My Birthday In Japan, Part 1: Teshima

It is Sunday now, about 9:30 am. It is raining pretty hard here at the moment due to the impending typhoon, Jelawat, coming up from the north. It will be closest tonight at around 9:00 pm. All will be well here though. Takamatsu does not typically get the bad weather that the media always shows that Japan has. But we will have lots and lots of rain. Maybe a little wind. For those of you that don’t know, a typhoon is exactly like a hurricane. The only differentiating factor is which ocean that it occurs in. Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic Ocean, and typhoons in the Pacific. Okinawa got hit pretty badly yesterday. It is a larger city on one of the smaller, southernmost islands of Japan. It is moving along the east coast at around 30 km/h and is on course for the Japanese capital city, Tokyo, and should arrive sometime today or tomorrow. Now, on to the important stuff!

Friday, September 28

For my birthday, I was taken to an island in Seto naikai, the Seto Inland Sea! The island we went to is called Teshima. I was to be accompanied by Chiharu-san and Usui-san as my tour guides.

The ferry ride took about an hour. We stopped at Naoshima along the way to pick up a couple more passengers.

Here you can see a small shinto shrine called a Jinjya. Naoshima is not very populated but very famous as it is home to many different works of art.

I love boats 🙂

…aaaaand my tour guides!

Left: Chiharu-san Right: Usui-san

Here is a picture of Seto Naikai. It looks and feels like a mystical place. Everywhere you look, looming in the distance is another island or mountain. It was really quite gorgeous. Our day had only barely begun, but I was already completely satisfied!

Soon enough, we arrived at Teshima! We hurried off the boat to the bike rental facility. Here they had battery-assisted bikes available. I didn’t know how helpful they were going to be. Teshima is one big mountain! But with the battery assistance, you can semi-easily pedal up a steep grade without having to lift your butt off the seat. And so, we were off!

After about a 15 minute bike ride, we reach to top of a crest, shortly before reaching our first destination, the one-of-a-kind Teshima Art Museum.

The Teshima Art Museum is unlike any museum in the world. What I thought I was going there to see was far from the mark of what it actually was. The goal of this museum is to unify the essences of nature, architecture, and art, seamlessly, into a single entity. The Art Space itself is a low-lying, shell-like structure composed entirely of concrete, shaped like that of a rolling droplet of water. Standing but four-and-a-half meters from the ground and with only a thickness of 25 centimeters, it is as if, it is but a knoll in the rolling landscape of Teshima Island. As part of the designers’ intentions to make the Art Space one with the environment, there are two circular apertures in the roof of the structure that are completely open. Upon seeing the outside structure, I had no idea what to expect on the inside. Although, before seeing the structure, one must walk along a narrow, winding pathway through nature.

Around the bend, you reach the Art Space of the Teshima Art Museum.

Upon approaching the structure, you are greeted by a curator of the museum. She says, in a hushed voice, that and any sound inside the structure is very loud, so please be as quiet as you can and also, that there is natural groundwater inside so please remove your shoes and be sure not to touch the water.

At this point, I was really confused, but I was excited! Upon entering, this is what I saw.

(please note that these are not my pictures, as we were not allowed to take any while inside the structure)

Now, the true beauty of this museum is hard to put into a blog post, but I am going to try my best. When I entered, I saw many people sitting and lying down. At first, I didn’t know what they were looking at, but after my own examination, I noticed that there were numerous little holes, scarcely permeating parts of the floor of the Art Space. Oozing out of these tiny holes, barely 5 millimeters in diameter, at random times, was natural groundwater from an underwater spring! It was as if the structure was alive! The surface of the floor has gentle slopes, not noticeable by touch or by sight, but only by gravity and through observing its effect on the water droplets. Once enough water had accumulated, the water’s surface tension would break, and follow the course determined by the curvature of the water-repellant-coated floor. When streaming, the water would look like streaks of quicksilver, snaking across the surface, to join other pools of accumulated water, and continue on in such a fashion until it either reached one of the scattered two-centimeter-diameter drains installed in the floor, or until it reached one of the two main pools of water, located underneath each aperture.

The beauty of what I just described can be more aptly summed by designing artist, Rei Naito:

“A space, just like that,

comes into being as something that goes back to nature as it is.”

Further words from Rei Naito about his art which he calls, “Matrix:”


It is always beside us, and everything is born from and nourished by it.

Something that makes life on earth possible and also that observes life on earth–as a vessel.

Through space, as it feels

Like a vessel that accepts nature as it is

Based on the idea that anything before us is good

Man is reborn moment after moment, newborn each time

Natural vitality is there and here

Somebody other than me is there, living on earth now as I do

Is it a blessing in its own sake to exist on earth?”

Here are a couple of pictures I took secretly on the inside, don’t tell anyone!

We were also told that there is a different impression inside the museum at different times of day. It was about late morning when we arrived. So instead of going to Inujima, another island close by, we decided to more thoroughly explore Teshima and come back later in the afternoon.

There were less people when we came back the second time. We had completed a long list of things that I have yet to tell. The sun was lower in the sky, and nature was coursing through the space at full force. Wind, birds, and the afternoon sunlight all being amplified inside the structure. Even the tiniest bird chirp, or slightest breeze can be caught and amplified by nature of the design. I found a nice section of cement to set myself down upon and observe the slow evolution of a particular pool of water that I found pleasing. Slowly, I began to lose myself in the sights and sounds of the Teshima Museum Art Space…

…I awoke about an hour later to the sound of an especially loud blackbird. In a trance, not knowing that I had actually slept until I looked at my watch, I sit up and look around. After a few minutes, I see Chiharu with Usui at the far end of the Art Space and our eyes meet. She motioned towards the exit and I nodded my head. Still dazed as one who just left a deep state of meditation, I got up to leave to begin our bike back to the ferry.

After our first visit to the Art Museum and before our second

Once more upon our bicycles, we begin a descent down the other side of the crest. Our destination, one of the homes to the worldwide heartbeat compilation project, The Christian Boltanski “Les Archives du Cœur.” On the way…

One of many such fields on Teshima.

On the island, I saw many Jinjyas. I visited one, which you’ll see later.

We arrive after about a 10 minute bike ride. At the center there are a few things you can do. They have computers set up so that you can delve through the archives to find any recorded heartbeat at any of the sites throughout the world. If I remember correctly, there are over 355,000 recorded heartbeats worldwide. At this site you can also have your own heartbeat recorded and put onto a CD for yourself. There is also a listening room. This was my second favorite part of my trip to Teshima. Inside is a pitch black room with walls covered in different sizes and shapes of mirrors. “But you said it was pitch black! How do you know?” Well, also in the room is a massive subwoofer (which I heard and felt, not saw) and a single lightbulb swinging in the middle of the room, which, along with the subwoofer, animated the heartbeat we were listening to. All in all, the effect was quite mesmerizing.

We were not allowed to take pictures here either, so here is one borrowed from the internet.

Moving on! By now we were all very hungry and ready for some food. So our next stop on the list was a famous restaurant there on Teshima. Outside the restaurant was another work piece of intriguing architecture.

Curved shingle roof structure?

The meal consisted of a nice small salad with a delicious vinaigrette and some steamed sweet potatoes. Followed by cooked fish, some rice, potato soup, and some battered vegetables. Everything was absolutely delicious! We ate in a traditional Japanese style.

Onward! Next, we go to visit a Jinjya in the village! The walk through the village was just as interesting. Most of the inhabitants of the island have lived there their entire lives.

At the Jinjya…

Here you are supposed to wash your hands.

And here you are supposed to drink from. It is water from a mountain spring. It was delicious!

Aaaand the shrine!

After that, we went to three more exhibits on island. One was a house that was designed to simulate the effect of being in a thunderstorm in an old-style Japanese house in the countryside. It was dark, with fountains that sprayed water down the windows to simulate a downpour, with a subwoofer used to simulate thunder and strobe lights timed to simulate a lightning flash. There were buckets of water on the tatami mats set to catch the water leaking through the roof. The effect was brilliantly accomplished. I laid back and enjoyed the sounds of the storm. Little did I know, I’d be doing the exact same thing in a couple days, but in real life, not a simulation.

The next stop was a strange one. It was a little room with a hanging circular projector screen with a two different videos playing on each side, with a Pink Floyd-like soundtrack that you’d hear off the animals album. The window to the room was tinted purple and the screen was hanging from the ceiling on the second story. But you could see it from the first floor because, well, the second story didn’t have much of a floor. The video was shot in a strange fashion where it seemed like everything was being viewed from a convex lens, not quite focused right. The overall effect was kind of erie.

Not the best picture, but… anyway…

After that we made the bike ride back to the Teshima Art Museum for our afternoon viewing, as I described earlier. Then we went all the way back, traversing the coast, until we reached our originating point. We returned our bikes and still had some time to kill before our return ferry arrived, so we went to see one final exhibit that happened to be in the area. It was a small Japanese-style house with tatami, a shouji, and so on… It had three large pieces of art, drawn using different shaded pencils. They were portraits of 106 year old, blind, wandering storyteller and performer. Quite epic depictions as well. I wish I could have understood what the curator was saying, because it turns out that that exhibit was Chiharu’s second favorite of the day, after the museum. It must’ve been quite a story because the pictures alone were not enough to bring it to number 2 in my book.

The ferry had arrived once we returned to the dock. We boarded, and were on our way shortly after that. It had been a fantastic trip to Teshima Island. I will never forget it, and will hopefully return someday to share the experience with someone else, like Chiharu had done for Usui and I.

But, the trip was not over yet. The return ferry ride was stunning, as we were just in time to catch the sunset over Seto Naikai.

And back to Takamatsu!


8 thoughts on “My Birthday In Japan, Part 1: Teshima

  1. So nice to “see” you today! Your trip to Teshima is unlike anything we can imagine; I think the Art Space might have been my favorite. You will be waking up soon to start your University adventure. I hope you can thank your family (for us) for taking such good care of you 🙂

  2. Hey, that picture of you standing in the middle of the road with your arms stretched out would be a nice FB profile pic… just sayin…

  3. Glad you liked Teshima, it is indeed one of my favorite islands in the area. Teshima Art Museum is one of the most amazing building I have been to (actually I was there last Sunday, we were the last visitors and had it all for ourselves. priceless)
    if I may add a few things (and then I’ll stop spamming you with comments… well, until next time):

    I also agree with you that Seto Naikai is a magical place (it’s one of the main reasons as to why I decided to live here)

    -Your second picture is of Megijima, not Naoshima.
    -If you’re curious to know what happened on Sunday at the shrine on your way to the Archives du Coeur, go check out my latest post. 😉
    -The restaurant is called Shima Kitchen, and the architecture is part of the restaurant (it won a bunch of architecture prizes in 2010). Everything you eat in this restaurant comes from Teshima. The menus were designed as a collaboration between the women of the island and a couple of starred-restaurants chefs from Tokyo.
    -What is a amazing about the portraits of the blind woman is that they’re made with pencils only. The story of the woman is quite interesting too.
    -Your pic of the sunset over Ozuchishima (aka Onigiri Island – my appellation) is splendid.

  4. I’m very happy to learn and happy for your input!
    -Yup, you caught me. I think I realized that a while after I posted it because the pictures didn’t quite match up, but at that point I had no idea what island it actually was, so I gave up.
    -That’s a very interesting part about Shima Kitchen. I did not know that. The food was indeed delicious!
    -I did enjoy the pictures. They have quite the aura to them. I did like their medium a lot (the pencil), quite skillful, especially for how large they are!
    -Ha! Onigiri Island! Makes sense I suppose 🙂 And thanks, glad you like it! There are never a shortage of good sunset pics in Seto Naikai!

  5. Pingback: The Ferry of Naoshima… | Dan In Japan

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