Gourds, gourds everywhere: a peek at Naoshima

“Can I do a day trip to Tokyo from Kyoto? To Okayama? To Kyushu?” I found myself musing one day, at a loss for what to do on a national holiday. I looked at bus routes, at trains, and then finally a lightbulb went over my head: anything is possible if you have a bullet train ticket.

Which is why my friends and I decided one early autumn day to make the trek to a little place called Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea.

Naoshima is known as a Modern Art island, where you can wander around and see various structures set up outside for you to marvel at and, in some cases, even mess with. There are countless museums, several cafes, a couple of guesthouses, and buses to get you everywhere you need. Or bicycles, if you’re into that whole biking on the road thing. (Spoiler: I’m not. I’m a chicken.)

Pictured: art! (You could move the squares so they captured the light in different ways.

Bright and early I arrived at Kyoto Station and went to the ticket office. The trip to Naoshima from Kyoto is three legs:

  1. Kyoto Station to Okayama Station
  2. Okayama Station to Uno Station in Okayama Prefecture
  3. Ferry from Uno to Naoshima

(Okayama, by the way, is a lovely place that I recommend you check out. I’ll post about it another time.)

Do you have a JR pass? Are you a tourist? Great! Use your JR pass and the first leg of the trip will be really cheap for you. For the rest of us who live in Japan, the one-way price for unreserved seating is 7,010 yen. If you want to reserve a regular seat, make that 7,850 yen. I opted for the former because I figured I could use that extra money for a cafe or whatever, and in the morning there were plenty of seats to choose from on the Nozomi bullet train (the fastest of the trains available).

We got to Okayama in about an hour, at which point we were faced with multiple options for getting to Uno. Regardless of what you do, it’ll take 45 minutes to an hour. We opted for the regular trains at 580 yen one-way. You can get slightly faster trains (those 45 minute deals) for about double the price, but we didn’t think it was worth it. The train was comfortable enough, albeit tiny!

Once at Uno, we were bombarded with friendly, English-speaking staff who saw our non-Japanese faces and ran at us full-tilt.

“Are you going to Naoshima? The ferry leaves in twenty minutes! Go this way!” one exclaimed, pointing dramatically at the ferry port (which was in sight).

“Here’s a brochure in English!” another added, shoving several into our hands.

“Go to the store over there for discounted souvenirs!” a third exclaimed.

We fled toward the ferry instead.

The ferry was the cheapest and fastest part of the journey- about 20 minutes at 290 yen one way. When you get on it, there are multiple floors for you to choose from, and lots of seating arrangements. When you get on, you’ll be greeted with adventurous music ala Jurassic Park that makes you question if you accidentally walked into a theme park.

Finally, you’ll arrive at Naoshima, likely at Miyanoura Port. Now the fun begins: finding all the little things there are to do here.

Aki-can (空き缶) art

First off, of course, there’s the outside art that I mentioned before. There are multiple gourd structures on the island of varying colors. Some of them are solid, but others are hollowed out so you can climb inside and take silly pictures. There are also mysterious modern-art things that I can’t possibly hope to understand as I am, admittedly, not a huge art person.

ART!

(Reader: Why did you bother going if you’re not into ar-
Me: Shhh, don’t question it, just go with it.)

In addition to the outdoor stuff, there are the countless museums. Some are good only if you’re purely into the museum-going thing. We popped into one place, the Ando Museum, that was all of two rooms and cost us 500 yen-not massively recommended. There are other, much more interesting places to see: the Benesse House, the Chichu Museum, the Art House Project, etc. However, keep in mind these are expensive options- plan to pay as much as 2,000 yen for entry!

You can even hit up a bathhouse, cleverly titled, “I love Yu.” (Yu, or 湯、 means hot water, so it’s a play on words.) While bathing with strangers you can enjoy yet more modern art built into the place. I believe they switch up the men and women’s sides regularly so you can theoretically come back to view the other side without causing a scandal.

What did I like about the island most, though? Two things.

One: this little cafe/sleeping space called Shimacoya we found while looking for a place to take a break. It’s by the water, though you can’t see the sea from it. Part of it is a cluttered little book cafe and the other part is an old-style Japanese house with wooden flooring where you’re meant to pitch a little tiny tent indoors to sleep in if you stay.

Yes. A tent. Under a roof.

It was a quiet space, and the sun hit the area just right that me and my traveling companions all expressed the sudden urge to take a nap despite just having helped ourselves to some coffee. The staff were fairly friendly, and offer an unusual option on the menu: Hato Coffee, or Pigeon Coffee. Fear not! It isn’t made with pigeons. It is instead coffee with caramel syrup included. Why caramel = pigeons? Who knows.

Two: The shores of this island. It was a really gorgeous day, obnoxiously bright, and the weather was warm. I took so many pictures of the water hitting the sand, of the sunlight bouncing off of various things. It was truly lovely.

Would I go again? Nah, maybe not. I’m fairly satisfied with all I saw and did there.

Would I recommend the trip to others? Yeah! Even if you need something a bit more budget-friendly, there are buses you can take instead that’ll get you there from Kyoto in about 3.5 hours. I know that sounds like a lot but considering the number of buses in the States that offer day trips from say, D.C. to New York City? I think it’s doable for some.

 

Avoiding crowds during Golden Week

I’m going to put the TL;DR right here at the top of this article: you can’t really. Just grit your teeth and bear it as best you can.

Okay, back to actually talking about this.

Golden Week is a series of holidays in Japan and other Asian countries that fall very closely together, so often the government just writes off an entire week in spring as one big holiday and calls it a day. Generally this falls around the end of April/start of May, perfect weather for sightseeing.

And you and everybody else in Japan knows this.

Prices for transportation go up, shops put everything on sale, and everybody buckles down for the first big wave of sightseers for the year, especially in Kansai.

So! If you’re in a place that’s popular for tourism this Golden Week, here are some tips to help you survive it.

  1. Get out of town. Whether you’re staying with a friend in the countryside, visiting another country entirely, or just heading out on a day trip, this can make the difference in your sanity. If you live in a big city like Osaka, heading off to a small suburban area for the day or looking up smaller, not-as-famous temples and shrines to visit would be a good choice.
  2. Avoid all brand-name shops and cafes. You know the ones I’m talking about; the ones that you’ll see in every country, that often provide free wi-fi to those in need. While they are lovely and helpful to the weary traveler, that is exactly why you should avoid them or, at best, order anything you want to go. Finding seats in these places will be next to impossible unless you’ve already followed the advice of step number 1. Take Golden Week as your chance to branch out and find cafes and restaurants that you don’t normally check out. You might find somewhere new to become a regular at!
  3. Hide. While not recommended overly (see my point about the weather being awesome) this can really help you deal with the crazy crowds in town. Stay inside for a day; order delivery food, invite someone over, watch a movie, nap, whatever.
  4. Practice your murder face. This is also good for everyday use. In my experience, while people in Osaka and Kobe know how to walk, people in Kyoto do not. They never walk, they meander. Usually they pick up speed just enough to get in front of you, then spread out and refuse to let you pass while they walk as slowly as possible. Grr. Anyway, latent “sidewalk rage” aside, learn how to square your shoulders, duck your head, and scowl as if you’ve been denied coffee. While it might not affect the meanderers in front of you, it will make a difference in the ones coming from the other direction and they will get out of your way. Unless they are sightseers doing the same thing. Then, y’know.
  5. Get out early. If you have to go out, get out first thing in the morning. Yes, sleeping in is lovely, but if you want to get to wherever you’re going before everybody else does, enduring an early day can make the difference between enjoying your destination and wanting to kick other people in the shins.
  6. Try to get in the spirit of things. It’s a holiday; we’re all out to enjoy the weather, we’re all out to see things we don’t normally get to. Crowds will happen. Go to your brand name store, buy an overpriced snack or drink, meander along the streets with your earbuds in, and give the harried clerks at the stores a little patience.

My plans to handle this Golden Week are a mix of the above; I’m going out of town for a couple of daytrips, I’m hiding for one or two days, and I’m told my murder face is on point.

Good luck to everyone else in surviving (and hopefully enjoying) your Golden Week holiday!

Long time no see!

Hello, blog! It’s been quite a long time- a couple of months in fact. How time flies when you’re scrambling to get everything done, eh? Well, things are much calmer in my life now, so I’m back to give this another go.

What’s been going on? Well, as I mentioned before, I was attempting two very large things in November 2015: completing NaNoWriMo, and studying for the JLPT. I have done both before, and succeeded at both before. However, trying to do both at the same time? 0/10 not recommended!

Still, somehow I managed to pull through, and what happened immediately afterward? The holidays. *dun dun duuun*

Present-shopping, party-going, food-eating, plane-riding, family-meeting, picture-taking holidays. And here I thought once December hit I’d be good as gold and able to get back into the swing of things. But! Now it’s January, and things really have calmed down. For now. So! I will be getting back into the swing of posting weekly if possible.

My goal for this year is to be as consistent as possible with Stefanie, What?! A secondary but also important goal is I’d like to reach out to some bloggers that I’ve followed over the past few years and show a little more appreciation for their efforts in keeping the rest of us entertained and informed with whatever they choose to share with us. This starts now.

Hope you all had great holidays, and see you next week!