Along the gently rising horizon of Naoshima, hidden in the hillside’s exposed concrete, lies a gray-white edifice cloaked in greenery. The gatekeeper greets us with, ‘Welcome to the “Corridor of Time,”‘ a place where Hiroshi Sugimoto, ‘the last modernist,’ collects ‘memories.
Parking our bikes on Naoshima’s beach, accompanied by the waves of the Seto Inland Sea, Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Yellow Pumpkin’ stands as lively as ever. We quietly enter the nearby ‘Benesse House Area – East Gate.
Walking along this coastal path, I think of the ‘Yellow Pumpkin‘ which once fell into the sea during a typhoon, becoming a major global news story. As I walk, I occasionally look back at the pumpkin, surrounded by crowds, and wonder if it remembers that night when it fearlessly took flight into the ocean, carried by the wind.
We followed the coastal path all the way to the outdoor exhibition area of ‘Benesse House Park.’
At the entrance, dense rows of pine trees seemed to be concealing something. As I gazed at these trees, I felt as if something was watching me too. On closer inspection, I found two brightly colored creatures nestled among the trees, staring back at us in a comical, childlike manner. Remember to say hello to them; they look quite amusing.
Karel Appel’s ‘Frog and Cat’ reminded me of something familiar; it wasn’t until I was on the ferry later that I realized it reminded me of ‘Doraemon.’
Niki de Saint Phalle’s ‘Elephant’ also has Yayoi Kusama’s ‘dot’ elements on its legs.
On Naoshima, Benesse House offers four distinct accommodations: ‘Museum,’ ‘Oval,’ ‘Park,’ and ‘Beach.’ Architect Tadao Ando has masterfully integrated nature, art, and architecture, with each hotel coexisting harmoniously with the island and preserving the natural environment, evolving sustainably with the seasons.
If possible, staying overnight on Naoshima reveals a completely different aspect from the daytime, offering a resonant experience of the Seto Inland Sea islands at night. It’s an opportunity to visit the solitary ‘Yellow Pumpkin’ under the moonlight.
Each hotel boasts unique collections, a vision of Mr. Soichiro Fukutake for the Benesse Art Site. ‘Park’ houses ‘Hiroshi Sugimoto – Time’s Corridor,’ further inspiring the creation of ‘Enoura Observatory’ in Odawara City, a place to understand the origins of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s creativity.
Previously exclusive to guests, the galleries have been open to all visitors since the 2022 Setouchi Triennale, accessible with an online reservation and ticket collection at the reception.
As we prepared to descend for the visit, the staff reminded us to exchange our ticket for a traditional Japanese sweet, adding a delightful touch to our day. I imagined sitting down after encountering Sugimoto’s reflective photography, sculptures, and architectural works, returning to simplicity with hot tea and sweets – a simple yet beautiful philosophy of life.
“This is my earliest childhood memory. The moment I saw the sea, I realized ‘who am I?’ and my life began from that specific moment.” – Hiroshi Sugimoto
Modernism, an art movement emphasizing ‘self-expression’ and ‘anti-tradition,’ features Hiroshi Sugimoto as the only living Japanese photographer on ‘The Times’ list of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His works interweave Eastern and Western historiography, philosophy, aesthetics, and architecture, earning him the title of ‘the last modernist.’
In the frame of black and white
As I approached, I discovered the sky, only to realize it was the sea. Gazing at the central horizon, my body seemed to sway with the waves. The mist gently caressed the sea surface, making my skin feel moist. It was ethereal, as if standing alone at sea, tranquil, as if time had returned to a distant past.
Every time, I find Tadao Ando’s architectural spaces like an ancient labyrinth. I remember how we circled the exhibition room, only to realize that this photograph, presented like a Japanese folding screen, was quietly beside us all along. The dim lighting of the room and the blurred black silhouettes of pine trees added to the sense of mystery. Yet, amidst this bewilderment, everything seemed filled with the spirituality of nature.
Pine trees, which stay green even in winter, symbolize ‘longevity’ and ‘fidelity’ in Japan. The Japanese word for pine tree, ‘matsu,’ also means ‘to wait,’ giving it the connotation of ‘the tree waiting for the divine’s arrival.’ Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ‘Pine Forest’ picture, taken at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, adds another layer of special meaning to this work.
Hiroshi Sugimoto pays homage to the Japanese national treasure – Tohaku Hasegawa (Tohaku’s Shorinzu) with his black-and-white photograph of the ‘Pine Forest Screen’.
Go’o Shrine : Appropriate Proportion
Hiroshi Sugimoto, a philosopher in photography who ventured into architecture, created the first project for the Naoshima House Plan: a scale model of the Go’o Shrine. Right down the stairs, the work is visible, featuring the same optical glass staircase that connects the upper and lower worlds. Notably, as visitors continue their journey through the dark exhibition room to the space where ‘Seascape’ hangs, the layout echoes the main deity of the shrine on the east side of Naoshima, and also links to the ‘Enoura Observatory’ in Odawara City.
Visiting the shrine and Odawara City before arriving at ‘Time’s Corridor’ offers an omniscient perspective on the shrine’s entirety. This undoubtedly enhances the appreciation of Sugimoto’s concept, which transcends the boundaries of heaven and earth.
Church of the Light
In the darkness, ‘The Church of Light’ hovers on the wall, shining face to face with the ‘New York World Trade Center.’ Standing between these two paintings, I’m reminded of my solo visits to both places years ago. The memories suddenly interconnect deeply from within, filled with profound emotions. I believe Hiroshi Sugimoto has used the most rational form of tenderness to depict a philosophy of life and death in this world.
‘Architecture’ is born from an initial consciousness, merely a fleeting, blurred impression to an architect. ‘Time Corridor’ houses memories of the ‘St. Benedict Chapel,’ ‘Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut,’ ‘Church of the Light’ in Osaka Ibaraki Kasugaoka, and the ‘World Trade Center.’ Tadao Ando brings in natural light, endowing these structures with a divine aura.
Hiroshi Sugimoto Gallery: Time Corridors
11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (last entry: 2:00 p.m.)
Admission：JPY 1,500 *Tea and sweets are included.
Free admission for those under 15 years old and guests of Benesse House.
Please ask at the lounge during the opening hours if you would like to have tea (Price not included in admission fee).
Tickets：Click here for reservations.
No reservation is required for guests of Benesse House.