This article refers to my trip to the Setouchi Triennale in July 2019.
The two days spent in Shōdoshima were delightful: the weather was not perfect, since the rainy season was lingering much longer than usual, and the sky was leaden grey with some dashes of rain here and there; but there were so many beautiful things making up for it.
I saw some stunning art pieces amongst which my favourites were: Hans Op De Beeck’s “The Silent Room”, an oniric on-site installation including monochrome grey sculptures; and Wang Wen Chih’s “Love in Shōdoshima”, an architectural wonder all made of bamboo without the help of a single nail, nested in the rural heart of the island and surrounded by terraced rice paddies.
A special mention goes to the almost kawaii (cute) water-spouting demon created by Kenji Yanobe & Beat Takeshi “Anger from the Bottom”.
Near this sculpture, in the village of Sakate, we found a cute hip local micro-brewery and tried some of their craft beers. They were all excellent, and the place itself was a nice excuse for a pause in our art rally. The founder is a young man from Kōbe who, sick of the city life and to work as an employee, decided to move to Shōdoshima with his girlfriend and start a new bohemian and slow-paced life by turning his passion for brewing into his job. They found a dilapidated farmhouse which was on sale for a ridiculous sum, bought it, refurbished it as much as needed, and started up anew. For a moment, I thought I would be happy to try something similar, in a quiet place in Japan!
Before becoming a hot spot of the Setouchi Triennale in recent years, Shōdoshima was also known for soy sauce and olives! Its small scale production of soy sauce can be traced back to almost 400 years ago, and it is said to be of very high quality. During the two days that we spent on the island, we stumbled upon a brewery’s flagship shop, selling its range of products to the general public. There we could taste different types of soy sauce, some of which flavoured with chilli, citrus fruits or olive oil.
Shōdoshima is also one of the first (and still one of the few) places in Japan where they could successfully grow olive trees. From the beginning of the 20th century, it has a small scale production of which the islanders are very proud. The island has embraced the olive as a symbol of their success story. They have created their olive-shaped mascot; named the local bus line olive-bus; they have even opened a themed park about olives (Olive Park) on the site where the first olive plantation successfully produced fruits.
The park is undoubtedly a smart idea to create interest in olive cultivation and oil production. However, it is clearly targeted for Japanese visitors, who more likely find this topic interesting and exotic. Probably a visitor coming from Italy or other millenary olive producers such as Greece or Spain would find the place much less engaging. It’s worth going though, if your mind is set on taking the iconic Shōdoshima souvenir picture jumping on a broomstick and with the replica of a Greek olive mill in the background.
To conclude my second day on Shōdoshima, I decided to visit one of the most iconic sights on the island, not far from Tonoshō port: the so-called Angel Road. It is a strip of sand that only emerges during low tide, twice a day, and it links the main island to three smaller islands offshore, thus making it possible to walk there. The legend (or superstition?) tells that lovers who walk together on the sandbar will find happiness. There is also a small shrine on the first of the three islands, where couples go to hang their ema (votive tablet) in search for a further divine endorsement.
Unfortunately, my time to visit the island was limited, but I know there is much more to see and do. For example, the spectacular Kankakei Gorge and its ropeway, which I had to put aside, because it would take almost a full day to enjoy the place as it deserves. There are also other interesting attractions scattered around the island: a monkey park, a visitable movie production set, a massive statue of the goddess Kannon. And of course the hundreds of scenic spots in the unspoilt countryside and along the dramatic coastline.
I will surely go back. And this time I will choose to rent a car, and stay on the island at least 2 or 3 nights, to fully understand the vibe of such a unique place, and nonetheless so profoundly and authentically Japanese.
Make sure you come back to read more stories about other islands in the Seto Inland Sea!