Common Japanese good luck superstitions – good things come in Threes. The term 初夢(hatsuyume) refers to the first dream someone has in the new year. There is a long held belief in Japan that if the combination of 富士山(Fuji san – Mount Fuji), two hawks, and three aubergines come to you in a dream, then you’re in for a year of good fortune. Mount Fuji is sacred to the Japanese, a holy mountain worshipped devoutly by many. Every culture has its own superstitions and Japan is no exception. Many of these superstitions have become ingrained in Japanese culture, not just because of their mythical creativity, but because they represent a number of important ancient teachings which guide contemporary Japanese people with their lives.
Three Japan Journeys …one of our favorite young families with kiddos providing their first taste of Japan. An art aficionado introducing Japan to her mid-western nephew and a group of friends on an art bonding tour.
This Journey focus is on Naoshima and Osaka. We always reserve specific suites at Benesse House, which book early.
A Journey to islands alive with art. One day, a giant pumpkin appeared on the island pier. In Naoshima, the main pier, once a common humble sight, was renewed as a sight so rare that it could be found nowhere else. People with visions of a yellow pumpkin flocked to the pier, and to this day, thousands visit from distant cities and even distant countries. The island transformed itself into something unique, an art island.
What separates the Pumpkin at Naoshima from the other Pumpkins Yayoi Kusama had created in the past is how it was designed with the location in mind. Placed on an old pier jutting out into the sea, surrounded by the blue of the ocean and the green of the trees, this Pumpkin stands out with its vibrant yellow color. It was one of the largest Pumpkin sculptures Kusama had made up to that point and was designed with the knowledge that it would be the first to be displayed outside.
Naoshima (直島) Among the islands scattered in the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima Island is a center of art and culture. Naoshima Island once flourished as a smelter town, but today, it has become an international center for contemporary art. Although the island is only about 8 square kilometers, it is home to works by maestros of contemporary art, impressionist paintings, and architecture such as Yayoi Kusama, Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Tadao Ando.
A few days of bespoke touring can look like this:
Chichu Art Museum: Visit the Chichu Art Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, which houses a permanent collection that includes pieces by big names such as Claude Monet, Walter de Maria, and James Turrell. Constructed in 2004, the site is a thought-provoking underground exhibition space that addresses the relationship between nature and people. Despite most of the museum being under the earth, natural light is in abundance here, changing the appearance of the artworks during different parts of the day, echoing passing time in the day, seasons, and years. We always suggest a private James Turrell Open Sky sunset experience.
Benesse House Museum: If you wish, independently explore the Benesse House Museum, a contemporary art museum that is also home to a hotel. Exhibited work are by acclaimed local and international artists such as Richard Long, Tadao Ando, and Andy Warhol. There are no lines and no guards in this art exhibit. You can get as close to the art as you wish – all part of the exploratory nature of the Benesse House Museum.
Day Two Benesse House Museum and Seaside Gallery: Explore the Benesse House Museum, a contemporary art museum that is also home to a hotel. Exhibited works are by acclaimed local and international artists such as Richard Long, Tadao Ando, and Andy Warhol. There are no lines and no guards in this art exhibit. You can get as close to the art as you wish – all part of the exploratory nature of the Benesse House Museum. The Museum’s artworks are found not just within its galleries, but in all parts of the building, as well as in scattered locations along the seashore. Visit the Seaside Gallery, a Tadao Ando-designed space located in a terraced plaza on the south side of Benesse House Museum that looks out over the ocean. The space is long and narrow in a north-south direction along the topography, and light pours into the interior through a large opening facing the east.
Teshima Art Museum: Take a private boat to nearby Teshima Island, also home to numerous interactive art installations. If you wish, hop on e-bikes and bike to the Teshima Art Museum, art and nature combined. To recreate a water droplet at the moment of landing, architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito have created an open-air structure at the top of a hill in Teshima. The Museum is comprised of a solid concrete shell and is completely devoid of pillars. Two oval holes are present in the shell, which allows for all elements of its natural surroundings to be present in the structure. Inspired by the bulbous curve of a water droplet resting on a sheet of glass, it appears to emerge organically from a forested hillside overlooking the sea. Water continuously springs from the ground throughout the day. Afterwards, return by private boat to Naoshima.
Art House Project Honmura: The Art House Project takes empty houses scattered about residential areas, and turns the spaces themselves into works of art, weaving in the history and memories of the period when the houses were homes. The art houses are scattered throughout the town, and most of them are unassuming from the street, blending into the surrounding traditional Japanese neighborhood. The interior of each, however, has been given over to artists to convert into whatever suits their artistic vision. Browse through these houses and see how this art focuses on people and conducts its activities in a zone of daily life for the local people.
Lee Ufan Museum: Visit the Lee Ufan Museum, which opened in the summer of 2010 as part of the inaugural Setouchi Art Festival. It’s the first museum to be devoted solely to the work of Lee, an internationally acclaimed Japanese-Korean artist, popular since the 1960s for his participation in the mono-ha artistic movement advocating raw, conceptual and minimalist art. At this museum, visitors are invited to explore three themed rooms that invite introspective and curiosity.
Chichu Art Museum – Night Program Private Showing: Return at sunset for a special private viewing of James Turrell’s Open Sky when the setting sun creates an ever-changing canvas. Open Sky’s parameters change with and reflect the seasons; the natural light from the aperture affects the start time and color transitions so that no two Open Sky experiences are the same. LED lights and xenon lamps complementary to the changing colors of the sky are projected within the room to make even brighter the shades of the physical sky.
Journey to Osaka. Your guide will accompany you on the fast train to Osaka. Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji): The Silver Pavilion is now a Zen temple along Kyoto’s eastern mountains, the Higashiyama, but was originally built in 1482 as shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s retirement villa. Ginkakuji was modeled after Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion – his grandfather’s retirement villa at the base of Kyoto’s northern mountains, the Kitayama. The villa was converted into a temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490. As the retirement villa of an art-inclined shogun, Ginkakuji became a center of contemporary culture, creating a new “Higashiyama Culture” that stood in contrast to the Kitayama Culture of his grandfather’s times. Unlike the Kitayama Culture, which remained limited to the aristocratic circles of Kyoto, the
Culture had a broad impact on the entire country. The arts that were developed and refined during the time include the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, noh theater, poetry, garden design and architecture.
Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery: Visit Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery to see the curated selection of ceramics from the potters of Japan, both antique pieces and those by contemporary artists. Robert Yellin is a Japanese Pottery Specialist and a licensed antique dealer. Robert has resided in Japan since 1984 and regularly writes for numerous publications about Japanese ceramics as well as give lectures about the art. While at his gallery, Robert will discuss with you the history of Japanese pottery and share his collection.
Philosopher’s Walk: Go for a stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk, named so after a Kyoto University philosophy professor, Nishida Kitaro (1870 – 1945), who trod this path along the man-made Shishigatani canal daily. The path, which is about 1.6 miles long and stretches from near Nanzen-ji up to Ginkaku-ji, takes you past several temples and shrines and side streets lined with coffeehouses, boutiques, and craft shops. Cherry and maple trees line the walkways, making the Philosopher’s Walk popular year-round.
Return to your hotel to relax and freshen up before dinner.
Private Temple Dinner: This evening, enjoy a private vegetarian dinner at one of Kyoto’s serene temples. You will be welcomed by the head monk who will guide you through a brief Zen meditation session before dinner. Experience Japanese hospitality, omotenashi, as you are treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience within the exclusive compounds of one of Kyoto’s historical treasures.
Fushimi Inari: Located just 30-minutes south of central Kyoto is the iconic Fushimi Inari. This beloved Shinto shrine is well known for its iconic line of over 10,000 bright red torii (Japanese shrine gateway) that line the paths up and down Mount Inari. The kami (Shinto deity) Inari is said to be the kami of many things, including foxes, fertility, and swordsmiths. Most importantly, however, Inari watches over the world of business. It is in the hopes of gaining favor and merit in the eyes of Inari that each torii was donated by an individual or a company, and the practice has been going on for centuries.
Sake Tour & Tasting in Fushimi Sake District: Just south of Kyoto is the town of Fushimi which is known for its traditionally brewed sake. Stroll along the willow- lined Fushimi Sake District, home to nearly 40 sake breweries. Among the breweries are industry giants and leading breweries, including one that was founded in 1637. Many of the district’s buildings have been preserved and sport a traditional appearance with wood and white-plaster walls. As you meander, pop into some shops, and try a few of their brews. Also visit a sake museum where you can learn about sake production and the effect of good water on the result. Finally, head to Fushimi Sake Village where you can order made-to-order snacks from vendors to enjoy with your drinks, payable on the spot.
Benesse House. Comprised of five elements – sculpture park and museum, hotel, boutique, restaurants, and spa – Benesse House is one of the most unique properties in Japan. Every room has its own individual design and artwork, with 49 guest rooms and suites across four buildings: Museum, Oval, Park, and Beach, all designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando. Benesse House is a seven-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Naoshima Port.
In addition to housing the property’s modern art museum. Oval is set on a hill and connected to Museum by monorail; Park is where the bulk of Benesse Houses facilities such as its French restaurant, Terrace, the spa and shop are housed; and Beach is one of Ando’s few buildings constructed chiefly of wood, and is generally reserved for long-term guests. Inside Museum, there are two restaurants, Issen for Japanese and a separate cafe where guests and patrons can relax between viewings. There is also a spa with a wide array of treatment options.
Our Favorite Accommodations at Benesse House. Oval Suite. Standing on a hill and reached by monorail from the museum, this space has just six guest rooms, featuring a fusion of Setouchi’s natural beauty with Ando’s architecture. Vast floor-to-ceiling windows in the guest room offer a sweeping view of the Inland Sea, and the walls of some of the guest rooms are decorated with drawings created by the artists. From the expansive windows and spacious terrace, you can take in a fantastic view of the Inland Sea below. The guest rooms feature murals hand-drawn by the artists.
Benesse House Beach. Located just steps away from the shore, these accommodations are the closest to the beach at Benesse House, with suite-style guestrooms only. Surrounded by the sound of gently lapping waves, the sightlines from the guestrooms match the surface of the Inland Sea, creating the impression that you are floating on the sea. These spacious and airy guestrooms are perfect for families.
KYOTO Hotel. Four Seasons Kyoto. Inspired by the tranquility and contemplative calm of the region’s many temples and Zen gardens, Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto features 110 standard rooms, 12 suites, 57 condos, and a Presidential Suite, which at over 2,600 square feet is the largest hotel suite in Kyoto.
The restrained chic of designer Agnes Ng’s modern ideas, allied with traditional design elements such as bamboo groves and shoji paper walls, results in contemporary, yet classic, accommodations. The peaceful atmosphere is enhanced and completed by the gentle crash of water from the Waterfall Garden. The hotel features two restaurants, a bar, a lounge, and even a tea house where guests can find a range of tantalizing treats and refreshments to expedite their relaxation – presented to perfection by a team of expertly trained, confident, and multilingual service staff. Facilities include a fitness center with sauna and steam rooms, as well as an indoor swimming pool with two large whirlpools and sunken loungers. The Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is located a 10-minute drive from Kyoto Train Station.