Art & Culture

Art Meets Nature Meets History in the Seto Inland Sea

Art Meets Nature Meets History in the Seto Inland Sea

Setouchi’s world-renowned art islands were never just about art. Even before they were infused with the artworks that have since made them famous, they were part of a natural seascape and ecosystem whose beauty stands on its own. Over the past centuries, these granite islands have been the site of maritime trade, seafood aquaculture, copper smelting, olive farming, spiritual pilgrimages, and more recently, the international Setouchi Triennale.

Since the mid-1990s, their natural and cultural history has been brought to life through open-air art installations, site-specific sculptures, and the many permanent and temporary artworks that inhabit renovated buildings and avant-garde architecture in a creative counterpoint with the natural environment. So no need to wait for the next Triennale—simply venture out to the many islands between Japan’s Honshu and Shikoku, and you will see that any time is ripe to discover the ever-changing beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.

Charter a Private Yacht to Go Island-hopping in Style


Start your trip in Okayama prefecture at Uno Port and embark on a luxury catamaran to go island-hopping in style at your own pace. In Setouchi’s mild climate, chartering a private yacht gives you the time and privilege to kick back and leisurely enjoy the scenic journey among the islands, where the tranquil seascape is a natural work of art.

Seto Yacht Charter can take you and your party along a customized route to the most famous art islands in the Seto Inland Sea—Naoshima, Teshima, Inujima, and Shodoshima. So, you can forget about ferry schedules, sail away from the crowds, and leave the navigating to the captain. The yacht is a self-contained villa that can accommodate up to 10 people for a few hours, all day, or overnight (up to 6 people), complete with an air-conditioned dining salon, spacious open deck, fully equipped kitchen, and contemporary double cabins with en-suite shower and bathroom.Eat a catered picnic lunch on board or land, or indulge in the culinary creations of a private chef, who will make the best use of fresh fruits, including peaches and citrus, and fresh seafood featuring local sea bream.

See Art and Architecture Collide on Naoshima


©Naoshima Pavilion Owner_Naoshima Town Architect_Sou Fujimoto Architects|Photo_Jin Fukuda

The town of Naoshima is actually made up of 27 small islands, and Sou Fujimoto’s Naoshima Pavilion (直島パヴィリオン) could be considered the 28th. Its geometric form consists of approximately 250 pieces of triangular stainless steel mesh. At night, the glowing sculpture is lit up to create the impression of a floating island, its angled silhouette mirrored on the surface of invisible water.


While most towns have “Michi-no-Eki” roadside stations where travelers can rest, restock and refresh, the main island of Naoshima has its very own art-inspired “Umi-no-Eki” marine station where visitors can shop for local products and take a break at the seaside café. The wide single-story building with its thin steel-plate roof and transparent walls was designed by architects SANAA as an elegant entrance hall to the famous art island at Miyanoura Port, heralded by Yayoi Kusama’s iconic red spotted pumpkin on the edge of the dock.

Spend a Mindful Moment on Teshima

Bike along Teshima’s main road to better appreciate its rolling terrain through rural fields, culminating at a teetering hilltop that preludes a dramatic descent toward the sea and onto another small village filled with artistic installations.


©ART SETOUCHI: Ryo Abe "Shima Kitchen"  Photo: Osamu Nakamura

Shima Kitchen (島キッチン) is a restaurant that was converted from a traditional folk house and storeroom by the architect Ryo Abe with help from local carpenters and volunteers from around Japan during the Setouchi International Art Festival 2010. The venue’s salient feature is the large, curved roof made of burnt cedar planks that extends beyond the house and encircles the garden, where people can gather around live performances and workshops. The house itself is surrounded by Teshima’s original fruit orchards, which also provide fresh ingredients for Shima Kitchen’s menu.


©ART SETOUCHI: Noe Aoki "Particles in the Air / Karato" Photo: Osamu Nakamura

Further along the same road, the intriguing sculpture Particles in the Air (空の粒子) catches our eye beside the Karato-no-shimizu fountain. Steel hoops overlap and hover above a water storage tank, as if materializing the memory of a community gathering place. The artist Noe Aoki completed this site-specific installation during her visits to the village over a period of three years until 2010.

Meet Mischievous Monsters in the Maze Town Alleys of Shodoshima

As the second-largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, Shodoshima (小豆島, “small bean island”) is steeped in legend and folklore, believed to be one of the earliest creations of the gods. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Meironomachi, the “maze town” of labyrinthine alleys near Tonosho Port originally designed to provide escape routes from pirates, is inhabited by countless yokai—Japan’s mythical, supernatural monsters that range in character from malevolent to mischievous and in appearance from creepy to cute.

Meironomachi is also home to Shodoshima’s own (妖怪美術館), which exhibits a collection of over 800 contemporary yokai from around the world inside four different buildings renovated from former kimono storehouses. Completed in 2018, the museum also provides historical and cultural context for Japanese yokai, from their animistic origins in the late Heian period to more modern representations of fear, comfort, or entertainment.

Take an Island-inspired Art Walk on Ogijima

The 2-kilometer-long island of (男木島) is ideal for an art walk, as the dramatically sloped pedestrian-only streets of its mountainside village offer pleasing views of the surroundings no matter where you stand. 

About a dozen permanent and temporary artworks are installed outdoors by Ogi Port and Ogi Fishing Port, as well as inside old abandoned houses and shops in the island’s community area. Don’t miss Takotsuboru, a children’s playground that features a larger-than-life octopus trap in a nod to Ogijima’s famous octopus fishing, built by residents in 2019.

Ogijima Pavilion, modeled after the region’s characteristic black-tile-roofed wooden houses, designed by architect Shigeru Ban. The building’s sea-facing transparent walls are decorated with fine-lined drawings of images inspired by the Seto Inland Sea.

Immerse Yourself in Art Murals by the Bay in Higashikagawa


If you wish to extend your journey further down the coast of Shikoku, Higashikagawa City’s (湾岸アートプロジェクト) is an up-and-coming art destination that recalls the creative graffiti murals of larger urban centers, combined with the vast open seascape of the harbor. 

At Hiketa Fishing Port, you can follow a continuous stream of colorful paintings decorating the long embankment extending far into the Seto Inland Sea. What started as a restoration of Spanish artist Cecilia Beaven’s yokai-like “Sea Creatures,” originally painted in 2016, has since 2021 developed into an ongoing bayside project inviting various local “spray artists,” illustrators, and even a calligrapher with bold styles to participate.

One of the most striking murals is a fantasy underwater seascape in soft aqua hues painted on all surfaces of the stairway leading to the top of the embankment at the end of the sea wall. Look at it from just the right angle, and you will see where art meets the sky and flows into the sea.


The Seto Inland Sea is full of art, history, and beauty almost everywhere you turn. Here, we’ve covered just a few art highlights of Setouchi’s many islands and shores. It’s worth taking the time to leisurely explore their natural landscapes and discover their many in situ artworks from new perspectives in changing seasons. Who knows what other serendipitous gems you may find?

Text by Cherise Fong

You can get more information about the route followed in this article by checking out our itineraries in the "Plan Your Trip" section of this website.



This is an area with many islands, including Naoshima and Teshima, which are famous for art. It also is home to the tasteful Ritsurin Garden. Kagawa is also famous for its Sanuki udon, which is so famous it attracts tourists from throughout Japan. The prefecture is even sometimes referred to as “Udon Prefecture.” [Photo : “Red Pumpkin” ©Yayoi Kusama,2006 Naoshima Miyanoura Port Square | Photographer: Daisuke Aochi]