Well after a slight hitch and quick flight change, I arrived in Japan one day later than originally planned. Not a big deal, easy to make up time when needed.
I took a Jetstar flight in the end, managed to get business class ticket for next to nothing, and I must say I was impressed with the service, much better than any domestic Jetstar flight I had ever had the misfortune of undertaking. I had flown into Kansai International in Osaka, but due to my day-later-than-planned arrival, Osaka was just going to be an overnight and first thing in the morning it was the Bullet Train to Okayama. Within minutes of arrival at Kansai, there was no escaping the Japanese “quirkiness”. The bus from the airport to downtown Osaka was called “the Salad Express” complete with pictures of various salad vegetables……
One of the big things in Japan is the old formal gardens. My first stop was the Korakuen Gardens, dating from around 1700, when the then feudal lord Ikeda Tunamasa had the 133,000 square metre gardens created. Certainly a stunning site, with the Okayama Castle sitting above the whole scene. Unfortunately drizzling but persistent rain impeded my visit.
The Edo Period of Japanese history, running from 1603 to 1868, has left its legacy on modern Japan in many ways. For the traveller one of the best ways to experience the atmosphere of Edo Period Japan is a visit to Kurashiki. The Kurashiki River was once used by small boats to transfer goods (primarily rice) from ships anchored further out along the coast. The river bank was lined with warehouses and rice store houses, which today have been turned into museums, art galleries, restaurants, cafes and shops. You can soak up the atmosphere of pre-modern Japan whilst shopping, eating, drinking and generally enjoying the surrounds of the canal area. It’s a great spot just to wander around and take it all in.
old rice store houses now part of the Ohara Museum
these lilies reportedly come from Monet’s pond…..
Now Okayama and these places we have just discussed are about an hour inland from the coast. And this coast opens up into the stunning Seto Inland Sea. There a dozens of islands of various sizes but one of them stands out for it’s uniqueness, and that is Naoshima. My “Limousine-Bus” was able to “drive” to Naoshima courtesy of a regular ro/ro ferry service. 10 minutes on the ferry and then we were driving on Naoshima.
What makes Naoshima so unique is a group of artists and a wealthy benefactor have basically taken an island which was an industrial waste dump with a small fishing village and turned it into an “art space”. As well as formal galleries housing everything from Monet’s to Japanese artists, open spaces around the island have sculptures or other art works placed all around the place. And then to top it off, in conjunction with the local village, 100-300 yr old houses have been converted into “art spaces” as well. So through out the village old traditional houses have been turned into modern pieces of art without losing the appeal of the old world style. Benesse Corporation (one of the largest education companies in Japan and based in Okayama) has directed the creation and operation of the island's museums and other projects since the late 1980s. The whole look and feel of the island is quite unique.
an open art space in the Chuchi Museum by Tadao Ando
an outdoor art-space by Cai Guo-Qiang
this series of seascape paintings by Hiroshi Sugimoto continued beyond the Benesse Gallery onto the cliff face
the two iconic pumpkins of Naoshima by Yayoi Kusama
But the absolute highlight of Naoshima was Benesse House. This is the hotel on the island which is also just full of “art-spaces”. It’s like no other place I have ever stayed. The rooms were great, although no TV, no Internet – part of the whole art experience.
Watch this video to get the bizarre feeling of a hotel that is also an art gallery/museum. This was part of the walk from my room to the restaurant.But the absolute cream on the cake, the final point that gave Naoshima the big tick from me was dinner at the Benesse House restaurant. This would have to rate as one of the best meals I have ever had. The Beef Cheek in Beer main course was so soft and delicate it was impossible to eat with a fork, it melted when you touched it. And the Tuna Tartare with all the bizarre additives was a total flavour explosion – to get the Tuna with every single added flavour was totally mind blowing. It was just an amazing dining experience to round off my visit to Naoshima – a bizarre art island in Japan!
plus capers, cream, avocado mousse, balsamic vinegar and lemon sauce