this small fishing island in japan’s seto naikai, the stretch of sea enclosed by the mainland of honshu and the smaller islands of shikoku, and kyushu separating the japan sea to the west from the pacific ocean, is now designated ‘art island’ naoshima. the inland sea is itself dotted with small islands, most of them dedicated to rural industries and fishing ports. as younger people have moved away to work in the big cities where the majority of japan’s population is now concentrated, the remaining population has seen rapid decline in numbers, and a predominantly ‘greying’ or aging populace. naoshima is one such island. it’s small, only 15 km², and today the population — excluding visitors — stands at just over 3,000.
much of the island was bought in 1985 by the benesse company, a publisher in okayama, and the arch-minimalist and self-taught architect, tadao ando was brought in to oversea the development of a large stretch of the southern part of the island. the centrepiece was benesse house, an art gallery and hotel combined. ando’s striking design, uncompromisingly minimalist, yet discreetly blending into the hilly landscape, culminates in an oval set of rooms, decorated with artworks by richard long, bernd and hilla becher, and others, accessible only by a strangely clunky yet charming monorail, gives a stunning panoramic outlook over the surrounding seascape.