From the moment you get off the Ferry on Naoshima Island, you are likely to surprised by art. Some are part of the original impulse of the Bennesse gift, others have been inspired to join in the treasure making. Since creations have been woven in all over the island, the center will be considered to be the Tadao Ando designed museums that make up the Bennesse complex–and most of the images come from that area.
The history, even when summarized probably a bit too concisely, is inspiring. This is what a number of tour guides will tell you. In the 1980s the chairman of Fukutake Publishing began looking for a home for the corporate art collection (now the company is called Bennesse). Rather than build a museum in Tokyo, he wondered if islands he remembered from his youth might benefit from a different kind of economy. He learned of their plight: how mineral resources were no longer economical, how the young people were leaving behind work such as fishing and moving to bigger cities, all the classic challenges of the age. A Mayor from this region reached out to him and, over time, a plan evolved. The great architect Tadao Ando designed the beginnings of a complex of museums that are actually quite dramatic from the inside, but surprisingly subtle on the outside, concealed in the land.
This, in turn, led to new commissions of site-specific works especially for Naoshima. The corporation has created a foundation that runs the operation now and gifted the works to it, and the public is welcome to experience the magic. There are certain pieces and experiences designed for hotel guests only, but there is much more that is open to all. Special attention should be paid to the fisherman’s houses in the port area, the sculptures on the grounds of the Bennesse Museum/Hotel and the Chichu Art Museum, dedicated to 3 artists.
A heads up: there are some extremely expensive options for accommodation. It is not for Atlas Obscura to say whether or not they are worth it–they undoubtedly are. BUT they may still be unaffordable for our readers. Consult your travel guides and know your exchange rates, there are plenty of bargains that will provide plenty of wonder.