Traveling for Tranquility: Teshima Island’s Hidden Oasis of Solace

“Seek peace of mind through the harmony of architecture and art.”  

The Teshima Art Museum, resembling a gigantic white cocoon, basks in sunlight freely streaming through its dome. White threads under the circular sky sway in the breeze, connecting the space. The floor of the cocoon is dotted with small holes, from which gravity-defying droplets emerge, climbing out of the ground, trembling and searching for their path. They gather into pools of varying sizes or disperse into solitude. This white cocoon on Teshima sits like in times past, at the starting point of a journey, accompanying the birth of daydreams one after another.

Tranquility and Lightness of Teshima.

In the epidemic that broke out a few years ago, life could only be dragged along by the times. As the days passed, this uncertain pace gave birth to a sense of powerlessness that could not be alleviated by reading novels, watching movies, or listening to jazz. I thought, during this low point in life, what could I gain from a trip to Teshima Island ? Looking into the distance, the waves gradually became gentler, and the speedboat departing from Takamatsu also slowed down. The sea was leading me into Teshima’s Ieura Port with a soft arc.

After bowing to the captain of the speed boat and the ticket collector , I felt light on my feet, having been on the boat for 50 minutes. Making sure I wasn’t dizzy, I quickly walked to the bicycle rental shop near the port. Since it wasn’t the peak season of the ‘“Art Setouchi” and I had reserved in advance, there was no need to queue at the venue. I smoothly got an electric bicycle. Opening the full-color island map that came with the bike, I took a deep breath. Long-forgotten memories surged back, filled with the tranquility and lightness of Teshima.

Riding a bike from Ieura Port, I passed the ‘Oil Magnate,’ so called because it is the only gas station on the island. Glancing back, I saw two old men standing next to an old tire, seemingly pondering over it for a while. Everything was quiet, the air was very dry. The golden rice fields of Teshima stretched out before me as I rode along the flat road. Soon, I reached an upward slope. Remember, Teshima is hilly – make sure to rent an “electric bike”!

The Past of Teshima Island

The tranquil mountain path and the clean scent of the forest are Teshima’s whispers, making it hard to imagine that Teshima experienced a severe ‘industrial waste incident.’ Issues like aging population and out-migration, common in modernization, eroded the island. Then, the residents of Teshima bravely issued the ‘Teshima Declaration,’ vowing to remove all waste by 2017. With the advocacy of lawyer Nakabo Kohei and architect Tadao Ando, as well as the sustainable island concept promoted by Soichiro Fukutake, the father of Shimajiro, it took the concerted efforts of people from various fields to restore value to the declining islands of the Seto Inland Sea. The birth of the ‘Setouchi Triennale” also stemmed from these islands’ past. Due to these historical events, my wandering on Teshima feels profoundly deep.

One of the best experiences on Teshima is cycling down the long slope of Highway 255 from the mountaintop. The sea breeze whisks by rapidly, offering an unobstructed view of the azure Seto Inland Sea. It’s not just the skin that gets cleansed, but the heart too. On the right side at the bottom of the slope is the art museum area. The entrance provides space for parking bicycles, surrounded by a field of green grass where dragonflies flit about. The ticket booth is buried in the soil, resembling a Hobbit’s home in the Shire.

Following the small path outside the ticket booth leads to the entrance of a forest. To the left of the forest, the Seto Inland Sea merges with the sky. Between this triangular area stands a white building, seamlessly blending into nature. The harmony created between human and island gradually instills a sense of solidity in life.

 Teshima Art Museum, a museum without any artworks

Following the museum staff’s guidance, I put away my camera, took off my shoes, and walked barefoot into the white archway. The low height of the passageway offers a comforting sense of enclosure. It’s been five years since I last visited. Have I lived well during these days? Before I know it, I find myself standing in the vast, empty space of this white cocoon-like room—the Teshima Art Museum, a museum without any artworks.

‘The so-called nothingness is everything.’ 

a phrase by contemporary novelist Tomihiko Morimi in ‘Tropical,’ left a deep impression on me. Life is full of complexities, but perhaps their purpose is to make us pause and feel. Looking up at the circular blue sky and the floating white threads, the Teshima Art Museum conveys that ‘feeling’ itself is an art.

The exhibit inside the museum is ‘Matrix,’ designed by artist Rei Naito and constructed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa. Normally, my impression of ‘artworks’ is of tangible objects that can be collected, viewed, and possessed. However, from the moment landed at Ieura Port on Teshima, the concept of ‘tangible’ was reinterpreted by the island, representing a contemporary art perspective.

Matrix

The Teshima Art Museum is located on the mountainside, surrounded by Teshima’s terraced fields. Its architecture is sketched with swift, curved lines, harmoniously existing within the landscape, resembling a pure white cocoon. Inside the vast cocoon room, there are three openings, with arc-shaped lines connecting to the dome. No pillars are used; instead, a shell-like structure serves as the fulcrum. The island’s sunlight, wind, and atmosphere flow freely, like a breathing organism.

Walking here requires attention to the floor, as tiny holes scattered throughout continuously emit spring water from Teshima. The pure spring water forms droplets at these holes, gathering in one direction or meandering in various paths. I follow these droplets, sit watching them, or lie down contemplating their trajectories, feeling pure and free in my heart.

Art has a unique power to touch our souls, intended to awaken something within. Barefoot in ‘Matrix,’ the vast space is quiet. The harmonious energy of man and nature is warmly healing every dream.

島廚房

Due to the limited number of restaurants on the island, without careful planning of the route, it’s easy to miss the reserved meal times because of the distance between attractions. This time, I almost missed a meal because the restaurant I had booked was on the other side of the mountain. To make matters worse, I faced a major crisis: the battery of my electric bicycle ran out! This meant pedaling furiously under the scorching midday sun on a ‘battery-less’ electric bike, gasping for breath as I climbed the hills, while watching other tourists glide past me effortlessly. So, when riding an electric bicycle on Teshima, it’s crucial to constantly monitor the battery level.

 Speaking of cooking and cuisine, most of my knowledge comes from ‘Chef’s Table,’ an Emmy Award-nominated culinary documentary series on Netflix. It features the top 50 most influential restaurants in the world, the life stories of the chefs behind them, and their definitions of ‘food.’ And when it comes to one of the most influential restaurants in the Seto Island Sea, without a doubt, my vote goes to Shima Kitchen.

Stepping into Shima Kitchen, the feeling is like ‘coming back home.’ Designed by architectural artist Yoshi Abe, it’s a renovation of an old house in Teshima’s Karatooka settlement. The eaves extending from both sides of the entrance, with their natural arrangement of wooden boards, have gaps that act like scales for light to filter through. The extended parabolas encircle the main house and the front yard, creating an open space. The original big tree and plants of the old house are preserved, allowing unrestrained light and shadow to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors. There are no constraints. I think, this is what the feeling of ‘home’ is all about.

The atmosphere is pleasant, connecting people through the concept of ‘food and art.’ 

The head chef from Tokyo’s Marunouchi Hotel serves as a mentor, with local residents doing the cooking. The elements of the meal – rice, vegetables – are all sourced from local Teshima farmers, achieving a sustainable cycle of nature and economy. We ordered the fried fish set and curry set, both of which were generously portioned. The fish was astonishingly fresh, without any hint of fishiness, and the side dishes were not to be overlooked either. The roasted colors of fresh green peppers, asparagus, and eggplants truly showcased the island chefs’ dedication. 

Eating with gratitude, I recalled sweating profusely while biking earlier. Sipping on olive soda from Shodoshima, looking through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the courtyard of Shima Kitchen, the time spent on Teshima filled me with immense satisfaction.

After enjoying a meal at Shima Kitchen, it’s nice to take a stroll nearby. To the left of the exit is Teshima’s community trail. The afternoon sunlight is warm, and the stone low walls and neatly trimmed bushes along the path bring to mind the scene in ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ where Mei encounters a goat in the alleyways – a nostalgic memory. This path leads to the ‘Teshima Usaginingen Theater,’ an interactive theater combining video and live performance. In the small plaza in front of the theater, local farmers offer brewed drinks, where poets and travelers naturally meet, creating a wonderful atmosphere, especially recommended for families with children.

I remember my last visit to Teshima was in 2019 during the fourth ‘Setouchi Triennale.’ The atmosphere then was completely different from the serene Teshima of this visit. Nonetheless, this island, which has experienced much, still embraces people with open arms, whether they’re cycling, walking, or running.

Contemporary art means ‘art of the present,’ and whether it’s about finding inner peace, artistic inspiration, or simply escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, Teshima satisfies and provides a multi-layered experience akin to contemporary art. I believe there are many hidden gems in the world waiting to be discovered. If you ask me, ‘When is the best time to visit Teshima?’ I would say, ‘Anytime, when you feel like setting out.

Tips for visiting Teshima:

1.Rent a bike: Make sure to reserve a bicycle or electric scooter in advance. If you want to save more time, you can also rent a car. As the terrain is quite hilly, it’s important to ensure the battery capacity of the bike is sufficient. Follow traffic rules and allow at least 30 to 40 minutes from Ieura Port to the Teshima Art Museum to enjoy the scenery along the way.

2.Book the gallery in advance (Closed on Tuesdays): The Teshima Art Museum operates on a reservation system, so remember to book in advance on their website. Free cancellation is available if your plans change. Many travelers inquire on-site, but tickets are often not available for purchase then.

3.Plan your meal: There are not many restaurants on the island, so remember to book in advance and plan the route between attractions and restaurants to avoid missing your reservation.

4. Check the return bus and boat schedules, and make sure to have enough cash for tickets.

5. Remember to stay hydrated while roaming around the island. There are vending machines along the roads.

6. Teshima’s community is serene and quiet, so embrace the tranquility.

OPEN:

March 1st 〜 Sep 30th
10:00 〜 17:00(Last Entry 16:30)
Oct 1st 〜 End of 2
10:00 〜 16:00(Last Entry 15:30)

CLOSED:

*Open on national holidays but closed the next day.
*Open on Tuesdays when Monday falls on a national holiday but closed on the next day.
Open Days Calendar

Admission:JPY1,570
*free for children 15 and under

BOOK TICKET HERE
Group Visits:If visiting the museum in a group (9 or more people), Please go to Group Visits.

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