Contemporary art festival spanning multiple islands
The next triennale is expected to take place in 2022.
The Setouchi Triennale (also known as the Setouchi International Art Festival) is a contemporary art festival held every three years on a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai), the sea which separates Honshu and Shikoku, two of Japan's main islands. It was first held in 2010.
Contemporary art has gained a prominent position in the region in recent decades thanks to various art projects by the Benesse Corporation on the islands of Naoshima, Inujima and Teshima, all of which also serve as festival venues. The Setouchi Triennale is intended to further strengthen the region's position as a leading site for contemporary art and to spread the art to additional islands.
Like many rural parts of Japan, the islands in the Seto Inland Sea have been suffering from massive depopulation in recent decades, while their remaining residents have been aging at a rapid pace, causing a wide range of problems. One of the festival's main goals is to counteract these trends and revitalize the region in a sustainable and creative way by bringing contemporary art and tourism onto the islands.
Visitors to the region will be charmed not only by the intriguing art but also by the laid back, slow paced rural atmosphere of the islands' villages and the beauty of the island scenery. In many ways the festival resembles the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, a similar art festival, which is held every three years in a rural mountainous area of Niigata Prefecture.
During the festival, many new artworks by artists from Japan and overseas are exhibited on the twelve islands and around the ports of Takamatsu and Uno in addition to a considerable number of museums and artworks already in existence, including many permanent art installations from the previous festivals. Much of the artwork will remain standing after the end of the festival, justifying a visit to the area at any time of the year.
The artworks are found across the islands. Some of them stand outdoors in the fields, along the coast or in villages. Others make use of the numerous old homes which have been left abandoned due to the depopulation. The buildings are employed as exhibition spaces or have been converted into artworks themselves. In addition, there are the established museums and art sites on Naoshima, Inujima and Teshima islands.
Twelve islands and the ports of Takamatsu and Uno serve as venues for the 2019 art festival:
Spring, Summer and Autumn About 40 artworks take at least one day to see From Takamatsu: Frequent ferries (35-60 minutes, 690-1170 yen one way)
The largest island participating in the festival, Shodoshima has many artworks found across multiple locations across the island. It takes at least a day to see the art, plus an additional day if you want to check out the rest of the island.
Spring, Summer and Autumn Around a dozen artworks take about half a day to see. No direct ferry from Takamatsu. Travel via Naoshima or Teshima (1230-1850 yen)
Inujima is slightly difficult to access, but well worth the effort. The Seirensho art project, built into the ruins of an old copper refinery, is one of the festival's most noteworthy pieces. Several art houses and other artworks can be found around the island's small village.
Spring, Summer and Autumn About 20 artworks take about half a day to see From Takamatsu: Ferries every two hours (20 minutes, 370 yen one way)
Megijima, the legendary Onigashima from the Momotaro story, offers several artworks around the small, stone walled fishing village next to the ferry terminal. More art is found near the peak of the island's tallest mountain.
Spring, Summer and Autumn About 20 artworks around the harbor town take about half a day to see From Takamatsu: Ferries every two hours (40 minutes, 510 yen one way)
The artworks on Ogijima are scattered around the charming fishing village build on the hillside overlooking the ferry port. All the sites are within a short walk of the ferry terminal and can be seen in a few hours.
Spring, Summer and Autumn About 20 artworks spread around the island require a full day to see From Takamatsu: 3-7 ferries per day (35-50 minutes, 1330 yen one way)
Artworks are concentrated in the four villages found on the island and connected with each other by buses. One of the main sites on the island is the Teshima Art Museum.
Spring, Summer and Autumn About a dozen artworks can be seen in 2-3 hours From Takamatsu: Five daily ferries (30 minutes, free)
The small island of Oshima off the coast of Takamatsu serves as a treatment center and community for sufferers of Hansen's Disease. In a collaboration project between artists, hospitals and residents, an old dormitory was transformed into an art gallery.
Spring, Summer and Autumn Around a dozen artworks can be seen in a few hours Direct ferry connections to all islands except Inujima and the western islands
Takamatsu Port is the most convenient base for exploring the Setouchi Triennale, as it serves as the regional transportation hub and offers a wide range of accommodation and dining options. Most of the artworks are found in the attractively redeveloped Sunport Takamatsu district along the waterfront.
Spring, Summer and Autumn About half a dozen artworks can be seen in a couple of hours
Uno Port is the most convenient entry point to the festival's eastern island venues when approaching the region from Okayama, offering ferry connections to Naoshima, Teshima, Shodoshima and Takamatsu. The port town has a few art pieces on its own that are all within walking distance from both Uno Station and Uno Port.
The following five venues are located west of the Seto Ohashi Bridge and each participate only during one of the festival's three sessions:
Spring Only About ten artwoks take about half a day to see 20 minute bus ride from Sakaide Station
Originally a tiny island just off the coast, Shamijima was connected to Shikoku by reclaimed land in 1967 and later became one of the endpoints of the Seto Ohashi Bridge. The small area offers several artworks, the Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Art Museum, a museum commemorating the bridge's construction, an observation tower, parks, beaches and a small fishing village.
Autumn Only About a dozen artworks and other attractions take a half to a full day to see Ferries about every 90 minutes from Marugame Port (20-35 minutes, 550 yen) Six ferries per day from Kojima Port (30 minutes, 640 yen)
The largest of the newly participating islands, Honjima has a few interesting historical sites besides the artworks. While most of the artwork is located around the main port, a beautifully preserved Edo Period port town lies in the island's northeast. The island can be explored on foot, by bus or by rental bicycle.
Autumn Only About a dozen artworks take a few hours to see Five daily ferries from Tadotsu Port (25 minutes, 490 yen one way)
The artworks around Takamijima can be found around the island's only town which is suffering the effects of depopulation, as many abandoned houses can be seen along the hillslope of the northern side of town. The peaceful port town is now home to more cats than humans.
Autumn Only About ten artworks take a few hours to see Eight daily ferries from Suda Port (15 minutes, 330 yen one way) Three daily ferries from Miyanoshita Port (1 hour, 690 yen one way)
During the Meiji Period, Awashima was the site of a sailor academy whose buildings have been preserved and opened to the public. The artworks are concentrated in the island's main town that is directly served by the ferries from Suda Port. A few beaches, hiking trails and viewpoints can also be visited around the island.
Autumn Only Around half a dozen artworks take a few hours to see Six ferries per day from Kanonji Port (25 minutes, 510 yen one way)
The westernmost of the participating islands, Ibukijima has a thriving fishing industry as the country's top producer of sardines and anchovies. The small island only measures about one square kilometer and is covered by a nice fishing village. Several artworks are scattered throughout the town.
3-Session passports (good for the spring, summer and autumn sessions) can be purchased for 4800 yen at information centers on each island or Takamatsu or Uno Port. "Seasonal Limited Passports", which are valid during only one of the festival's three seasons, cost 4000 yen. Discounted passports are available to visitors aged 16 to 18, while admission is free for those aged 15 years and younger.
Passport holders can see each of the festival's artworks once during the festival, including some of the established art museums on Naoshima (Benesse House, Lee Ufan Museum, Art House Project) and Inujima (Seirensho, Art House Project). Among the sites not covered by the passport are the I Love Yu bath and Chichu Museum on Naoshima and the Teshima Art Museum.
While outdoor artworks generally can be seen at any time of the day, most indoor artworks are open between 10:00 and 17:00. Some works have longer or shorter hours. While the majority of artworks can be viewed on all days during the festival, a few of them are closed one day a week.
A dense network of ferry lines connects the islands. To accommodate the increased traffic during the festival, a few temporary lines are operated and service is increased on several of the existing lines.
The smaller islands, such as Inujima, Ogijima and Oshima, can be explored entirely on foot, while the larger islands are served by simple bus networks, except Shodoshima whose bus network is quite extensive. Rental bicycles are also available on many of the islands. Car rental is an option on Shodoshima.
Please see each island's page for more details about access and transportation:
During the festival, several passes are offered that cover ferry or train travel around the festival area. Some of the better ones include:
3-day Setouchi Triennale Ferry Pass (3 consecutive days, 2500 yen)
A pass for unlimited use of many ferries east of the Seto Ohashi Bridge on three consecutive days. The pass allows for access to all the islands east of the Seto Ohashi Bridge except Inujima and Oshima.
Okayama Kagawa Art Free Pass (1 day, 2000 yen)
This pass allows for unlimited use of local JR trains in the region around the art festival, including Okayama, Uno Port and as far as Kanonji Station. It also covers access to Kotohira and Kurashiki. The limited express fee has to be paid additionally if riding a limited express train.
Kotoden JR Kururin Kippu (1 day, 1960 yen)
This ticket allows for unlimited use of local JR trains between Takamatsu, Tadotsu, Kotohira and Shido, as well as on all Kotoden Railway lines on one calendar day. The limited express fee has to be paid additionally if riding a limited express train. Unlike the passes listed above, the Kotoden JR Kururin Kippu is available not only during the festival period but year-round.
Where to stay?
The city of Takamatsu on Shikoku is the transportation and information hub of the Setouchi Triennale. It is also the most convenient base for exploring the festival, offering a wide range of accommodation. Its attractive port area serves as one of the festival venues, exhibiting a small number of art works.
The Setouchi Triennale is spread out among twelve islands and two ports, and seeing everything would take at least a week. As a rule of thumb, the larger islands take each a full day to see, while the smaller islands can each be seen in half a day. Note also that ferry connections between some of the islands are infrequent, which can result in a forced slow down of the travel pace.
How is the weather?
During July, August and parts of September, it is usually very hot in the Seto Inland Sea region, with daytime temperatures of over 30 degrees and a high humidity. In order to avoid hyperthermia, it is recommended to travel at a slow pace, make frequent breaks and drink a lot of liquids. The temperatures during the spring and autumn sessions are more comfortable.