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The ‘art island’ of Naoshima on the Seto Inland Sea is a must-visit for art lovers, particularly during the Setouchi Art Triennale. Travel consultant Natalie Collar slept soundly in two of the most unusual places to stay during the festival: the swish Benesse House and quirky Tsutsujiso yurts. But which came out top?
Where to stay on Naoshima
The beautiful, art island of Naoshima is home to the amazing Chichu and Benesse Art Museums as well as many art house projects, local environmental projects, and a very cute hot spring bath called I Love Yuu. Every three years, Naoshima and the surrounding islands in the Seto Inland Sea are home to the Setouchi Triennale. This art-focused festival of sorts has pop-up exhibits and special events on many islands otherwise inaccessible to tourists. 2019 is Triennale year, and with it comes a huge increase in tourists and a higher-than-usual demand for accommodation.
I was lucky enough to stay at two well-known hotels in the main area of Tsumura (home to the Yayoi Kusama pumpkin): Benesse House and Tsutsujiso.
Benesse House, Naoshima island
Known for sleek and uncluttered style, the Tadao Ando-designed Benesse House attracts artists and luxury travellers from around the world at all times of year. Upon arrival, the entryway steps are decorated with a beautiful glass display.
The journey to the front desk continues up open staircases, past art and gift shops and through dark hallways with art displays. The grand welcome continues with friendly and knowledgeable staff at the front desk and guests are escorted to their rooms by hotel staff.
A private wet room, bath towel robs, mini-bar, and ocean view are just some of the popular features of the Park rooms. Benesse House also has a complimentary shuttle to the main island areas, including the Chichu Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, Honmura, and the ferry port of Miyanoura. In the evening, you can make restaurant reservations at either the French-themed Terrace Restaurant or the Japanese-style Issen Restaurant.
Tsutsujiso, Naoshima island
Just a hop, skip, and jump away from Benesse House, waits the charming Tsutsujiso, home to yurts, caravans, and traditional Japanese rooms. Many rooms have beachside views at a much more affordable price than most resorts in Japan. Greeted by the owners at the check-in desk, you’ll be shown the layout of the site and given keys to your room, or in my case, my own personal yurt.
Meal options are minimal, so it’s best to grab something from town and then take a city bus back. You could also grab a snack or bowl of ramen at the hotel shop to cook in your yurt.
Access to town is a bit more logistically challenging from the yurts, since there is no complimentary shuttle and city buses stop running pretty early in the evening.
Amenities at the yurts are limited, but that’s part of the charm for guests who like to “rough it”. Here are pictures of the public showers (100 yen for 10 minutes) and bathrooms:
Getting there: Transport
From both, you can catch a city bus to the rest of the island, or the two main ports if you want to visit other art islands. You can also avoid the line of tourists at the Yayoi Kusama pumpkin and snap a sunrise or sunset picture.
Staying in a piece of art has its perks—a free shuttle to the ports and town centre as well as exclusive access to Benesse Museum in the evenings until 11pm and on Mondays, when everything else on Naoshima closes. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience and a must-see hotel for anyone interested in art, architecture, and design.
Unlike Benesse House, the yurts are much closer to the beach, so guests can fall asleep and wake up to the soft sound of the waves gently crashing on the shore, and staying in yurts offers travellers a fun, adventurous stay for a fraction of the cost.
Setouchi Art Triennale
It’s hard to compare apples with oranges, and who would want to when you can have them both on this art-tastic island! In 2019, the year of the Setouchi Triennale, Naoshima is a trending destination for everyone, not just artsy folks. To experience staying on the island, either of these offer a comfortable stay and memorable experience. Plan early whenever you go – hotels on Naoshima are slim and tend to fill up quickly.
Dreaming of Naoshima? We don’t blame you. Explore Japan’s art scene on our Japan Arts Trail Self-Guided Adventure or get in touch to find out more about visiting the Setouchi Arts Triennale.