I’m so glad I made the effort to visit Naoshima and Teshima Art Islands in Japan because it wasn’t until I went to visit them both that I completely fell head over heels in love with the country.
There are 3 main Art Islands, the most well known called Naoshima, and Teshima and Inujima located on the Seto Inland Sea.
These art islands were almost abandoned fishing islands before they got turned around into some of the best art galleries I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world (and I’ve seen a lot!). Teshima and Naoshima Art Islands are an absolutely MUST VISIT when you’re in Japan.
One of the many beaches on Naoshima Island
Naoshima and Teshima Japan Art Islands: everything you need to know
1. Where are the art islands in Japan and how do I get to them?
Here’s a map to show you where the art islands are and how we got to them from Oaska.
After a lot of research, it looked like we could visit both islands at a squeeze for the day on our way from Osaka down to Hiroshima.
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What train did we take to get to Teshima?
Japan’s famous JR Sanyo Shinkansen train, aka ‘The Bullet Train’
We took the JR Sanyo Shinkansen train from Shin-Oaska to Okyama Station which took approximately 45 minutes, then changed trains onto the JR line to Uno Station which took about an hour. We managed to make it with minutes to spare before the ferry left to go to Teshima.
If you buy the JR Pass, it will cover your train journeys. We then had to pay for the ferry to Teshima, then to Naoshima and back to Uno. The ferry to Teshima cost 620Y, I can’t remember how much it cost from Teshima to Naoshima, whilst the one back from Naoshima to Uno cost just 220Y.
Here’s an approximate timeline of how we went to Teshima and Naoshima Art Islands in one day:
6:00am train from Shin Oasaka – Okyama – Uno
8:20am arrive in Uno
8:30am ferry to Takamatsu (on the east side of Teshima) so that we could get to the famous Teshima Art Museum as soon as it opened. There are two ferry ports in Teshima that are quite far from each other.
8:50am arrive in Takamatsu and hire bikes directly opp the ferry port.
9:00am cycle up to Teshima Art Museum ready for opening time! Visit other galleries around the island ready to get into Leura Port before the ferry at 1pm.
1:00pm Ferry from Leura Port (Teshima) to Miyanoura (Naoshima).
1:25pm Arrive in Miyanoura and hire bikes outside the ferry port to explore the island.
4:30 pm Ferry from Naoshima to Uno.
4:45pm Arrive in Uno.
5:00pm Train from Uno to Hiroshima.
As you can see it was pretty rushed and if we had more time, I would have probably stayed the night on Naoshima to have been able to take my time with seeing the islands. But, I just wanted to point out that technically you can see both islands in one day if you’re stuck for time like we were.
2. Can I leave luggage at the station?
The lockers at Uno station.
One of the things we had to do quite a bit of research on was luggage storage for Naoshima and Teshima islands. Because we were on the 7 day JR rail pass, we had very limited time. We went straight from Osaka to the Teshima and Naoshima on the way to Hiroshima with our 30+ kgs around-the-world travel backpacks. We knew we didn’t want to lug them around the islands so finding storage near Teshima or Naoshima was crucial! We literally just winged it but I’m so glad because when we finally read there were lockers at the closest station, we had no idea if they would be big enough to fit our stuff in or worst of all whether any would be available.
Luckily because we arrived at 8:20am, all the lockers were available and surprisingly big enough to fit everything in for the day and they didn’t cost a lot either. I have to wear hiking boots with my backpack to support the weight of it which I didn’t want to wear around the islands because I also wanted to get some nice photos there too. So I packed all my things I needed for the day on the top section of my pack and somehow managed to discreetly get changed whilst on the train because we had about 10 minutes in between getting off the train and running to the ferry so timing was crucial.
3. Can I see Naoshima and Teshima art islands in one day or should I stay overnight?
Naoshima Bath House
Yes you can see both Naoshima and Teshima art islands in one day although it is tiring and a long day. Because we were short on time, we just went for it and zoomed around both islands. We went to Teshima first because it seemed more logical being the furthest away island and then caught the ferry in the afternoon over to Naoshima. We spent about three hours on both islands and managed to see almost everything. You can stay on the islands to really be able to explore a lot more but we were happy with visiting for just the day.
If I were to do it again, I would 100% stay at Benesse Art Museum in Naoshima. I’m sure you have to book well in advance but it looked so incredible, it’s definitely worth it.
4. Can I take photos in the galleries?
Outside the Lee Ufan Museum, Naoshima
Please bare in mind that both Naoshima and Teshima islands are very strict with their no photos policy. We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the galleries at all which was quite refreshing to actually be in the moment even though there were some insanely amazing photography moments that we missed out on. My images are either from other sources as noted or they were taken outside of the galleries.
5. What’s so amazing about Teshima Art Island in Japan?
Image source: designboom.com
Not only did the ferry make sense to visit Teshima Island first but we actually wanted to see it more because of the Teshima Art Museum which looked and is in fact insanely amazing. Imagine walking into a space which feels so futuristic, it’s like you’re on another planet? Sound is so quiet as you walk into the art installation at Teshima that someone standing 100 metres away sounds like they are whispering in your ear. You’ll notice water dancing on the floor as it comes up through holes in the concrete ground.
The staff all dress in white and have an almost futuristic energy to them. It’s oh so modern and oh so Japan. Teshima Art Museum really is a sight to be seen and is easily one of, it not the best art installation I’ve ever seen. Teshima Art Museum cafe and shop was probably the coolest one I’ve ever been to!
Although both islands are totally different, we loved Teshima more because it wasn’t as busy as Naoshima, actually Teshima was the first place we went to in Japan that wasn’t busy at all. There weren’t even queues to the galleries and we just absolutely loved the peacefulness and quietness on the island.
We also loved the “Les Archives du Cœur”, by Christian Boltanski. This small gallery permanently houses recordings of the heartbeats of people throughout the world. Christian Boltanski has been recording these heartbeats since 2008 which is an incredible experience to witness. You too can have your heartbeat recorded if you want to. Outside Teshima Art Museum which is surrounded by rice fields.
One thing to note is, a lot of the galleries were closed on the island during the week, except the larger ones. If you want to visit them all, you’ll need to check the website and visit on weekends.
I took this photo so you can see how much is closed during the week.
6. What’s so amazing about Naoshima Art Island in Japan?
Chinchu Art Museum was created with the art pieces in mind in an underground space.
After visiting the incredible Teshima Art Island, we were actually quite shocked at the amount of tourists on Naoshima Art Island.
Because it’s closer to the mainland, and there’s more art on this island to visit from big names like Yayoi Kasuma, it obviously attracts more visitors.
The unofficial icon of the art islands is the pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.
But we loved this island anyway. I loved seeing the beaches along the coast to the insanely amazing Banesse Suite galleries were just insane.
The incredible piece by Walter De Maria at Chichu Art Museum. Source: Indagare.
The architecture and art curation was by far the best I have seen anywhere in the world. I’d recommend purely going to Naoshima to visit Chichu Art Museum which is insanly AMAZING!! Just you wait until you see the Monet. My god, it sure is breathtaking. BUT, it looks as though you might need to reserve tickets to get in to it here. We actually went to this gallery last so by the time we got there, there weren’t many people there. I’d recommend going either at the start of the day or towards the end. But leave a good hour or more to explore this gallery, it’s worth the venture over to the island.
On the pathway up to the entrance of Chichu Art Museum lies an inspired monet lily pond which is absolutely gorgeous.
7. Can you hire bikes around both islands?
Yes you can hire bikes both electric and normal ones to get around both islands. As soon as the ferry’s docked, we saw locals selling bikes for hire.
We hired out the electric bikes on both islands which I definitely recommend doing because there are some steep hills to navigate your way up! We loved the electric bikes seeing as it was the first time we had ever used one before.
If you’re not up for getting around the art islands on bikes, you can hire a car instead. We saw some on offer, but not as many as the bikes. If you want to walk around the islands, it will take you a long time to get around.
Naoshima is much easier to get around as there are buses you can catch to the art galleries.
8. Which island is busier Naoshima or Teshima?
The actual reality of the famous yellow pumpkin by Japan’s Yayoi Kusama.
Naoshima was definitely a lot busier than Teshima art island. Because most do one or the other for the day, I think a lot of people go to Naoshima because it’s closer to the mainland and there’s more to see.
We actually preferred Teshima for the peacefulness and beauty of the island more but I’m glad we saw both because Naoshima is amazing too!
9. If I could only choose one island to visit which one should I go to; Naoshima or Teshima?
It’s a tricky question to answer whether you should visit Naohima or Teshima art islands. I’d recommend going to Naoshima if you want to tick off a lot of galleries. The last one we visited there was incredible! Or go to Teshima if you want to be wowed by one absolutely mesmerising piece at the Teshima Art Museum. For us, this piece was by far the most amazing we saw during the entire day.
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10. How much would it cost to visit the art islands in Japan?
The art islands aren’t cheap. We must have spent the most money that day during our 12 days in Japan. Although getting to the islands wasn’t expensive as we had the JR pass, the ferries were quite cheap too, each gallery costs around $20 per person and there’s a good few to visit so it amounts up. Chichu Art Museum was the most expensive at 2,060Y which is approximately AU$25 each.
Words can’t explain how incredible Naoshima and Teshima Art Islands are. Even if you’re not that bothered about Art, you’d be mad not to go and check these out. We loved how Japan seems to mix futuristic architecture with old Japanese houses. It’s just a sight to be seen.
Have you read my other posts about Japan yet?