or Agoda.com
This small hotel on the east side of the island is roughly midway between Honmura and the three main museums in the Benesse Area. It’s a friendly and well run spot and has everything you need for a night or two.
Hotel Wright Style – image © Booking.com
:: Reservation is only possible via the Tsutsujiso site.
This collection of yurts overlooking Gotanji Beach is an interesting place to stay for those on a budget.
Tsutsujiso Lodge yurts – image © Chris Rowthorn
Recommended Accommodations in Takamatsu
Takamatsu is a proper Japanese city with the full range of accommodations you’d expect. Here are three great choices, but if these are full, there are plenty of other hotels in the city.
JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu
:: Check availability and pricing on Booking.com or Agoda.com
This is our favorite accommodation in the Naoshima Area. It’s within steps of both the ferry terminal for Naoshima and JR Takamatsu Station. There are on-site restaurants and plenty of great restaurants nearby. Many rooms have good views over the city or harbor and they are comfortable and well laid out. Highly recommended!
JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu- image © Booking.com
JR Clement Inn Takamatsu
:: Check availability and pricing on Booking.com or Agoda.com
The JR Clement Inn is the business hotel branch of the JR Clement Hotel, meaning that it’s cheaper and simpler. It’s directly next door and equally convenient, and you can access the restaurants in the hotel, as well as all those in the local area. It’s a great choice at a competitive price. Recommended!
JR Clement Inn Takamatsu – image © Booking.com
Dormy Inn Takamatsu Chuo Koenmae
:: Check availability and pricing on Booking.com or Agoda.com
Located in Central Takamatsu, near Chuo-koen Park and within walking distance of the train station and the ferry piers, this is a standard business hotel with reasonable rates and a great bath/spa on the top floor (all rooms also have en suite, of course). It’s a good choice if neither of the above are available or if you’re a fan of big Japanese baths.
Dormy Inn Takamatsu Chuo Koenmae – image © Booking.com
Naoshima and Area Guide Map
Here is our Naoshima Area Map. In addition to listing all the places mentioned in this article, we also show the main transport routes to/from Naoshima.
Tips for Enjoying Naoshima
Kusama Yayoi pumpkin on Naoshima: Anthony Shaw Photography / Shutterstock.com
- As mentioned above, consider traveling to/from Naoshima via Takamatsu (see above for details).
- If you’re traveling to Naoshima from Tokyo, consider flying from Haneda to Takamatsu.
- If the weather is going to be sunny when you’re on Naoshima, bring a sun hat and sunscreen. You’ll be exposed to the sun for long stretches when you’re cycling or walking around the island.
- If it’s likely to rain while you’re on Naoshima, bring rain gear for cycling or, at least, a folding umbrella.
- Even if you’re a fit cyclist, you’ll appreciate an electric bicycle since the regular bikes are pretty slow and there are plenty of hills on the island.
- Try to spend at least one full day (ie, not a travel day) on the island.
- Naoshima can easily be added to a visit to Hiroshima/Miyajima, Shikoku or Kyushu. It’s also very close to the historical town of Kurashiki.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world