This year’s JETs have the opportunity to go to a truly special event: the Setouchi Triennale. Every three years this festival ignites the sleepy islands scattered between Kagawa and Okayama prefectures with a blaze of modern art. Many of these islands would have almost nothing to offer outside the festival season, but this spring, summer (July 18th to September 4th), and fall (October 8th to November 6th) they come alive with special performances, restaurants highlighting regional cuisine, and of course vibrant art pieces.
I took a weekend trip out to see three islands for the spring season– Oshima, Ogijma, and Megijima. After certain disasters, I would like to impart the wisdom of experience to those planning to go here for the summer season! The most affordable (and memorable) way to access the festival is Jumbo Ferry. Departing Kobe port Friday night (or is it Saturday morning?) at 12:45 AM, it gets to Takamatsu at the unholy hour of 5 AM. Jumbo Ferry is the most unpleasant of ferries, as after a scant 4 hours of sleep, they play the most obnoxiously cheery jingle at 4:30 AM. I have ridden this beast 7 times and am now thoroughly corrupted. I bought the t-shirt with the lyrics printed on it and am happy to sing it for you anytime.
Due to its history, Oshima is the most unusual of the festival islands. From 1909 until 1996, it was a forced colony for people with Hanson’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. Oshima joined the festival, less to attract tourism, more to educate people about their history. In keeping with this, the boat to the island was free (but necessitated lining up for a numbered ticket an hour in advance) and a guided tour (Japanese only) is required. The main art piece is Blue Sky Aquarium, the rooms of an old sanitarium transformed into a mermaid’s cave. But the strangest of all was the tinny jingle blasting from speakers at every corner of the otherwise silent village.
Ogijima and Megijima
THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT. GO TO MEGIJIMA THEN OGIJIMA. OTHERWISE YOU CANNOT BOARD THE RETURN FERRY.
Ogijima is a veritable cat island. I saw no less than 30 felines lounging around letting people take their photos. They also had some fantastic art houses, nestled around corners and up hills in the adorable fishing village. My personal favorite was the “Akinorium,” ten minutes of sound and shadow playing out on a wall.
Megijima is the Ogre Island from Momotaro the Peach Boy. Take the bus right from the port to see the caves bursting with the creatures. I loved the “Island Theatre Megi.” The inside is decorated all over with portraits of classic Hollywood stars and the theater plays Felix the Cat, Charlie Chaplin, and some weird video of New York. “The Presence of Absence” made me think that I was a vampire for a moment, and as a bonus has the best sushi lunch.
Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. When I tried to leave the island, I found that the ferry that services Megijima and Ogijima is NOT prepared for the crowds that visit on festival weekends. After picking people up at Ogijima, only a small fraction of those waiting at Megijima were able to board. This left a long line of alternately angry and stoic people with some stressed out staff. This also left me standing in line two hours for the next (and last) ferry to Takamatsu, and missing my intended ferry back to Kobe, and having to wait eight hours for the 1 AM Jumbo Ferry. So please, please, please, please, make sure that you are returning from Ogijima, because there won’t be any room when the ferry stops at Megijima.
Please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a more detailed itinerary and advice on Setouchi sightseeing.