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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Antonini

Setouchi Triennale Trip: Part 1 - Introduction

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

In July 2019, as part of a longer trip to Shikoku, I decided to visit the Setouchi Triennale. It is a contemporary art festival that is held every three years, with a unique prerogative: the artworks and installations are scattered all over the islands of the Internal Sea of Japan. Every Triennale spans over three exhibiting seasons: Spring, Summer and Autumn; offering visitors the possibility to choose their favorite time of the year, or to visit all three!

The Triennale was born as an attempt to revive the economy of the nearly depopulated small islands of the Seto Inland Sea.

The first motor of this process was Benesse Holdings, a very long-sighted group of entrepreneurs. In the early 1990s, with the help of archistar Tadao Andō and other prominent Japanese artists, they kickstarted a virtuous circle of recovery by investing massive capitals and creating museums, art projects, and a very unique and exclusive art hotel on the island of Naoshima.

What are the reasons why I chose to visit the Setouchi Triennale? More than one for sure!

Firstly, I find contemporary art more stimulating than “classical” art, in that it tries to establish a dialogue in the present with viewers that share the same time and space as the artists.

Secondly, the Triennale artworks and installations are disseminated on several islands; and within each island, in many different locations. This translates into a very engaging and entertaining treasure hunt through the countryside, villages, and coastal areas, with visitors actively searching for artworks around the island, and creates many occasions for interaction with other like-minded people.

Third, the exhibition is also a motivation to explore an area of Japan that is on average a bit more complicated to reach than mainland sightseeing spots. And beyond the artworks it makes you discover corners of this country that have a very pronounced uniqueness and flavor.

Lastly, having chosen to visit the Summer edition, it should not be overlooked that the Setouchi islands possess some gorgeous and unspoiled beaches, with warm and crystalline waters. The possibility of concluding a day’s art wanderings with a couple of hours of relaxation at the beach was a nice incentive!

Since this part of the trip came after many days of intensive exploration of Shikoku, I made the lazy choice to use the port city of Takamatsu as a base for daily hub and spoke visits to the islands.

I chose a hotel within walking distance to the port, and booked a week’s stay, for the convenience of not having to move my luggage around while exploring the archipelago. The accommodation I chose was a reliable business hotel, which in my case responded to my need of having a clean room to spend the night and a decent breakfast in the morning. In any case, the city of Takamatsu offers a wide range of accommodation solutions to fit everyone’s pockets and desires, from shared dorms to luxury hotels.

Choosing to stay in Takamatsu for a week was my lazy personal choice on this trip for the aforementioned reasons, but it must be said that choosing to stay overnight on the islands would probably contribute to enhancing the kaleidoscope of experiences.

In a previous trip I had stayed at Naoshima for a couple of nights, and I must admit that the island’s atmosphere changes radically after the hordes of day-trippers sail back to the mainland with the last ferry of the day. The day’s noise and bustle give way to a slow-pace mellowness that tells silent stories of the island’s real life. Local people unwind from their day jobs and become friendlier, other visitors who are staying overnight socialize and share the wealth of their experiences in front of a glass of beer or Nihonshu (Japanese sake).

Accommodation on the islands is not as plentiful as it is in Takamatsu, and very often the choice is limited; and yet, at the same time, it can be a rewarding experience and leave amazing memories.

In the next articles, I will take you with me on an island-hopping trip in the Seto Inland Sea, so don’t forget to come back to read more!

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