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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Antonini

Setouchi Triennale Trip: Part 3 - Shodoshima (First half)

This article refers to my trip to the Setouchi Triennale in July 2019.

At Takamatsu port, I found without too much effort the timetables of the various ferry connections to the islands, and learned which were the right ticket booths and the correct piers for boarding. There, I decided to start my exploration from the biggest of all the Setouchi islands, Shōdoshima. I was quite excited at the idea of finally jumping on a ferry. I love the sea! Moreover, here in London I have a friend from Shōdoshima who always tells me about the beauty of his home island; so I could not wait to go and see it with my own eyes!

The ferry takes roughly one hour to reach Tonoshō port, but if you are willing to save time and spend a bit more money, speed boats are travelling the same route in half the time. I prefer the ferry because I love the sea and being out on the deck to enjoy the breeze, rather than sitting in a box for a bumpy ride. On the ferry, I also made a friend for the day, a very nice Japanese-American artist who had come from Los Angeles to visit the Triennale.

Upon arrival at Tonoshō and a quick look at the installations at the port, we tried to figure out what was the best way to move around the island efficiently. We thought for a moment of renting electric bikes, but the idea was very soon discarded because of the sheer size of the island, and because it is very hilly in the central part. None of us was willing to drive a car, because it was a completely new place and we did not know what to expect in terms of roads and traffic.

In hindsight, it would have probably been a wiser choice to brave the challenge of driving and opt for the car rental. It would allow more convenience, better time management, and with your own form of transport you can surely reach a higher number of interesting places. In any case, even if we had wanted to, a last-minute car rental would have been impossible: most of the outlets had already rented out all available cars, so our last resort was the public bus network.

We headed for the information desk at the bus station near the port; to our surprise, we were presented with a huge A3-format bus timetable sheet, that listed in minuscule characters all the public transport routes covering the island! Now, even if I do speak Japanese, I can guarantee you that an A3 sheet full of detailed information mentioning places and villages you have never heard before can be daunting even for a local! I tried to make the most of the information received, matched it with the locations of the Triennale artworks and set off exploring the island!

As we were on the bus, riding to the first cluster of installations, and after a careful look at all the material we gathered, we immediately agreed that we would devote two full days to Shōdoshima. It’s the biggest of all the Triennale islands, and it hosted a wealth of things to see and enjoy.

Some of the bus routes are relatively frequent (read: every 30/40 minutes), especially the ones that connect the southern port towns of Tonoshō, Kusakabe and Sakate, but some other lines may have as little as 4 buses per day. So, as a word of advice to potential future visitors: please make sure you plan with the best possible accuracy if you intend to use public transport. And be aware that sometimes, during the busiest days of the festival (weekends and bank holidays) the buses may even be too full to let you in! As a silver lining, and to our surprise, even in such a laid-back rural area, the buses were metronomically punctual, in the best Japanese tradition!

A special mention goes to the official application of the Setouchi Triennale: it was a godsend to help figure things out. Although it is not perfect, it is GPS-based and extremely useful when you are navigating unknown areas; especially when you are trying to locate artworks that sometimes are not immediately identifiable from the street. It also had a built-in bus timetable, but we preferred to rely on the one we had received from the information desk. It is also helpful to locate public toilets, restaurants, bike-sharing docking stations and anything a visitor could need for a pleasant experience.

In the next article we will continue our exploration of this beautiful island, so please make sure to come back for more!

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