Backpacking in Japan: Things to do in Naoshima

Yellow pumpkin in Naoshima

One of the places I enjoyed the most during my adventures in Japan was the small island of Naoshima. If you love art and nature this is definitely a place you must visit!

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Naoshima is a great success story. As with many rural environments all over the world, it was going downhill until in 1985 an ambitious project was set in place to transform this small island into a hub for contemporary art.

Beach in Naoshima

Nowadays, Naoshima island is a proper world-class art destination. Much of this success can be attributed to the involvement of Japanese architect-designer-artist Tadao Ando, who has been an integral part of the project since the late 1980’s, including the design of 3 museums on the island.

There’s also an Art Triennale in Naoshima, I sadly missed the 2019 edition by just a couple of months but looking at previous year’s exhibitions it looks pretty good.

Yellow Pumpkin

Is Naoshima a backpacking destination?

It depends. On the one hand, for a backpacker on a budget like me all the accommodation in Naoshima was kind of out of reach and even the museum tickets were coming at a hefty price tag.

The cheapest hostels start at around $30 USD per night and the museums ranging from $10-30 USD

Beach viewpoint

However, you can still do a lot of stuff for free. There are several installations and art pieces, with the two most iconic artworks being featured by world-famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

How to get there

From Okayama Station you can take either a bus or a train and then a short ferry. I took a bus to get there (650 Yen) and a train to go back to Okayama at the end of the day (580 Yen).

The ferry costs 560 Yen for a return ticket. The trip from Okayama Station to “Uno Port” takes almost an hour no matter which transport you use.

Backpacking in Naoshima

When you arrive to the port, there are two different ferries. A small one and a larger one.

Make sure to check the times for both of them and go to the right location as they depart from different areas. The price is the same though and the trip lasts for some 15 minutes only.

You can check the timetables for the ferries here

Moving around Naoshima

As soon as you get off the boat you can find either bike rental places (About $15 USD per day), hourly buses that cost about 100 Yen per trip or, if you enjoy wandering like me just walk all over the place!

The size of the island is perfect for walking, there are no steep hills and I enjoyed the scenery throughout my day. Even that I had a rainy one!

Backpacking in Naoshima

From March to September there’s also a free shuttle bus that goes from the yellow pumpkin to the Chichu Art Museum, this is not a bad option to take as that’s pretty much the only uphill section that I found.

I arrived to the Honmura Pier with the small ferry, from there you’re very close to the Art House Project and the Ando Museum.

Just a 2 Km walk will take you to the Yellow Pumpkin and from this point is where I enjoyed a lot more the scenery as you go by the coast discovering sculptures and art installations next to beautiful beaches.

Backpacking in Naoshima

Art hunting in Naoshima

As I was only going to be in Naoshima for a day I decided not to go to the museums but just to wander all over the place and discover all the urban art.

You don’t really need a map to guide yourself as you will be finding everything along the way.

The views that I enjoyed the most were nearby the Benesse House Museum as it’s a mix between small hills and sandy beaches.

Backpacking in Naoshima

The island definitely looks like a cool place for camping. I didn’t take my tent with me and I’m not sure it’s allowed to camp, but if you’re planning to do so, just wait until late in the day and I think it should be completely fine. As always, just leave no trace and take all your rubbish with you back to Okayama or another bigger town.

One art facility that was recommended to me was the I♥︎湯, this is a typical Japanese bath created by artist Shinro Ohtake. I love the Japanese Onsen tradition and went to lots of baths almost everywhere that I went. Unfortunately, my visit to Naoshima was on a Monday which is the only day of the week that this bath is closed, so if you are flexible with your dates make sure to check this place out!

public art installation

Finishing the one-day adventure in Naoshima

As I got a rainy day I decided to take the free shuttle bus from the Yellow Pumpkin to the Chichu Art Museum and then walk towards the Miyanoura Port.

This walk was not the most scenic of all as it has many sections just on a paved road bordered by tall trees which do not allow you to see the coast, but it’s not the end of the day as it take just 15-20 minutes to arrive to the Naoshima Pavillion and the Red Pumpkin which are next to the port.

things to do in Naoshima

If you love art and find yourself around the city of Okayama you should definitely check this place out! feel free to drop a comment if there’s anything else you’d like to know about things to do in Naoshima Island!

Check out the rest of my backpacking adventures in Japan for more inspiration on your next trip!

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