I'm usually the biggest tightarse when it comes to travel, especially with accommodation but I didn't have many options on Naoshima.
There are backpackers with dorms only or Japanese rooms - both options meant sleeping in a room with strangers. Then there are yurts you can stay at on the beach and a couple of guest houses. Then there is Benesse House.
Originally, I'd thought the yurt would be fun until a friend reminded me it would be typhon season in Japan! Yikes, I changed my booking immediately.
While I could've opted for one of the cheap places, I kept going on the Benesse House web site and checking it out. As a single traveller, one of their cheapest rooms would set me back 25,000 yen for the night. I'd been trying to budget around 5,000 yen maximum per night! Then I figured, I had the money and I'd come in under budget almost everywhere I'd stayed so why not splurge for one night.
The main reason for going to Naoshima was for the art and staying at Benesse House gave you after hours access to the art gallery - something you rarely get to experience.
I caught the train from Matsuyama to Takumatsu then had a few hours wandering around the city and trying out their famous noodles (quite by accident - I saw a noodle shop that looked good and went in - plus, in the heat, cold noodles are the best lunch), then caught the ferry to Naoshima. Because it was a Monday, I kept getting warned that the galleries were all closed but I'd actually planned it so that I could arrive late on the Monday and get an early start to my sightseeing before places got too crowded.
When I got off the ferry, the Benesse House bus was waiting for me (and other passengers) at the ferry terminal. I guess that is another of the advantages of travelling lush - you can relax instead of worrying about arrangements.
I got to the hotel check-in and just felt so pampered. The lovely French girl on reception (who I later found out is an Arashi fan - yah!) organised all my tickets for viewing the art sites the next day, gave me a timetable for the hotel shuttle bus and had me totally organised.
I'd booked dinner at the hotel's kaiseki restaurant. A first for me, in all the time I've spent in Japan, I've never before had one of those fancy kaiseki, multi-course dinners.
The hotel is split up over two sites with a shuttle bus running between them. You could probably walk up to the resturaunt but it's up a steep hill. Also, because they have two sittings for dinner, they are pretty strict about timing.
I got to my room, had a shower and a glass of wine and got changed for dinner. My room, in the Park section, had a large bedroom with small kitchen area plus an awesome bathroom. Off the bedroom, I had a balcony with views of the hotel grounds, the beach and the Seto Inland Sea. There are a number of cool sculptures spread out over the grounds as well as grassy areas.
The view from my balcony
I also had other cool things like Bose speakers to plug my ipod into - I had to get the hotel staff to have a look at them because I couldn't get them to work (apparently you have to have your plug in device turned up really high volume) and that's how I found out the girl on reception was an Arashi fan :)
This bed was the height of luxury after staying on all the horrible hard beds everywhere
The little kitchen area doubled as a bathroom sink as well
So after prettying myself up, I rushed to catch the bus to dinner. To be honest, the place is a bit of a labryinth and I got lost but eventually found my way.
I took photos of all the courses at dinner but I'm not a very good food photographer and was trying to not look like I was taking photos of my food so they didn't turn out well. But the food was super awesome. There are several menus to pick from - well more like variations on the same the menu, apart from the shabu shabu course. My sister told me to pick the one with the beef main course because there was so much fish on the menu. She made a good call because the beef was freaken awesome. I also enjoyed several bottles of the locally brewed sake.
My table, looking out on the Seto Inland Sea
The resturaunt is slap bang in the middle of the gallery. You walk through the art to get to dinner which is quite nice and then can wander around to your heart's content after dinner.
Even though I was by myself, I didn't feel awkward or uncomfortable. The staff were awesome and I was too preoccupied with the food. I did get the feeling though that this is a popular spot for Japanese women to bring their host boyfriends!
After dinner, instead of getting the shuttle bus, I just had to let the reception know I wanted to leave and they organised a car to pick me up.
In my part of the hotel, there was a lounge with art books and a balcony looking over the ocean. It's the only part of the complex that had wifi and even that was pretty patchy. You could help yourself to tea and coffee but the coffee was truly awful. That was my biggest complaint about the hotel - the shit coffee with fake milk.
I went for a wander around the grounds and checked out the sculptures. The island has two pumpkin sculptures by Yayoi which are like the symbols of the island. I loved them - they not only looked awesome, but it was fun to sit and watch other people interact with them.
A shadowy me against the pumpkin at night
Because I'd been to the early sitting for dinner, I had quite a bit of time to wander around. The grounds aren't well lit which is kind of nice because you get to feel like it's really night but also uncomfortable in case you happen about a canoodling couple on a romantic getaway.
Okay, I have to tell you this funny story. I went back to my room and went outside for a cigarette. I sat my cigarettes and lighter on the balcony railing then realised that was a mistake but, too late, they'd fallen onto the ground below. I was staying on the ground floor (so I guess it was a deck not a balcony) but the grounds in front of the rooms were all fenced off pretty securely - I guess to prevent people from jumping your balcony railing and knicking stuff from your room.
I am not the most agile person in the world for sure so jumping the railing to get my cigarettes back wasn't an option. The hotel had a 'no smoking except in smoking areas' policy and I wasn't really sure if the deck area fit into the 'smoking area' part of that policy or not so didn't want to call the staff for help.
I had a spare lighter but no spare cigarettes and the closest place to buy them was like a half hour or more walk away - in the dark.
I grabbed one of the chairs from the room to see if I could stand on it and reach over but that didn't work. Then I looked around for some implement to help. I found one of those long shoe horns.
So there I was, standing on the chair, reaching over with the shoe horn trying to rescue my cigarettes. There was a road that ran along the side of my building (I think the road that went up to the restuarant) so every time a car came along, I'd have to jump off the chair in case they saw me. I had a total freak out that I'd have to explain myself to the hotel management and also, a major worry that I looked like a total dick.
You might be able to see in the photo, there is a small lip at the edge of the glass. I could fish my cigarette packet onto the metal bit and push it up to the glass with the shoe horn but I'd get to that small lip and fail.
I gave up for a while and went inside. The way I had to lean over the railing meant my boobs were getting squished and painful plus I could see no way to make this work. I really, really needed a cigarette.
At the height of my despair, I spotted the fold up umbrella in my bag and was like BINGO! I got the shoe horn and the opened umbrella, reached over and smacked the cigarette packet into the umbrella with the shoe horn then lifted it up with the cigarettes inside.
I felt like freaken McGiver!
Amazingly enough, nobody came out on their balcony or spotted me while I did all of this!
Anyway, cigarettes rescued, I curled into the super comfy bed and had an awesome nights sleep.
The next morning, I hadn't book breakfast. It was over $50 and I figured I'd spent enough and could get breakfast somewhere else. Note - there is nowhere else to get breakfast. Most of the cafes don't open until late and the only convenience store I found was on the other side of the island near the ferry terminal. My tip if you don't want to pay the bucks is to bring some snacks with you.
Even though I had an early start planned, I woke up with lots of time to kill so went for another walk around the hotel grounds.
After I checked out, I got on the shuttle bus to go see ART. I could use the shuttle bus all day plus there is a public bus but neither of them are that frequent. It was a bit annoying having long wait times on the dusty island roads in the stinking hot sun.
I'd planned a relatively sparse itinerary, figuring I didn't want to go into art overload. There were a few things I wanted to see - a collection of cottages with art installations, one of the museums and the "I *heart* Yu" bath house. If you don't know Japanese - the "I *heart* Yu" is a bit of a pun, using the kanji for "yu" means hot water.
I had to leave the island on the 4.30ish ferry so that I could make all my connections to get to Matsue that night but ended up having heaps of time to do everything plus a leisurely lunch and I caught an earlier ferry!
While I waited for the bus, the guy at the hotel (the porter?), pointed out the eucalypt trees. The rich guy who created the art island concept had originally wanted to make it a koala park to get tourists there. He'd planted the eucalypts but, when they'd grown, discovered that the Australian government wouldn't let him have any koalas. We don't give our koalas to just anyone, you know. Koalas are very fussy about what they eat and would probably not have liked their trees and died. I'm glad they made it an art island instead because a koala island is kinda lame.
Some of the art installations at the old houses were awesome, some I felt were a bit lame and didn't have much thought put into them. The stuff I really loved on Naoshima were the pieces designed to work with the surrounding environment (like the awesome pumpkins).
Actually the best bit of the art installations houses was this - one of them had a pond set in the floor with flashing number counters. It looked amazing but the absolute best bit was a salaryman walked in and didn't realise it was a pond until he stepped into it. I didn't laugh out loud but it was hard not to.
After that, I had lunch because I was starving. I actually had to wander around quite a bit to find a place that was open and then asked at the tourist info place. I went to a little cafe that was a bit annoying and overpriced and had really shit coffee. I think they overcharged me because the menu said dessert could be added to the lunch set for 200 yen but they charged me full price for dessert!
Then I headed to the Chichu museum. You have to go to the ticket office to get your ticket then walk about 10 minutes up to the museum. I must have been limping badly by then (I had problems with my back and legs most of the time I was in Japan, I think from lugging my bag around) and they asked if I wanted to be driven up to the museum. I declined because I didn't want to feel old and feeble!
This museum has a collection of Monet's waterlilly paintings. I felt like they were just there because he was a famous Western artist and didn't really do much for me. They also had an installation by James Turrell who'd done one of the art house installations. His work plays with the way your eyes perceive light and it's really amazing and trippy.
There is a lot of walking around the museum, up and down stairs, which made me wish I'd taken them up on their offer to drive me to the museum. Plus it was a stinking hot day and the sun was relentless.
I had a bit of time to kill before the shuttle bus so walked back to the ticket office, stopping off at a lovely little garden area (with waterlillies like the paintings) on the way back. It was lovely, sitting in the shade, watching the dragonflies on the water. One of those holiday moments that isn't overly exciting but nice to think back on.
I had to pick up my bags from the hotel then go to the bath house (which was near the ferry terminal). The staff had said just to hand them the luggage ticket when the bus pulled in and they'd get my bags straight away so I didn't have to wait for the next bus.
Great in theory but, when I got to the hotel, the bus didn't stop. I hadn't dinged the bell because every other time I'd been to the hotel, the bus had made a stop anyway. When I realised the bus wasn't going to stop, I told the driver and he was like tough shit. We were still in the parking lot of the hotel so it wasn't like it'd have killed him go back and get my bags. I was really angry.
I got off at the next stop and walked back in the stinking heat. It wasn't so bad actually because I just had to walk along the beach.
I dumped my bags in a locker and headed to the bath house. I got very lost and had to call into the conbini for directions (and refreshments).
Obviously, I couldn't take any photos inside but the place has some awesome mosiac work on the bottom of the baths. I don't go to onsen a lot in Japan but this place was very tourist friendly and the water wasn't insanely, flash-scorchingly hot either. I left feeling very relaxed and caught my last ferry across the Seto Inland Sea.
Benesee House was an awesome place to stay. I'm glad I spent the money to stay there instead of being a cheapskate. The dinner was definitely one of the most delicious and memorable I've ever had and the staff were awesome. I was so tempted to book an extra night there but I had a very tight travel schedule with my 7 day JR pass so ended up just having the one night.
It's a bit of an effort to get to Naoshima, working out the train and ferry schedules, but so worth it. I'd love to go back there one day and check out some of the other islands.