Things I Have Learned In Naoshima, Japan

Things I Have Learned In Naoshima, Japan

“You cant really say what is beautiful about a place but the image will remain vividly with you .”  Tadao Ando

The small fishing island of Naoshima is an unlikely destination for globe-trotting art collectors and my most favorite place in Japan.  Tadao Ando’s vision coupled with investments from a large benefactor join art, architecture, nature and life together in an amazing place.


An eccentric billionaire from Okayama and the company Bennesse that he runs, have been slowly transforming the island into open-air museums of contemporary art.


It is located 500 miles south of the Fukushima plant so no worries there. ( I did hear from a physicist who worked on it that it was a self-contained explosion and the radiation did not escape into the universe –but I’m a worrier)

Tadao Ando’s Chuchu Art Museum is entirely underground but doesn’t feel that way with light and skylights at carefully constructed angles. It houses the works of Claude Monet, James Turrell and Walter de Maria.

You are not allowed to take pictures in any of the museums. It is about being in the present moment  and experiencing the art.

If you are not an art fan (though why would you come here  if you aren’t? – it takes three hours from Osaka – Shinkansan (bullet train) plus two more  trains and a ferry) you will like the James Bond “Man With The Red Tatoo”Museum.


One of the really interesting things about Naoshima is discovering art in surprise places.


Wandering around on foot will have you discovering outdoor sculptures and art exhibits sometimes cleverly disguised as children’s playgrounds and colorful gardens.


The pumpkins have become the  image of the island. There is an Orange and a yellow one on opposite sides of the island. They were made by Yayoi Kusama an artist known for colorful, psychedelic patterns.


People are always taking pictures with them.


The vision behind the Benesse Art  Site at Naoshima was ‘to create a physically and mentally rejuvenating haven”.

Benesse House is a unique facility that combines the functions of both museum and hotel.
Four hotel facilities—Museum, Oval, Park and Beach are available. All were designed by Tadao Ando.

Screen shot 2013-07-14 at 11.32.50 PM

James Turrell presents light in itself as art. The museum has three of his works. 
Open Sky  can be viewed at anytime, but a special sunset viewing is also available.

Screen shot 2013-07-14 at 10.42.53 PM

He makes large rooms and space where light itself becomes the object. You actually step inside his art. It cannot be described, it has to be experienced.

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 12.16.28 AM

Minamidera is a new structure that pays homage to a temple formerly at this site, which was a spiritual gathering place for the community. It was designed by Tadao Ando  for the size of artwork by James Turrell inside.

The Art House Project is really cool. There are eight houses that have been turned into art installations. This interesting concept successfully fuses the history and culture of the island with contemporary art.


It is a bit like a scavenger hunt trying to find them on the island. If you get lost, follow the cool arty looking people, not the  fishermen.


Naoshima is an island that fuses ancient traditions with modern creativity. This blend of styles is due to Tado Ando’s and his insistence on using traditional materials in ultra modern ways. Art, Nature and Japanese food – my three favorite things.

Thanks Anna. We had such a great day!


Yo I sorano tabi o


Top Ten Coffee Travel Moments

“This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion.  Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind.  The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition.  Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with gun powder. “

Honore de Balzac

Top Ten Coffee Travel Moments

I realized by writing this blog that I am addicted to caffeine. There are way too many references to coffee.  It is the only vice I have left.  I thought I would embrace it by writing my top ten coffee travel moments.

!. I am seventeen and in Europe for the first time.  We  are  in CERVINA in the Italian Alps. There is a cappuccino bar that we go to every morning and have fresh cappuccino before a day of skiing. It is pre cell phones and Starbucks.  The only cappuccino  you got in NY  was in the Italian restaurants  after dinner.  There was no decaf cap. Cappuccino every morning was as big a deal as skiing in the Alps for the first time.

2.   The island of SANTORINI in Greece is where i am spending my twenty third summer.   I am staying at my friend’s house on a mountain overlooking the sea.  It is one of those  Santorini white houses with blue tile.  We have to walk halfway down the mountain every morning to have coffee and fresh bread with butter and honey, at a café run by a family that doesn’t speak English. Santorini was  not the five-star  tourist destination it is now but it always had five-star views of the sea, volcano and black sand beaches. .  “kafe me gala  sketos parakalo” The grandmother always dressed in black would smile at my bad Greek pronunciation and bring me my coffee. They used condensed milk all the time with coffee and I love the taste.  I think they wear black  because someone in their family close to them has died – usually they are widows.


3.  My daughter who is twelve and her tap company have performed at the Cuban Ballet Festival throughout Cuba.  We are driving back to HAVANA from Santa Clara.  Since Petrol is scarce, members of the Columbian Ballet Company are sharing the bus with us. We get back around five and I have a serious lack of  caffeine headache.  I invite the Columbian dancers who I have spoken to in bad Spanish  for a coffee at the hotel.  I order a double espresso and drink it down  like I am doing a shot of tequila.   First they stare at me and then they laugh and do the same.  We start by drinking espresso shots –we move on to Mojitos. No one slept that night. (Cuba,Jim Kane)


4. We have arrived at the SACRED VALLEY in Urubumba, Peru.  We are spending the night at the beautiful Sol Y Luna  hotel and the altitude is 9000 feet. (2400 m)  It is our first night in the Andes.  I start to have this headache and feel dizzy. As we are going to our rooms someone says to me, “Be careful, the headache is the first sign of altitude sickness”.  I go right to the worst case scenario.  I remember my mindfulness training as I am going into high anxiety mode. I investigate the feeling in my body and think it isn’t that severe. It feels like a lack of caffeine headache.   I remember I didn’t have coffee that afternoon. I relax and go right to sleep. I wake up early and have a wonderful Peruvian breakfast  of yogurt , fruit, kikucha cereal ( grain like quinoa) and coffee. No more headache.


5. I usually hate instant room coffee.  But in PANAMA it was really good. It is called Puro and I brought some home.   I have a confession. I kind of like non dairy creamer   Sometimes your diet needs a few chemicals.  I got up every morning in  Gamboa  to watch the sunrise over the rainforest and had a coffee while lying in a hammock on the terrace.


6. Anna and I have spent the day on  the island of NAOSHIMA in Japan.  It is the island that Tadao Ando has designed and dedicated to art and nature.  There are museums, outdoor sculptures, galleries and installations in houses throughout the island.  It is a bit like a scavenger  hunt trying to see everything.  But we did it. We are at a small  ferry at the other end of the island that locals use to head back to the mainland . I am looking for coffee. We see something that looks like it might be open. We walk in. There is cool music and magazines and interesting furniture and art . It is  like a Japanese Greenwich village coffee-house  on this little island street.  We can’t believe our luck.  We have coffee and wait in this beautiful restaurant for the ferry and talk about our amazing day.


7. I had been  in the  incredible  city of VENICE for a few days with my daughter and a friend. My son arrived after traveling around Europe alone.  He had a lot to say and wanted to have  a coffee in Venice and talk about his travels. We sat in a café on the canal and he told me his stories. I was happy sitting there listening to him  and I could hear  that he loved to travel as much as I did.  Family travel moments are few and far between now. It was a beautiful trip.


8.  It was my first day in ISTANBUL. I had shopped at the Grand Bazaar with my guide for the day Renan.  We stopped for lunch.  We met  carpet salesmen from Los Angeles.  Suddenly, it didn’t seem so far away.  This was my first experience with Turkish food. Hot yogurt soup and something with my favorite vegetable –eggplant.  – delicious. I had my first Turkish coffee. (a lot like Greek coffee) I loved the thickness and the feeling of the grounds in my mouth ( coffee that you can chew).  It isn’t bitter either so I am able to drink it without milk. She read the coffee grinds to me.  We used to do this in Greece. It was my first coffee fortune in a very long time.  It wasn’t bad. My next one wasn’t great. So I stopped doing it and just drank the coffee.


9. I am in EDINBURGH, Scotland for the Fringe Festival. My daughter is performing there with her high school theatre group. In the summer, walking down the Royal Mile is crazy. Everyone is in costume and giving out flyers and performing and begging to get you to go their shows. The Starbucks is right at the beginning of the Royal Mile, next to the Fringe Ticket Office. I meet a friend for coffee after picking up some tickets. We are surrounded by Vikings and Elizabethans all having cappuccinos and lattes. In fact, only the barristers are   dressed in modern-day clothing.  I felt  a little underdressed.


10.   A few weeks ago, I was walking down Portobello Road in LONDON with my college friend Suzie.  Suzie was the first person I traveled around Europe with . We were about eighteen. We lost touch after college but reconnected  a few years ago through the magic of facebook.  We were both going to be in London at the same time. We aren’t looking for vintage clothes like we used to  (and still do) but vintage housewares.  It is freezing out. We go into a coffee house and see a long queue. It is called the Coffee Planner. The girl in front of me says it is the best coffee on Portobello Road and worth waiting for. Suzie buys an unbelievably good sandwich from a vendor outside and we sit and drink our coffees eating this sandwich.   Jayne and Suzie together again in Europe. ( St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge)


Do you have any good coffee moments?

Fly safe,