The Setouchi Triennale – a contemporary art festival held on multiple islands in the Seto Inland Sea, including perhaps its best known, Naoshima – will return to the area this year after a successful inaugural event three years ago.

If you’ve heard of the islands and always wanted to visit, now could be the perfect time.

The festival not only celebrates the works – many of them iconic outdoor sculptures – that are permanently housed on the islands but also curates a collection of specially commissioned international pieces spread out in clusters over more than a dozen locations, split into spring, summer and autumn schedules.

The Triennale offers a chance to enjoy some of the best contemporary art around as well as a great excuse to explore Okayama and Kagawa prefectures.

When the festival started in 2010, its organizers’ ambitious concept, to “return vitality to the islands of the Setouchi Area, where nature and people harmonize together,” was well rewarded, with almost a million visitors heading to see the vast range of art on display. Once again, the festival has attracted some of Japan’s finest artists as well as international stars from China, France, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland and Germany.

“In today’s globalizing world,” organizers say, “with increasing homogenization and streamlining, the islands are losing their unique characteristics.” Bringing together such a selection of world talent could, they hope, mean “new opportunities for the rebirth of the Seto Inland Sea.”

The works on display are just as varied as the nationalities of the more than 200 creators, with paintings, sculptures, performance art, installations and many events held in parallel.

Your Passport to the Art

Funjo Hagetaka, '20th Century Recall' (Photo: Osamu Nakamura)

Funjo Hagetaka, “20th Century Recall” Photo: Osamu Nakamura

The Art Setouchi Passport, available at many of the museums and locations but also in advance, offers great value. It costs ¥4,500 (¥3,500 in advance, under 15s free) and provides access/admission to all Triennale works as well as to other related art facilities, such as the Lee Ufan Museum, Benesse House Museum, Art House Project, and the Inujima Art Project “Seirensho”.

If you want to see each of the three seasons’ exhibitions, there is an all-inclusive Passport, valid for the entire year, which costs a mere ¥5,000.

Although these Passports will get you in to see the vast majority of the works being displayed, some aspects of the festival require a separate fee. For example, you can visit Naoshima’s famous Chichu museum for ¥1,000 or duck into the caves at Megijima for just ¥300.

The Takamatsu city swimming pool has the “Hiroko Taniyama I’m here” experience, which will cost ¥500 for adults and just ¥330 for high school students. Perhaps the most enticing, however, is the Naoshima bath, charmingly named “I Love 湯 (yu)” – yu being the Japanese for hot-water and a character that decorates the exterior of many a hot bath nation wide. This is only ¥500 and well worth a visit.

The 2013 Setouchi Triennale is an adventurous project and one that aims to please the taste of anyone with even a fleeting interest in art. The works are as varied as they are enthralling and the organizers have worked alongside local businesses to make this a real success.

It may seem a little daunting to have so much choice at your disposal but for more information and detailed suggested itineraries, however much time you have, simply visit the detailed English-language website. This really does seem too good a chance to pass up.

The opening dates are from March 20th until April 21st. The summer exhibitions will be open between July 20th and September 1st and the final set of dates will run from October 5th to November 4th. For more details and to find out how to get there, see:

Main image: Yodogawa Technique “Black Porgy in Uno”. Photo: Osamu Nakamura

Text by Adam Miller