Thousands of Miles from Home


Let's Recap

Golden Week is still running strong, but before I begin to explore the depths and lengths of this crazy hullabaloo to any extent, I’ll take a break and recap some of the trips and experiences that have composed the past few weeks in Japan.

Last month, Shoko invited Micah and me to the island of Naoshima, a short ferry ride from Uno Port. Her Spanish-speaking class was taking a “field-trip” with one of the students who currently lives on the island to function as a guide. I had heard some rather impressive stories about Naoshima, and jumped at the idea of taking a trip.

Naoshima, unlike various other islands in the Seto Inland Sea, has a long history of human inhabitance. Once, while running a high fever and with nothing better to do, I scoured the Tamano School Library until I found records dating back to the early 60’s citing children arriving by ferry from Naoshima (also an account of one man who had to “swim 20 miles, in the snow, uphill both ways”). These were the hay-days of Tamano High School, before newer schools like Konan and Joto drew the smarter children out of Tamano and into the city.

Contemporary Naoshima now plays host to an assortment of Art Museums from which the island draws most of its fame. In fact, and at first glance, the isle functions as an extemporaneous “open-air” art studio with pieces of sculpture hidden and scattered about the island. Upon further exploration, however, I found that the exact nature of the island had been carefully planned and constructed to lead the visitor on a treasure hunt that will reward even the most frequent of visitors.

After arriving by ferry with Shoko, I quickly spotted Micah (who had taken a ferry from Takamatsu) and met our guide for the day, a Naoshiman named Yajima-san. We had time before the rest of the Spanish class would arrive, so Yajima-san took us for lunch at a small café overlooking the ocean, and then to the Benesse Contemporary Art Museum. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but Contemporary Art Museums in Japan always offer something to pique my interest in the art world. In the case of Naoshima, the subtlety and timing of many exhibits surprised me on multiple occasions.

The first came while viewing a wall-sized ocean landscape picturing a beach and two boats; one yellow with a sail, and the other black and upside down. In front of the massive piece of art stood two boats; one yellow and the other black, in similar position. The mixture of sculpture and canvas art made me think “well, that’s neat,” until I took a walk to the balcony to look out over the ocean. There, clearly visible in the distance, wedged in a small cove on the beach, stood two boats; one black and one yellow.


After the art museum, the four of us wandered around the island looking at pieces of sculpture until the rest of the Spanish class arrived along with Neil, the teacher. We then cruised over to the Chichu Art Museum on the other side of the island, newly constructed this year regardless of a record number of typhoons. This was a completely different experience from the Contemporary Art Museum, but just as overwhelming. At Chichu few artists are featured at a time, but each room seems to be tailored the fit individual pieces of art (as if to use more than simply the sense of sight). Long corridors connect each section of the museum, leading the visitor twisting and turning through indoor and outdoor passages before finally arriving at the next exhibit.

Although the whole museum was excellent, two of the rooms I can vividly recall featured Monet and James Turrell. You must remove your shoes for the Monet exhibit, and don slippers as you enter what appears to be a large tile swimming pool. Monet’s “Water Lily” series appears on large canvases, and the humidity of the room is adjusted to give the effect of being water-side. I was also very surprised to see James Turrell, who’s slightly spooky “Into the Light Series” I had a chance to view at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. Again removing your shoes, you enter a completely neon blue room and walk toward the far wall until a sensor beeps. Turning around, the entire back wall, which appeared white entering the room, is now a bright liquid red. Reminded me of being on the set of “Tron.”

The rest of the day went smoothly, and we finished with dinner at Jacasse. If you ever find yourself in the Chugoku region of Japan, make sure to check out Naoshima Island.


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