“Can I do a day trip to Tokyo from Kyoto? To Okayama? To Kyushu?” I found myself musing one day, at a loss for what to do on a national holiday. I looked at bus routes, at trains, and then finally a lightbulb went over my head: anything is possible if you have a bullet train ticket.
Which is why my friends and I decided one early autumn day to make the trek to a little place called Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea.
Naoshima is known as a Modern Art island, where you can wander around and see various structures set up outside for you to marvel at and, in some cases, even mess with. There are countless museums, several cafes, a couple of guesthouses, and buses to get you everywhere you need. Or bicycles, if you’re into that whole biking on the road thing. (Spoiler: I’m not. I’m a chicken.)
- Kyoto Station to Okayama Station
- Okayama Station to Uno Station in Okayama Prefecture
- Ferry from Uno to Naoshima
(Okayama, by the way, is a lovely place that I recommend you check out. I’ll post about it another time.)
Do you have a JR pass? Are you a tourist? Great! Use your JR pass and the first leg of the trip will be really cheap for you. For the rest of us who live in Japan, the one-way price for unreserved seating is 7,010 yen. If you want to reserve a regular seat, make that 7,850 yen. I opted for the former because I figured I could use that extra money for a cafe or whatever, and in the morning there were plenty of seats to choose from on the Nozomi bullet train (the fastest of the trains available).
We got to Okayama in about an hour, at which point we were faced with multiple options for getting to Uno. Regardless of what you do, it’ll take 45 minutes to an hour. We opted for the regular trains at 580 yen one-way. You can get slightly faster trains (those 45 minute deals) for about double the price, but we didn’t think it was worth it. The train was comfortable enough, albeit tiny!
Once at Uno, we were bombarded with friendly, English-speaking staff who saw our non-Japanese faces and ran at us full-tilt.
“Are you going to Naoshima? The ferry leaves in twenty minutes! Go this way!” one exclaimed, pointing dramatically at the ferry port (which was in sight).
“Here’s a brochure in English!” another added, shoving several into our hands.
“Go to the store over there for discounted souvenirs!” a third exclaimed.
We fled toward the ferry instead.
The ferry was the cheapest and fastest part of the journey- about 20 minutes at 290 yen one way. When you get on it, there are multiple floors for you to choose from, and lots of seating arrangements. When you get on, you’ll be greeted with adventurous music ala Jurassic Park that makes you question if you accidentally walked into a theme park.
Finally, you’ll arrive at Naoshima, likely at Miyanoura Port. Now the fun begins: finding all the little things there are to do here.
First off, of course, there’s the outside art that I mentioned before. There are multiple gourd structures on the island of varying colors. Some of them are solid, but others are hollowed out so you can climb inside and take silly pictures. There are also mysterious modern-art things that I can’t possibly hope to understand as I am, admittedly, not a huge art person.
In addition to the outdoor stuff, there are the countless museums. Some are good only if you’re purely into the museum-going thing. We popped into one place, the Ando Museum, that was all of two rooms and cost us 500 yen-not massively recommended. There are other, much more interesting places to see: the Benesse House, the Chichu Museum, the Art House Project, etc. However, keep in mind these are expensive options- plan to pay as much as 2,000 yen for entry!
You can even hit up a bathhouse, cleverly titled, “I love Yu.” (Yu, or 湯、 means hot water, so it’s a play on words.) While bathing with strangers you can enjoy yet more modern art built into the place. I believe they switch up the men and women’s sides regularly so you can theoretically come back to view the other side without causing a scandal.
What did I like about the island most, though? Two things.
One: this little cafe/sleeping space called Shimacoya we found while looking for a place to take a break. It’s by the water, though you can’t see the sea from it. Part of it is a cluttered little book cafe and the other part is an old-style Japanese house with wooden flooring where you’re meant to pitch a little tiny tent indoors to sleep in if you stay.
Yes. A tent. Under a roof.
It was a quiet space, and the sun hit the area just right that me and my traveling companions all expressed the sudden urge to take a nap despite just having helped ourselves to some coffee. The staff were fairly friendly, and offer an unusual option on the menu: Hato Coffee, or Pigeon Coffee. Fear not! It isn’t made with pigeons. It is instead coffee with caramel syrup included. Why caramel = pigeons? Who knows.
Two: The shores of this island. It was a really gorgeous day, obnoxiously bright, and the weather was warm. I took so many pictures of the water hitting the sand, of the sunlight bouncing off of various things. It was truly lovely.
Would I go again? Nah, maybe not. I’m fairly satisfied with all I saw and did there.
Would I recommend the trip to others? Yeah! Even if you need something a bit more budget-friendly, there are buses you can take instead that’ll get you there from Kyoto in about 3.5 hours. I know that sounds like a lot but considering the number of buses in the States that offer day trips from say, D.C. to New York City? I think it’s doable for some.