Joe's Japan Travel Journal
by Joe, staff writer of

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2016/03/24 - Setouchi Triennale 2016

Yayoi Kusama's Yellow Pumpkin on Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea

Once every three years, the idyllic, sleepy islands scattered across the calm waters of the Seto Inland Sea become the host of one of Japan's biggest, most prominent contemporary art festivals. The Setounchi Triennale, has just begun for its third time, and the team will be there to uncover some of this year's highlights.

This year, the festival is taking place all across the eastern Setouchi region, another name for the islands and area surrounding the inland sea that separates Japan's main islands of Honshu and Shikoku, with particular emphasis on twelve of the sea's islands. These rural locales, like many others in Japan, suffer from a problem of a shrinking, aging population, and general decline. The festival's aim, in addition to generally promoting great new art, is to revitalize the region and show off the laid back charm of these unique places.

To start our coverage of this year's festival, I made my way to three different islands that are located very close to one of Shikoku's main cities, Takamatsu. We will also be covering exhibitions from other islands this year, including a report from Teshima and Inujima coming very soon, so stay tuned!


My first stop was to the island of Megijima located just a 20-minute ferry ride away from Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture. Before even disembarking the ferry, it was clear that Megjima has clearly embraced its art installations, as visitors are greeted by several prominent art installations right at the main port of Miyanoura. While the island has been collecting new art installations over the last few years of the festival, I was keen to seek out some of this year's new pieces.

A demon statue guarding the port of Megijima, also known as Demon Island

One of the unique aspects of this festival is that much of the art comes in the form of installations that have been set up in old, traditional Japanese homes and other buildings, showcasing their quaint beauty and, importantly, providing a truly unique and tranquil context for some very creative art.

Takahito Kimura's Seagull Parking Lot by the port
Seagulls spinning in the sea breeze
Blue flags and signs mark the paths to the triennial's exhibits and related buildings and information centers
Sail away

Navigating the dense network of narrow, winding alleys can be a little daunting at first on small islands like Megijima, but the organizers have done a fantastic job of putting up well-placed placards and signs at intersections and key spots to point visitors to the exhibits.

Well-placed signs in both Japanese and English mark the way to almost all exhibitions
A new exhibition for 2016 called Megi House
The site of another new exhibition for this year: an old house with a beautiful courtyard, now called the Demon House
Part of the new Chaos*Lounge exhibit in the Demon House
The cozy, almost secret second floor of the Demon House, turned into a quiet nook for enjoying a collection of very personal drawings
A spiraling, two-storey-high corridor of mirror shards installed in an unassuming old building

In addition to art, the festival has brought to life a host of new cafes and restaurants to accommodate the islands' new visitors and residents. An utter rarity on remote islands like these, a wide range of eateries are open during the festival (and many outside of festival seasons, too), some of which specifically showcase the regions' locally-sourced seafood and local cuisine.

A beautiful setting for a light lunch and a sake sangria overlooking an imaginative animated rock garden installation
My lunch: local-fished eel, yellowtail, and other delicious fish, exquisitely prepared by the chefs at the atmospheric Restaurant Iara
One artist was inspired to turn a traditional Japanese style warehouse into a theater, complete with box office and, thoroughly decorated interior, and Charlie Chaplin movies playing inside
A defunt elementary school transformed into a dreamscape
Otake Shinro's eclectic Mekon, an installation taking up an entire school courtyard
Strolling through the streets of Megijima
Another new exhibit for 2016: feel feel BONSAI
Striking bonsai pieces scattered around a beautiful old Japanese-style house
A menacing demon of Megijima

Thanks to a network of regularly-running ferries and high-speed boats, the many islands are well-interconnected and make island hopping fairly easy. For those planning to hit as many islands and exhibitions as possible, the organizers offer a "Triennale Passport" which provides admission to almost all of the festival's art sites during the Spring, Summer and Autumn sessions, saving visitors (for most exhibitions) from paying individual admission fees for each site, which can range from 300 to over 1000 yen each. The passport is sold for 5000 yen (more information available here).

The ferry between Takamatsu, Megijima and Ogijima
A fishing boat at work amongst the islands


My next stop was to the small island of Ogijima located just another 20-minute ferry ride north of Megijima. This tiny island, which can be navigated entirely on foot in less than a day, features its exhibits mainly in the lovely, picturesque fishing village that makes up its main port. Most of the installations here are set up in and around beautiful old homes, which really lets this place's quiet charm shine.

Ogijima's main port town, extending up the hill from the sea
The main information-center-cum-art-installation with its iconic waffle-lattice of letters and characters for a roof
A beautiful, new installation in an old house inspired by the aleatoric random noises and movement of the wind
It's hard to turn a corner of the winding streets without discovering something new and wonderful
About-to-bloom cherry blossoms creating a canopy over a local cafe
A 2016 installation called Kaleidoscope: Black & White
An incredible installation called Sea Vine filling up an entire tatami-floored room with a single, hand-painted earthenware vine suspended from the ceiling
An entire installation dedicated to the aesthetics of rotisserie-style rotating objects
An interative installation entitled Organ that snakes around the top of the town
Ogijima's peaceful alleyways
Island life


On my second day of island-hopping, I made my way again from Takamatsu port to the relatively larger island of Naoshima. Naoshima is one of the epicenters of the new art and revitalization movements across Setouchi, thanks in large part to the Benesse Corporation which built some of the area's first art contemporary museums. In addition, the island is famous for one of the original Art House Projects, taking abandoned old houses and other buildings and transforming them into art installations and venues for contemporary art.

Approaching Naoshima's port in the ferry from Takamatsu
A new installation for 2016, entitled Naoshima Pavillion
Another Otake Shinro piece: a fully-functional public bathouse, purpose built as a scrapbook come to life
The winding, hilly roads that snake around the island's handful of town centers

One highlight of this year's festival on Naoshima is a new Cherry Tree Labrynth. Built into a relatively remote, quiet clearing in the trees between to ponds, this atmospheric landscape installation features over 130 cherry trees which, when in bloom, should give a beautiful, mysterious atmosphere. During my visit on March 24, I was a little too early to catch the trees in bloom, unfortunately. But, the buds on the trees were already beginning to expose themselves and look to be ready to start opening in the next few weeks. This will definitely be an impressive sight in early-mid April!

A new highlight piece for 2016: The Cherry Tree Labrynth, tucked away in a clearing, just a few weeks shy of being in bloom
Once the trees are in bloom, the whole clearing will take on a new character
The blossom buds are just starting to come out on the newly-planted trees

Navigating around the hilly island can be an arduous task on-foot, so I rented an electric-assisted bicycle for my half-day stay for just 1500 yen, which made for a great way to explore the many scattered exhibitions (normal bicycles are available for 500 yen as well). Buses also run throughout the day to many of the island's major sites.

A Naoshima Art House Project installation by the name of Haisha
A newly-built multi-purpose building very much inspired by traditional Japanese thatched roof buildings
The spacious interior of Naoshima Hall, opened this year, constructed from Japanese cypress and a hand-plastered ceiling
Beauty hiding in every nook and cranny
More island surprises
I imagine she smells some delicious Speculoos cookies baking
A lovely torii gate facing the sea, and other islands where the festival continues...

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List of Posts:
2019/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2019
2018/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2018
2017/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2017
2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/03/24 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Mitake
2015/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Takao
2015/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/11 - Autumn Color Report: Fukuroda Falls
2015/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2015/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2015/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2015/10/13 - Autumn Color Report: Hakkoda
2015/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2015/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/04/14 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Yoshino
2015/04/13 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Miharu
2015/04/08 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Matsumoto Report
2015/01/29 - Crabs, Peonies and Castle Cruises in Shimane

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/16 - Seasonal Illumination: Osaka
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Kobe Luminarie 2014
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Ashikaga Flower Park
2014/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2014/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2014/10/29 - Autumn Color Report: Shima Onsen
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2014/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/08/20 - Kusatsu Onsen Beautification