What is this place called Naoshima?

naoshima view

Naoshima (直島 ) is a small group of islands located in the Seto Inland Sea with just 3000 inhabitants. The largest of these was until recently becoming a barren, post-industrial site, before it was transformed and redeveloped into Japan’s ‘Art Island’.

Cue a landscape dreamed up by concrete-megastar architect Tadao Ando with huge inkblot-spotted pumpkin sculptures - courtesy of Yayoi Kusama - dotted around the place.

It’s now a cultural hotspot whose art-based attractions draw hordes of tourists, with nearly a million people visiting its famous Triennale festival alone.

naoshima view


But Japanese summers are hot … so the question is :

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Can you swim in Naoshima?

The answer is thankfully, yes.



naoshima view


It’s not the most publicised attraction on the island but there is a designated sandy, swimming beach area.

What’s more, the location of Gotanji Bathing Beach (琴反地海水浴場) is perfect. It’s at the far south of the island, right in front of Tsutsuji-so resort (直島ふるさと海の家つつじ荘) the same shuttle bus jump-on/off point as Benesse House, Lee Ufan, and Chichu art museums. These will be on most visitors itineraries already.



naoshima main beaach info


Being honest, those expecting a first-class swimming experience at Gotanji may be disappointed, but it’s a beach with plenty to offer, especially for swimmers with kids. All the infrastructure is there: showers to rinse off the pleasant, dark-yellow, Seto sand, a swish cafe and shops, a nice terrace for lazing around ... and (our favourite part!) a floating platform in the sea for some cheeky jumps.

In the water, there are some fine, clear spots where the water is less seaweed-infested with good visibility, and swimming south, you can find yourself alone in your own private cove.



naoshima main beach info


As you may need to wait half an hour for your shuttle bus, it would be a crime not to have a quick swim-while-you-wait. You can even contemplate one of those Kusama Pumpkins while swimming.

Our investigations found four more locations that are perfect for a scenic sea swim.

naoshima view

Secret Beach Number One is in the Honmura (本村港) area to the east of the island, near the Ando Museum. More precisely, it’s right in front of the Go’O Shrine Project  (護王神社) though access from there is not so easy as there’s a bit of a drop.

From Go’O Shrine, head back towards the bus-route road and walk only 150 metres along with the sea to your left (heading south). You’ll quickly find a usually-deserted beach with a small sandbank. Jump the fence and you’re there. It’s pretty good, but a little grassy gets some seaweed, and may have a little driftwood washed up on its small shoreline.

naoshima bus

In the southern, Benesse House (ベネッセハウス) area not far from Gotanji Swimming beach and of course that bus stop, you’ll find Secret Beach Number Two, which is so long that it’s actually broken into two sections, separated by a little rocky crag. While definitely beautiful, and with much clearer water, it’s a little less private than that first spot.

It’s easily accessed by following the coastal road just west of Gotanji beach to Seaside Gallery (シーサイドギャラリー) and from here head to the Shipyard Works sculptures (シップヤード・ワークス 船尾と穴 and  シップヤード・ワークス 切断された船首). The smaller section of Secret Beach Number Two is right in front of them. The larger section is either a short swim or clamber around the crag, or accessed directly in front of the Rock Sculpture Garden (見えて/見えず 知って/知れず) exhibit.

naoshima view

Secret Beach Number Three is not really so secret - it’s called Uchigahama Beach Resort (!) (内ヶ浜海水浴場). But it’s hardly used, and very close to Miyanoura Port (宮浦港) which makes it convenient for a final swim on the island while waiting for the ferry. It’s a 5-10 minute walk south from there, just past Naoshima Pavilion (直島パヴィリオン) on the opposite direction of the road leading you to Honmura/eastern area.

The beach is quite small but at under ten minutes on foot from port, unarguably convenient. With a view of the busy port from the sand it’s not the best view but the waters are calm. What’s more you’ll probably have it all to yourself.

naoshima view

Secret Beach Number Four is also convenient for a pre-Miyanoura ferry swim. To get there head northbound, the other way along the same road and follow the coast until you arrive at Seaside House Noumi guesthouse (シーサイドハウス能見). Either jump the wall or turn right and follow the track to get there. This one’s a beauty with clean sands but it’s directly in front of some kind of industrial building. For all the hassle you’re better off sticking with Number Three, we reckon.

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Where is Naoshima?



naoshima view

Naoshima is situated roughly half way between Osaka and Hiroshima, and while it is geographically nearer to Honshu island, it’s actually a part of north Shikoku island’s Kagawa Prefecture.

The island is located in the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海), which is nicknamed ‘Japan’s Mediterranean’ due to its calm, mild waters and climate.  

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How do I get to Naoshima?

Day trips are possible and simple from Hiroshima, Osaka or Kyoto on Honshu. It would be a bit challenging to leave and come back to Tokyo in the same day, and besides, any reason to stop by Kansai should be taken!

Naoshima-bound tourists from Honshu should travel from Uno Port (宇野港), in Okayama Prefecture. Getting there is straightforward.



naoshima view


First, get to Okayama Station (岡山駅), which is easily reached via the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen (JR Pass holders watch out! You cannot take the fastest, Nozomi Shinkansen on this route).

From Okayama station you have two main routes to Uno Port.

* JR local trains on the JR Uno Line (宇野線). Do check before you depart as sometimes changing at Chayamachi Station along the way speeds up the journey-the 2 trains are on the same platform so it is really not a problem.



naoshima view


* Buses drive direct to Uno Station from Okayama Station. Don’t worry you can buy your ticket on the bus - it’s slightly cheaper if you’ve a JR Suica-type card to scan.

Both of these take you to Uno Station (宇野駅) , which is not more than 100 metres north of Uno Port. There’s a convenient convenience store (7/11) in between the two for stocking up on beers and snacks for the ride.



naoshima view


Regular ferries (every 30 minutes) leave Uno Port for Naoshima and take just 20 minutes. It’s cheap at 290 JPY one way / 560 JPY return. At the Naoshima end, you can choose boats bound for either Miyanaura Port (on the west side) or Honmura Port (本村港, on the east).

It’s possible to get to Naoshima via ferries from Takamatsu on Shikoku Island, and to island-hop there with links from Seto Inland Sea neighbours Inoujima (犬島), Teshima (豊島) which have also developed some art attractions. Here’s the ferry timetable with full details and prices of all ferries.

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Useful bits




naoshima onsen


Arguably no decent destination in Japan is complete without an onsen, and the ‘Art Island’ of Naoshima doesn’t disappoint us with its own take. We recommend I♥︎湯 (pronounced I love yu) for one of the most unique Onsen experiences you could hope for.

Its mosaics, baths, walls, roof and even the toilets were created by the artist Shinro Ohtake.

It’s a psychedelic, recycled daydream where you can bathe alongside all manner of kitsch objects and collage: who could refuse to get in the bath with a huge elephant statue? Tattoos are allowed. The bath is just 5 mins on foot from Miyanoura Port so it’s perfect for washing off the beach and getting a final dose of culture before your ferry.



naoshima view


Keen wild swimmers might have noticed Higori Pond (広木池) right in the middle of the island, next to Chichu art Museum. It’s not recommended, mainly just because it’s most probably forbidden and so not worth the security alert headache. Also, the water is a little stagnant, but that’s OK - The Labyrinth of Cherry Blossom is right next to it, and super fun even when it is not the sakura season!



naoshima view


Renting bikes is possible and an easy way to follow the coast and find your own quiet place to swim. Book online in advance, as even arriving first thing in the morning doesn’t guarantee you’ll manage to get one. These guys (TVC) are friendly and start from a reasonable 500 JPY per day for basic or 1500 JPY for one of those fancy motorized jobs. Ogiwa are nextdoor and offer the same sort of deals. They also do overnight, multiple day, and even scooter or car rental and are right next to Miyanoura Port.

Speaking of advance bookings, since August 1st 2018 Chichu Art Museum must be booked online before you go. It would surely be a shame to not be able to contemplate the “Water Lilies” series in the Monet Room before you get shouted at for jumping in the pond, wouldn’t it?

Those who wish to stay overnight could do worse than the Kazuhiro Ishi-built Tsutsujiso which features glamping-style yurts, cottages and more, right on the Gotanji beach. It has great ocean views, and not unreasonable prices for the location. Details.

Finally, a food tip. Kagawa Prefecture is most famous for its chewy, satisfying, chunky udon which is cut square. Try it at Kinosaki Udon Naoshima (内ヶ浜海水浴場), near Miyanoura! Noodles from 280 JPY.

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Where to stay in Naoshima?

Booking.com
naoshima

How would you rate Naoshima as a swimming spot?
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