Prepping for a 2 night stay-over on the ‘Art’ Island of Naoshima, we decided to pack light overnight backpacks instead of slugging our rollers onto the boat. Turns out we travelled even lighter than intended, (but not in the furry friends department):
Our first night was spent in one of these rather gorgeous looking yurts on the beach.
Looks however can be deceptive when it comes to experience! Due to a huge rainstorm, sleeping in said yurt was rather too reminiscent of overnighting in a tin bunker during a tsunami. Not even my industrial earplugs could keep the battering on our roof at bay. It got so cold that we could see our breath, so we bunked up together, and shivered our way through till dawn.
As morning broke, we couldn’t work out if our headaches were caused by the extreme temperature, the craft beer from the previous night, or gas poisoning from the kerosene heater.
Nothing could keep our spirits down for long though as the Lewis Banks family arrived that morning!
Here we all are by the archetypal yellow pumpkin (one of many on the island by Yaoi Kusama): Rachel, Joe, Catrin, Bella, Alexa, me, Millie and James. Happy days to have such wonderful friends join us for a week, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to see them after a much anticipated build up.
Our first afternoon together comprised much frantic gassing, alongside a lovely wander around some of the outdoor exhibits. The younger contingent were somewhat skeptical of the validity of some of this particular ‘rock art’, and they may be on to something as Naoshima was curated as a bespoke tourist attraction rather than whatever else would constitute a more authentic site (??). Yet it has garnered a reputation as a prime Japanese destination (both locally and internationally) for art devotees, and it seems that ever increasing numbers of trendy artsy types continue to make the pilgrimage.
We visited the Chichu museum next. Its building is an indisputable artwork in itself, whether you love or hate proliferation of concrete angles! It is built directly into a southern portion of the island, mostly underground to avoid affecting the beautiful natural scenery of the Seto Inland sea. Despite being primarily subterranean, the museum lets in an abundance of natural light that changes the appearance of the artworks and the ambience of each of the spaces, by season, time of day and weather. It is home to 5 of Monet’s Waterlilies, and 4 other modern and interactive exhibits. Chichu provoked a good amount of discussion in our broader group around ‘what is art’, and how tastes can vary.
Walking home, we passed this giant rubbish bin, which raised the question from the tween skeptics: art rubbish or rubbish art?
No one could dispute the beauty of these gardens which were inspired by the Monet collection:
…. or the fun of the red pumpkin which you can pop out of like a worm!
A cute elephant is always a winner….
…and the charm of the famous yellow pumpkin really grew on me. There is something so out of place, and yet so familiar and peaceful about it.
The 4 girls had a lovely few hours playing fantasy games on the beach while the grown ups lingered in the Chichu and discovered (bonus!) the cafe served Sancerre in the sun.
We walked back to our hotel via this fabulous cove, and proceeded to enjoy an evening of slurping ramen in a very local and steamy cafe, followed by the first of many sleepovers.
The other ‘unmissable’ museum on Naoshima is the Benesse which houses as far as we could tell some very fun and thought provoking modern art masterpieces both from Japan and around the world. We took a new strategy with the girls letting them explore as a 4some, free of our tiresome leading questions and educational comments, with the one proviso that they were able to articulate afterwards something that they liked (and why), or the opposite. There was a lot of fodder for figuring out what was what and what might have been in the mind of the artist.
Eg this “World Flag Ant Farm”, a series of 49 flags made of coloured sand, connected by tunnels that allowed colonies of ants to tunnel and make their nests through the frames, thereby altering the images of the flags. We came up with all sorts of political statements that it could be making! The meaning and value of borders between nations and the effects of migration?
And then there were these guys who just went ‘chatter chatter chatter’ through their constantly moving jaws except when they occasionally burst into song. The girls found them quite annoying….
And then there was this one that flashed up a lot of swearwords in different patterns which obviously triggered much consternation!
All in all we were impressed with how much the girls took in, and how they formed somewhat individual perspectives on what they had seen and what it might mean, or might mean to them.
We moved on next to the town of Himeji, where we dined at a very local (read brave) tempura restaurant.. No one was brave enough to have the tongue tempura, but we ate deep-fried-just-about-everything-else, and went to bed feeling slightly greasy.
The destination attraction in Himeji is Japan’s largest castle, surrounded by this majestic moat:
The castle exudes delicate ornate splendour, and at this time of year it appears to float above a bed of cherry blossom.
Hoards of schoolchildren were visiting too, and we were somewhat in awe of their orderliness and neatness, although this should by now not come as such a surprise!
If only we could have got the girls into some dresses today (still gorgeous, all 4 of them, but better if you can block out the ‘Gap’ branding on our two!)
Our next destination took us back to Kyoto, for another stroll down the Philosphers Walk, and we were blessed with a gloriously sunny morning for it.
Blossom floated dreamily down the river.
A fine selection of dogs were out and about in their finest:
And there were water-side performers, this one with a mesmerising performance:
After a quick temple stop……
…..we hit the otter cafe. Rachel is a lifelong lover of these furry creatures and we are now all fully converted. They were so gentle and playful, picking up snacks delicately with their hands and throwing back their heads to snap their jaws to chew before swallowing. They rolled around on the floor and stopped to have their stomach’s tickled. Amazing experience to interact with these cheeky creatures, and for anyone worried about animal welfare, they were are taken to the owners home at night to get some peace and quiet and enjoy more space.
And the next excitement was to meet Emi, Nanae and Kana, in the middle of Nishiki market (intentionally although also fortuitously given what a zoo it is in there). We picked at some tasty morsels before heading out for a real meal.
Caption: Tonights sleepover took a 3 way slant!
Daddy daycare on tour took the girls rock climbing next morning while the mums split for more templage, or in my case some coffee and e-mail.
They managed some impressive bouldering.
Kana, Rachel and Joe took the girls on an unfortunately long bus journey (where the girls apparently impressed other tourist travellers with their knowledge of the Geisha scene (U-version))….
….. to see the fabulous Golden Temple (which James and I had already visited with Simon).
Pre-dinner, the Monico contingent embarked on one of James’s crazy schemes, this one to travel (tired and after a long day of sightseeing) to a highly salubrious suburb of Kyoto, in the miserable drizzle, to buy wellies for Sumatra. I’m sure we’ll thank him later!
We dined that night at the top of a tower which had these illuminated steps from the 12th to the 8th floor. Fun times skipping along them despite the persistent rain!
Snoopy became a ever more omnipresent theme of our lovely time with the Lewis Banks’s – what better little character to join with Monicofamilytravels!
Leaving Kyoto represented a farewell to the Sakura. We really were blessed to see so much of this stunning natural phenomenon, as the timing for bloom is precarious and you’d have to be very lucky to time a 2 week trip and get it spot on.
The best part of all though was sharing it with our friends!