This website may ask your browser to store cookies. See our Cookies Policy for more information about our use of cookies.

Back to news index

Naoshima: island of the Yellow Pumpkin

posted on 29/03/18

The Japanese island of Naoshima is worth visiting for the art alone, but as Operator Lucy Taylor discovered recently on a prospecting trip, it is also a stunning spot to rest your senses after the somewhat frenetic pace of Japan’s major cities.

Now I can fully appreciate why our Art in Japan tour allows two whole days here at the end of the itinerary, with time to explore the incredible museums, art installations and breath-taking sea views. While it might be considered far off the tourist track, I think it is fair to say that few places in the world can boast an entire island of eclectic art set in such dramatic scenery.

Originally a sleepy fishing town, Naoshima was transformed into a home for the Benesse Art Site, an impressive collection of contemporary art, architecture and installations, in the late 1980s. Although the island is small, spanning a mere 10-mile circumference, it is filled with curiosities and eccentric character.

I arrived into the island’s Miyanoura Port on a sunny morning in November and immediately felt I was somewhere special. It started with the architecture of the ferry terminal, which consists of mirrored glass walls that reflect the spectacular surrounding scenery. I took a shuttle bus across the island, passing traditional wooden houses of the former fishing village, all the while catching glimpses of the vibrant sculptures that scatter the coastline.

Perched at the end of a pier, the Yellow Pumpkin (1994) by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama came into view. The bulbous fruit sculpture has become an iconic symbol of the island itself; Kusama’s lifelong obsession with pumpkins is a motif that populates her work and attracts the attention of contemporary art lovers the world over. The sculpture is playful and exuberant, yet it exudes an overwhelming sense of serenity due to its contemplative setting on the seashore.

The shuttle dropped me at the Benesse House complex, a set of four exclusive hotels designed by Japanese architect Tadāo Andō. Being both a museum and a hotel, Benesse House is a remarkable place to stay. Modern and contemporary art is displayed in the museum’s galleries, as well as within the hotel rooms themselves, meaning that guests can engage with artworks wherever they go. Art on display includes works by Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Jasper Johns.

The hotel buildings, called the Oval, Museum, Beach and Park, are subtly nestled in coves along the waterfront or sited neatly on a clifftop. It became apparent as I made my way around, that Andõ’s architectural style focuses on simplicity and inner feeling, rather than outward appearance. With his simple lines of concrete, glass and wood, the complex complementing the natural surroundings beautifully.

A short stroll from the hotel complex is the Andō-designed Lee Ufan Museum and Chichu Art Museum. A series of concretewalled spaces built semi-underground blend into the landscape. I was particularly fond of the Chichu Museum; despite being mostly underground, the building is designed to let in an abundance of natural light that in turn illuminates the artworks, including several of Monet’s water lily paintings, sculptures by Walter de Maria and installations by James Turrell. The museum thus warrants multiple visits, since the experience of the spaces can change dramatically depending on the season and time of day.

My final stop was The Naoshima Art House Project, which takes some of the empty houses in the old fishing village and turns them into works of art.

What I loved about Naoshima was how even the residential streets, with their old traditional Japanese houses, are seen in an artistic way, encouraging a positive interaction between residents and visitors and beautifully incorporating the history and everyday memories of small-town Japanese life.


By Lucy Taylor, Operator.


Art in Japan visits the art island of Naoshima, as well as World Heritage sites at Nikko, Kyoto, Nara and Horyu-ji. It also explores other aspects of Japanese culture, past and present, including gastronomy and gardens. The tour runs 20–31 May 2019 and 18–29 November 2019.


View itinerary for Art in Japan

View all tours to Japan

View all tours to Asia

View all art and architecture tours

Order a brochure