6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan – Naoshima (直島)

Naoshima – Where art and life intertwine

Greetings! Welcome to the third installment of our series about unusual but fantastic places in Japan. Today we are going to talk about the art of the island of Naoshima, an island in the Kagawa prefecture, looking over the Seto inland sea. Naoshima is filled with places devoted to modern art. Below is just a selection of the possible locations to visit.

One of the art pieces on Naoshima

One of the art pieces on the island

Museums

We’ll start off with the Chichu Art Museum designed by Ando Tadao (安藤 忠雄). It houses artwork from Claude Monet in the form of large murals, James Turell’s “Open Sky” room and the “Time/Timeless/No Time” installation by Walter de Maria. Most of the museum is built underground and uses natural light to make the art pieces visible. A unique viewing experience!

aerial view of the Chichu museum

aerial view of the Chichu museum

Next is the Benesse House, which is at the same time a resort hotel and a modern art museum. Outside the museum and guest rooms even more art can be found: about twenty pieces of art can be found in the surrounding area, which consist of lawns and beaches. All of this comes with a price though, as one night costs about 25.000 yen (about 190 euro).

some of the guest rooms at nightfall

some of the guest rooms at nightfall

Lastly we introduce you to the 007 Museum, a museum dedicated to the James Bond novel ‘the man with the red tattoo” by Raymond Benson. The museum hopes to attract enough attention to the novel so that it would be made into a movie. Art of actual Bond films is also displayed, next to fan art of the novel.

cover art of the novel

cover art of the novel

Art House Project

On the eastern coast of Naoshima lies the port town of Honmura, which houses the Art House Project. This project consists of several abandoned houses, workshops, a temple and a shrine which have been changed into art installations and offer a place for modern art artists to host a venue. Most of the buildings look normal from the outside and blend in perfectly with the scenery, but inside artists have changed things around. In the center of town you can find the Honmura Lounge, where you can find all of the information about the project and the artists.

a miniature statue of liberty inside one of the houses

a miniature statue of liberty inside one of the houses

Art festival

Naoshima is also one of the islands that hold the Setouchi Triennial, an art festival held on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea every three years. It is held over the course of three seasons (spring to autumn) and exhibits 100 new artworks by Japanese and international artists. The artworks are found on different sites on the islands and often abandoned houses or places have been used to make a new piece of art. The next Triennale is planned for this year and starts on March 20th. No reason not to visit this place anymore!

the Seto inland Sea

the Seto inland Sea

Getting there and getting around

Naoshima is easily accessible by ferry from Uno on the main island or Takamatsu on Shikoku. The island itself is quite small and all museums, ports and the two towns can be reached on foot within the hour. If biking is more your thing, fear not! Bike rental is available in Miyanoura port, with the option of electric bikes. This might come in handy as the island is quite hilly.

the island from above

the island from above

Though the main focus of the island is art, nothing stops you from exploring the island further. It has a nice Mediterranean climate and a relaxing day at the beach or a mountain hike is not out of the question. Either way, when you are exhausted you can always end your day at the cat cafe Nyaoshima in Honmura!

one of the cats in cafe nyaoshima

one of the cats in cafe nyaoshima

On this note we end our quick look into Naoshima. As always, feel ree to comment or send us a mail is you have any questions!

6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan- Miyakojima (宮古島)

Miyakoshima – sun, sand and sea

Our next stop in “6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan” is Miyakojima (宮古島). Miyakojima is an island roughly 300 km southwest of Okinawa island and 400 km east of Taiwan. Instead of the lush forests and relaxing onsen we talked about in our article about Yakushima, here you will find beautiful beaches and great snorkeling and diving spots.

Location of Miyakojima

Location of Miyakojima.

Beaches

Though the island has an abundance of sunlit beaches, each worthy of talking about, Maehama Beach and Sunuyama Beach are known as the best to visit. The former is located in the southwestern corner of the island and is ranked as one of the best beaches in Japan. Its white sand stretches 7 kilometers long and is ideal for watching the sunset.The latter of the two is a small beach 4 kilometers north of Hirara. At the bottom of a sand dune, you will find a view of clear blue waters, rocky formations and a large stone arch perfect for those that like some shade to their beach trip.

The stone arch at Sunayama Beach

The stone arch at Sunayama Beach.

Lovers of diving and snorkeling should visit Yoshino Beach at the eastern corner of the island. It is said this beach has the highest concentration of colorful fish on the island. Just off the beach starts a large coral reef filled with marine life. A perfect spot for starting and veteran divers alike.

the reef at Yoshino Beach

The reef at Yoshino Beach.

Other places to visit

Should you ever get tired of the sun, or you forgot your sun protection lotion there are still places to visit on Miyakoshima. The Miyakojima City Botanical Garden houses over 1600 tropical plants which you can discover on a leisurely stroll. If plants are not for you, maybe the Miyako Traditional Arts & Crafts Centre might pique your interest. On the second floor of this museum is a workshop where they still teach the traditional technique of minsa-weaving. Explores amongst us can rent a car and visit sites like the Tuyumya grave or Cape Higashi-Hennazaki, where a lone lighthouse awaits at the end of the 2 kilometer long peninsula. Finally they can also drive to three of the four smaller islands of Miyakojima connected by kilometers long bridges build over the sea.

Cape Higashi-Hennazaki

Cape Higashi-Hennazaki

How to get to Miyakojima

Since the Ferry services were discontinued in 2008 you can only get to Miyakoshima by plane from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Osaka’s Kansai Airport, Naha Airport on Okinawa Main Island and a few smaller airports on the Ishigaki and Tarama islands. Most hotels and resorts provide shuttle bus services from and to the airport. To get around the island it is recommended to rent a car, scooter or bicycle.

one of the bridges connecting the smaller islands to Miyakojima

one of the bridges connecting the smaller islands to Miyakojima.

This marks the end of our second unusual but fantastic place to visit in Japan. If you have any questions or remarks you can post them in the comments or send us a mail.

Japanese Prefectures – Hokkaido 北海道

Hokkaido – nature, hot springs and bathing monkeys

Today marks the start of our new column “Japanese prefectures” in which we present to you the different prefectures of Japan and show you that every prefecture has its own reasons to visit. Every month we will tackle one prefecture for you until we have written about all 47. We will start with the northernmost and second largest island of Japan, Hokkaido. This island is mostly known for its unspoiled nature, hot springs and the Ainu people.

The different prefectures and regions of Japan

The different prefectures and regions of Japan

Geography

As said before, Hokkaido is the northernmost and second largest island of Japan. It is also the largest prefecture. Hokkaido is separated from the rest of Japan by the Tsugaru Strait or the Tsugaru Kaikyō, however it is connected through an underground railway. The island borders the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotks and the Pacific Ocean. Hokkaido itself is often compared to northern Europe and has its fair share of mountains and volcanic plateaus. It also has quite some national parks and hot spring resorts. The most popular cities are its capital Sapporo and the two core cities Hakodate and Asahikawa. The climate is considered cooler than the rest of Japan and it is a  popular destination between May and August because of the lack of the typical Japanese rain season.

A map of Hokkaido

A map of Hokkaido

The island was first mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, the second oldest book of classical Japanese history that was published in 720 CE. Hokkaido was mostly settled by the Japanese during the last 100 years. Because of this the cities and architecture in Hokkaido are more modern than the rest of Japan. There were of course already some settlements but it was mostly inhabited by the Ainu people. The Ainu are thought to be the indigenous  people of Hokkaido and Russia. They live in a shamanistic culture with their own language and customs and are quite different from Japanese culture. They are extremely fascinating and Inari Press will definitely write about them in future articles.

The Ainu people

The Ainu people

Must-see locations

Hokkaido has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important for you.

As we have mentioned before, Hokkaido is the place to be for onsen lovers and at Jigokudani Monkey Park, the biggest onsen lovers are wild monkeys. The Jingokudani Monkey Park is, as you can derive from the name, a park that is the natural habitat of a group of Japanese Macaques. The name literally means “Hell Valley”, this is a common name that is used for Japanese valleys with volcanic activity. Most people visit this place to see the monkeys and it is recommended to visit them during the months of January and February. The area is covered in snow during that time of the year and you’ll most definitely be able to get the perfect view.

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Hokkaido is also known for its national parks. The largest of these parks is Daisetsuzan and with its 2.267 square kilometers, it is even bigger then some of the smaller prefectures in Japan. You can go there to hike or observe the local wildlife. The park is home to several rare species and has the largest population of brown bears in Asia. If you’re more of a chill-out person, you can always visit one of the many onsen in the park. The autumn colors and  snow here are the first to be seen in Japan each year.

Beautiful Daisetsuzan.

Beautiful Daisetsuzan.

If you are more into the city life, we recommend Sapporo. Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and is the fifth-largest city in Japan. It is very popular thanks to its beer, ramen and annual snow festival. You can even visit the local Sapporo Brewery. People who love Japanese cuisine, should certainly visit the Curb Market, you can find almost everything concerning food here. If you want to experience the nightlife, Susukino is the place to be. It is the largest entertainment district north of Tokyo and is packed with bars, karaoke shops and more.

The city of Sapporo.

The city of Sapporo.

As the final item on this list we decided to go above the clouds. The Unkai Terrace is a must-see place where you get the opportunity to literally sit above the clouds. There is even a small restaurant there so it is possible to have your breakfast while observing the clouds underneath. The Unkai Terrace is only open from mid-May to the end of October and is most definitely a place that you must see.

Breathtaking.

Breathtaking.

How to get there?

Going to Hokkaido is actually very easy. The only land link to the main land of Japan is though the Seikan Tunnel, so most people travel to Hokkaido by plane. The biggest airport in Hokkaido is the New Chitose Airport but there are six more airports throughout the island. Once you are on the island, you can always use the well-developed railway. It is recommended though to rent a car since most cities are only accessible by car.

How to travel around in Hokkaido.

How to travel around in Hokkaido.

This was our short intro to Hokkaido. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Hokkaido, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this site.

We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in February when we will tell you more about Aomori.

6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan – Yakushima (屋久島)

Yakushima – the place that inspired Studio Ghibli’s “Mononoke-hime”

To start off our bigger theme “6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan”, we chose Yakushima and its beautiful forest located in the Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine (白谷雲水峡). This subtropical island is located about 61,3 kilometers south of the Osumi Peninsula in southern Kyushu. It has been a natural World Heritage Site since 1993 and is covered by an extensive ancient cedar forest which contains some of Japan’s oldest trees. These trees are more than a 1000 years old and are called yakusugi (屋久杉), a combination of Yakushima’s ‘yaku’ and ‘sugi’, the Japanese word for cedar. The most ancient tree on the island, Jōmon Sugi, is even estimated to be between 2,170 and 7,200 years old. This island was one of the most inspiring places during the creation of Studio Ghibli’s movie “Mononoke-hime” and is known for its eerie sights and stunning nature.

Jomon sugi Yakushima

Jōmon Sugi, the largest conifer in Japan.

What is so special about Yakushima?

Yakushima is actually quite a rare sight. With a ecosystem unique in the Northern Hemisphere and an especially humid environment, the island is home to about 1,900 species and subspecies of flora, 16 mammal species and 150 bird species. It is the largest nesting ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle in the North Pacific and no record of tree cutting can be found in the Wilderness Core Area of the forest, which is over 12 square kilometers.

The beautiful Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta, Picasa Creative Commons / Joseph & Farideh)

The beautiful Loggerhead sea turtle.
(Caretta caretta, Picasa Creative Commons / Joseph & Farideh)

The first people to arrive in Yakushima,  came there during the Jōmon period (12,000 BCE – 300 BCE). The island was traditionally used for forestry and the export of wood products. Now, export of oranges, tea and shōchū, and tourism have replaced the role of income for the island. Yakushima’s centre is mostly dominated by mountains reaching almost 2,000 m high. From the coast up to the central peaks, a sequence of natural progression makes this place significant for biological, scientific and aesthetic reasons. The flora changes from a coastal vegetation with subtropical elements to cold-temperate bamboo grassland and a high moor near the summit.

A map of Yakushima

A map of Yakushima.

As mentioned before, the Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine is a very famous part of Yakushima. Visitors can find some of the ancient cedars here or choose their own route along the well maintained hiking trails. This part was also the inspiration for the forest scenes in Studio Ghibli’s movie “Mononoke-hime” and the lead artist, Oga Kazuo, spent quite some time in these forests working on sketches for the movie. The longest trail you can follow takes you through the forest to Jōmon Sugi  and back. It takes about twelve hours to finish and is one of the most difficult routes on Yakushima.

A typical sight on Yakushima

A typical sight on Yakushima.

Ofcourse, there is more to Yakushima than the cedar forests. People also visit the island to scuba dive or visit museums and onsen. There is also a route around the perimeter of the island for driving that gives a beautiful view of the island. Especially the western side of the island is worth it, the World Heritage Site reaches the sea there and you can drive right through it on very small paths. The onsen are also very special. They are only reachable a few hours before and after low tide, the other times the onsen are usually flooded.

A typical Yakushima onsen.

A typical Yakushima onsen.

How to get to Yakushima?

There are quite some possibilities if you want to visit Yakushima. Most people go to Kagoshima first, to take either a high speed boat, a car ferry or a plane to the island. Kagoshima can be reached by train or by plane from Tokyo. However, it is also possible to get a direct flight to Yakushima if you depart from Osaka or Fukuoka.

Location in Japan

Location in Japan.

This was our first unusual but fantastic place to visit in Japan. If you want to know more about the beautiful Yakushima, you can always leave us a comment, send us a mail or visit this page. If you ever get the chance to visit this wondrous place, just do it!