Naoshima: more shrines, temples & art all blurred together

Back to the little island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea (a 2-day trip that was now more than 3 weeks ago, but the posts are endless!) also has real shrines, as opposed to “art house project” shrines, as well as real temples…but the lines between them do start to blur a bit. For instance, of all the Art House projects, only the Go’o shrine is open 24 hours a day, so (real) worshippers can worship at the site anytime they wish.

This “real temple” is across the street from the Tadao Ando museum. Don and his students hit the museum while Aardvark and I checked out the temple:

Aardvark does love her some bodhisattvas, be they Kannons or cats.

It was next door to a “real” shrine, so up we went to explore.

The guardians who always exist at the entries to shrines, keeping out the bad and protecting the good inside, were present here as well. They are often very intimidating looking statues, and sometimes Aardvark is terrified of them.

But the one on the left also had a kitten statue curled up at its feet, which kind of detracted from the terrifying factor.

(That said, temple cats are very common – some [i.e., Don] have argued cats are the perfect embodiment of Buddhist wisdom in fact – and this cat may well be a very good judge of good vs. evil, so is perhaps perfectly placed with the guardians?!)

Loving the torii gate on the way up

Aardvark is holding up an autumn leaf she found and fell in love with on the walk up. She carried it around for two more days on the island. It was “all of my favorite colors in one!” With so little autumn in our California lives, we reveled in all the autumn we got to experience here in Japan. This was just the beginning of it!

I always love the small shrines on the site of bigger ones. Some are positively doll-housed size, like the one on the left.


This shrine was also on the top of a hill, right next to the Art House Go’o Shrine. In fact, they share a torii gate between them.

This torii gate below was on the beach a stone’s throw from our “Japanese cottage” lodging, and I mean that both literally and as a pun:


The gate is covered with stones, pinecones, some yennies as offerings, and other natural elements (click on any photo below to see it enlarged for detail):

This torii gate is both spiritual and artistic, it appears: it is labeled on my trusty tourist map [side note: Naoshima has the best tourist maps of any place I’ve ever traveled – upon disembarking from the train at Uno Port, you are greeted by friendly volunteers handing out a tourist map that includes a general map, with 3 close-up maps for the 3 main inhabited parts of the island, marking every art spot and restaurant on the island – and includes descriptions of the restaurants and photos of typical fare, helping us locate the one vegan restaurant on the island! – AND it has complete bus & ferry schedules. All in one handy map. Genius.] – anyway, back to my sentence:

…the torii gate is labeled as a work of art, and clearly, with all the added natural elements unique to this gate and this area, it is not your typical torii gate. But it is apparently conceived to consider the sea before it as sacred, and to protect seafarers and residents from the tumultuousness of the sea, typhoons, etc.

And yes, of course Aardvark is going in for a hug with the bodhisattva.

Some of my favorite aspects of Japan are the juxtapositions of the sacred and profane, and Naoshima is no exception: here is a Buddhist statue, clearly well tended with the bib, flowers, and offerings of small change…


…right next to a vending machine, possibly from which people get their small change to offer after making a drink selection.


Here’s another Naoshima religious site: as we passed this house with a lovely garden, right next to the Honmura bus stop, Aardvark called out from her stroller that it was a temple (I think she recognized either the stylized roof work used as a design-piece here are the gate post, or the fountain? I’m not sure what made her so sure, but she is pretty eagle-eyed at spotting Japanese places of worship.)

It turns out to be a Tenrikyo temple, according to Don. Tenrikyo is a Japanese New Religious Movement that I used to discuss in my Religion, Dialogue & Society class, and so was excited to see in person (sort of – we didn’t go in or anything).

We were on our way to check out the most famous of the Art House projects, the James Turrell project, “Minamidera.” Don had been before and decided, since you are plunged into total and complete darkness, it was not appropriate/too scary for Aardvark, so we were going to take turns going in.

Then, also eagle-eyed and possibly possessing some sort of weird radar, Aardvark noticed a playground across the field next door (she can seriously sense a play structure from at least a block away, even if it is totally out of view), and we bumped into some of Don’s students who offered to watch her while we went in together, so bam! We had our only date since departing for Japan, a fantastic kid-free 10-minutes (sure, it turns out we were surrounded by more students we knew, but we didn’t find out until the end because, hey, total and complete darkness).

Obviously no photos were allowed in Minamidera, and I can’t tell you anything about it without ruining it for you, but it was pretty cool. I think it is the most amazing art…installation? project? I don’t even know what to call it…I’ve ever experienced. And this travel week alone, we experienced some pretty cool artwork. And I don’t often love contemporary art. All I can say is, if you go to Naoshima ever, GO HERE. And if you love art and come to Japan at all, make Naoshima (and Teshima) a priority.

Also, for more (real) info on the Art House project, see this official website.

But, while we were dating-it-up for a wild ten minutes, Aardvark was playing on the playground outside –


– and of course there were some Buddhist statues and leftover gravesite markers from when this particular area had many temples located here.

OK, I think this pretty much wraps up all the Naoshima stuff to tell you about (except the Benessee House Museum, which was great, but no photos, etc.) so I will close with these last photos that didn’t really fit in with the like 5 other posts about this island!


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