The Small Artistic Island Off Okayama
Inujima is a small Japanese island located in Okayama prefecture, in the Seto Inland Sea. Its landscapes shaped by an industrial past show contemporary artworks since 2008 at the initiative of the "Benesse Art Site Naoshima" collective.
Lesser known than the larger Naoshima and Teshima but as worthy of interest, Inujima (literally "dog island", in reference to the shape of a sacred rock worshiped on the island) is a little rural island of the Seto Inland Sea harboring artworks under the management of the "Benesse Art Site Naoshima" collective. It is therefore part of the famous international art event, the Setouchi Triennale.
Inujima is attached to Okayama prefecture and is only accessible by ferry ⛴️:
- From Okayama City’s Hoden Port, located in its south-eastern suburb.
- From Naoshima’s Miyanoura port and Teshima’s Ieura Port.
Contemporary art to regenerate the island
In 2020, about thirty inhabitants were living on Inujima on a total 54 hectares superficies. Most of the younger residents are working "on the mainland" and travel back for the weekend, while the elderly ones enjoy the peaceful piece of land and kindly welcome the few visitors coming for a daytrip. The maritime infrastructures are indeed not intended to receive a large touristic flow, and it is probably what makes the charms of Inujima: the discovery of a human-sized Japanese island, still in its original condition and that constitute an ideal playground for contemporary art.
In the past, the island’s rocks have made the reputation of Inujima, whose main activity was not agriculture but the quarrying of granite, which was used among other things in the building of the area’s feudal castles 🏯. The coastline is now riddled with large granite stones that were discarded in the water, creating an atypical mineral landscape.
The island is harboring three artistic sites of the "Benesse Art Site Naoshima" that are all within walking distance, on an easy half a day stroll at a slow pace. The combined ticket for the exhibitions is purchasable at the Inujima Ticket Center, in Inujima port, that also shelters a cafe-restaurant and a souvenir shop.
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum
The Inujima Seirensho Art Museum opened in 2008 and was established on the ruins of a former copper smeltery. Very few is said about the plant’s history, but the site is nonetheless majestic as it stands by the water and remains a witness of Japan’s modernization and industrialization in the early 20th century.
The museum is highlighting this preserved industrial heritage and took great care to not damage the existing structures and to blend harmonious artistic installations. The ecological dimension was also developed in the main exhibition hall lighted thanks to a clever system of mirrors, bay windows and light shafts that are also used for ventilation. As a result, the colors and the atmosphere completely change with the variations of the weather.
The Museum’s exterior architecture is attuned with nature, contemporary art and the industrial remains of red bricks smokestacks and wall labyrinths.
Inujima "Art House Project"
Inaugurated in July 2010, the project introduces art in the heart of Inujima village. Old, abandoned houses gained a new life with their transformation into small contemporary art galleries. Today one outdoor site and five houses are opened to the visit, each named from a letter of the alphabet: F, S, I, A et C. The artworks displayed and their scenography are on par with Naoshima’s exhibition.
Contemporary art is harmoniously blending in the inhabitants’ daily life, and it is a lovely surprise to be able to contemplate several open-air installations, such as:
- The artwork Contact Lens by Haruka Kojin (S-Art House): a transparent wall distorting the landscape when looking through its multiple lenses carved into the glass.
- The sculpture Yellow Flower Dream by Beatriz Milhazes (A-Art House): a very colorful circular installation where to observe the shape shifting of the shading following the course of the sun.
- The paintings Listen to the Voices of Yesterday Like the Voices of Ancient Times by Yusuke Asai: the vibrating patterns on the floor remind of the stone mason house that used to stand here; and,
- The shelter Nakanotani Gazebo by Kazuyo Sejima, with an unconventional roof that lets the sun and the rain in through punched holes.
Note that indoor pictures in the artistic sites are forbidden and that any new construction is prohibited on Inujima: therefore, all the galleries are also restoration projects, made with recycled materials.
Inujima Life Garden
The last "Benesse Art Site Naoshima" site, Inujima Life Garden is not at static artwork per se but rather a garden backed to an ecological and social project. Life and nature are at the heart of this green space where flowers and vegetables are grown, and a few chickens kept.
Self-sufficiency and sustainability are keys here and workshops are organized to teach how to recycle and recover waste, and to live harmoniously according to the seasons. Moreover, all the facilities in the garden are all ecological, with composting dry toilets 🚽, a solar greenhouse, and an outdoor kitchen with natural filtering of wastewater. The place is better enjoyed in spring 🌸 and in summertime especially.
Inujima is a rustic and artistic destination to visit all year round, ideally on a sunny day. Summer is nonetheless the best period to visit as all the convenient services of the island are open: accommodations, cafes, restaurants, and with the additional opportunity to enjoy the beach 🏖 and go camping.