The Setouchi Triennale (also known as the Setouchi International Art Festival) is a contemporary art festival held every three years on a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai), the sea which separates Honshu and Shikoku, two of Japan’s main islands. It was first held in 2010.

Contemporary art has gained a prominent position in the region in recent decades thanks to various art projects by the Benesse Corporation on the islands of NaoshimaInujima and Teshima, all of which also serve as festival venues. The Setouchi Triennale is intended to further strengthen the region’s position as a leading site for contemporary art and to spread the art to additional islands.

Like many rural parts of Japan, the islands in the Seto Inland Sea have been suffering from massive depopulation in recent decades, while their remaining residents have been aging at a rapid pace, causing a wide range of problems. One of the festival’s main goals is to counteract these trends and revitalize the region in a sustainable and creative way by bringing contemporary art and tourism onto the islands.

Visitors to the region will be charmed not only by the intriguing art but also by the laid back, slow paced rural atmosphere of the islands’ villages and the beauty of the island scenery. In many ways the festival resembles the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, a similar art festival, which is held every three years in a rural mountainous area of Niigata Prefecture.

Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto

The Art

During the festival, many new artworks by artists from Japan and overseas are exhibited on the twelve islands and around the ports of Takamatsu and Uno in addition to a considerable number of museums and artworks already in existence, including many permanent art installations from the previous festivals. Much of the artwork will remain standing after the end of the festival, justifying a visit to the area at any time of the year.

The artworks are found across the islands. Some of them stand outdoors in the fields, along the coast or in villages. Others make use of the numerous old homes which have been left abandoned due to the depopulation. The buildings are employed as exhibition spaces or have been converted into artworks themselves. In addition, there are the established museums and art sites on NaoshimaInujima and Teshima islands.

 

Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

Hours

While outdoor artworks generally can be seen at any time of the day, most indoor artworks are open between 10:00 and 17:00. Some works have longer or shorter hours. While the majority of artworks can be viewed on all days during the festival, a few of them are closed one day a week.

Editor’s Pick

  • The Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto is one of the more recent additions to the world-renowned “Art Island,” and is located only meters away from Naoshima’s boat terminal (designed by SANAA). The lightweight, highly-transparent mesh-like steel structure was conceived and constructed for the 2016 Setouchi Triennial. Photographer Laurian Ghinitoiu has turned his lens to the project which, in spite of its modest size, casts a striking silhouette on the island’s coastline.

 

  • Located on the island of Naoshima, this is one of two installations by famous Japanese Pop artist Yayaoi Kusama. The island is home to many sculptures and installations hidden in different locations. The “Red Pumpkin” can be found at Miyanoura Port overlooking the coastline of Naoshima. Kusama’s “Yellow Pumpkin” is displayed on the pier facing the Benesse Hotel, the most famous and expensive accommodation on Naoshima Island. Both installations are made of fiberglass and were built around 2010.