To Naoshima Island

‘Red Pumpkin’ greets visitors at the port.

We began the day with another large breakfast. The buffet had fewer western options but did include an omelet station. This time I went for the miso at the end of the meal so it didn’t get cold. Before that I munched on umeboshi, rice, and fruit that included slices of apple, pineapple, orange, and strawberries. Also sampled two types of “smoothies,” one green with too much apple juice and a red pepper version without much flavor. Other people were eating salad, bologna, and scalloped (?) potatoes, among other nontraditional early a.m. items.

From Okayama, we took a local train to Uno and then a ferry to Naoshima. The $3 ferry ticket was the only time we had to pay for transportation except for taxis. The passengers hailed from France and probably Australia, plus other places as we learned later. The ferry transports everything the island needs, hence we boarded with trucks bearing lots of cargo, and cars loaded with people stocking up on groceries.

The weather proved far milder than Tokyo, but like most islands delivered winds that seemed to blow from every direction.

The place offers the charm and surprise of art at every turn. “Red Pumpkin” has a yellow sibling, which sits among other installations, including a man wearing bright yellow trousers reading a newspaper with a blue dog beside him, and an elephant that serves as a planter. I believe the term for these pieces is “whimsical.”

We stumbled around a bit looking for Seven Beaches, our ryokan, and found it with the help of three people, two of whom seemed to be visitors.

It felt delightful to stoop beneath the hanging flags at the entrance into the common area, which featured blue vinyl banquettes and immaculate counters with a container of heated water for tea (or instant coffee) and a canister of cold filtered water.

Our hostesses showed us to our room and even lugged my heavy suitcase up the stairs. The room had the traditional tatami mats and futons but a surprising amount of space.

We drank tea and then walked and walked and walked in search of Benesse House, a museum and hotel complex founded by an industrialist who wanted to rescue the island from poverty after the fishing industry collapsed.

The road climbed and climbed. The sidewalk disappeared. The shoulder dwindled to nothing, meaning we had no protection from the cars and trucks careering up and down. Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier the Japanese follow the British tradition and drive on the “wrong” side of the road, which meant that vehicles snuck up behind us. We decided to turn back.

The walk revealed a serious contrast: the obvious poverty of rundown unoccupied buildings with oxidizing corrugated tin and rotting wood  that sit close to large multi-story houses surrounded by perfect gardens. One lady was clipping her plants with shears not much bigger than nail scissors. To my untrained eye, there was not a leaf out of place.

In other spots, we passed enormous vegetable gardens lush with greens, surrounded by insect-repelling flowers. Olive trees attested to the moderate climate, and the persimmons, which we had spotted from the train, grew in profusion.

We returned to the port area and caught the local bus, an adventure in itself. Off the main road, the streets accommodate only one vehicle (or person) at a time. Kathryn described the protocol: “The pedestrian stands behind the vending machine. The car pulls into a driveway, and the bus gets to go.”

The museums were supposedly closed, though we learned when we arrived that the main Benesse Museum was indeed open. We had a chance to view works of Louise Nevelson, Basquiat, and Rauschenberg. Two stars of the place were “The Secret of the Sky”  and a pie wedge of mirrors that reflected multiple images of little red action figures.

Next up: Dinner at the mystery café.

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