text by Natalee Ranii-Dropcho; Photos by Jun Lu

November 16, 2018

Go Breathe: Naoshima, Japan

The calm that envelopes Naoshima is not to be confused with sleepiness.

Translated as “art museum in the earth,” Tadao Ando’s Chichū Bijutsukan is a synthesis of blue sky, evergreen paths, and soft, grey concrete framing the view of the sea below. This is a structure of epic proportion, yet intended to house only a few works. That visitors are left to explore its interior by natural light alone makes each step a lesson in humility. Shoes off, socks hugging white mosaic tiles, finding your way to the light beyond a narrow hallway is less a sight than a feeling burned into memory: from the glass roof, muted daylight, and white walls bursts a symphony of water lilies hovering above the atmosphere. Like Monet, you learn to float.

On a nearby island sits the Teshima Art Museum, where a dome-like structure built by architect Rue Nishizawa houses a single piece of work by Rei Naito. Walking into the dome with no prior image leaves infinite room for surprise. Larger-than-life sloped walls carry the eye upward to the ceiling where two organic shaped holes open up into the sky, blank oval pupils that give yours a new sight. As if reversing Earth’s natural process, water droplets spring from concealed holes in the ground to collect into small puddles. Once enough water collects, the freshly formed ponds trickle into one of two larger ponds that sit beneath the vast oval openings to the sky. The cycle continues like rainwater.

Then there is Yayoi Kusama’s yellow dotted pumpkin, likely the island’s most recognized work, that is both greeting and farewell for visitors by ferry. Sitting at the edge of the harbor, it prompts a moment of reflection as your gaze shifts to the sea behind it. You feel at ease and in sync with your surroundings. Every detail is meticulously thought through. Every artwork is precisely placed. Every moment provides inspiration to bring back home.

Tadao Andao once said, “You can’t really say what is beautiful about a place, but the image of the place will remain vividly with you.” As most of the museums prohibit indoor photography, your image of Naoshima is up to memory to capture. What remains can only be described as waking from a long night’s sleep: revitalized and restored with the remnants of a peaceful dream.

Natalee Ranii-Dropcho is a writer living in New York, and Jun Lu is a photographer currently traveling in South America.