The Pumpkin that Helped Save an Island

For our summer newsletter a pumpkin? Hasn’t Halloween been and gone?

For our summer newsletter a pumpkin? Hasn’t Halloween been and gone? Well this story is actually a holiday one with a little economic kick at the end. The pumpkin is on Naoshima Island, located in the Inland Sea in Southern Japan. Susanna and her partner were exploring southern Japan just a month ago and their visit to Naoshima Island was like discovering a lost jewel.

Naoshima is a small island not much larger than Waiheke. It has a recent history as a declining copper mining centre, but those days are passing. Today (alongside a cluster of neighbouring islands) Naoshima is home to a world class collection of art which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The collection of art work was begun by corporate sponsors in 1992 and today you can see amazing Japanese and international works, including a marvellous Monet painting from his Water Lilies series. Displayed in a gallery designed by inspirational architect Tadao Ando, Monet’s work is a huge, gorgeous canvas bathed in the shifting nuances of natural daylight.

Tadao Ando is responsible for many of the amazing galleries – with his brutal but playful structures that use precast concrete and natural light in equal measure. Elsewhere there was a museum dedicated to the architect. The Pumpkin, a beloved outdoor installation, is by celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Despite a typhoon that hurtled through the island, knocking over a few bicycles, Susanna said the island stay was the highlight of her 5 weeks in Japan.

“We were fortunate to be staying at a wonderful bed and breakfast run by a very hospitable young couple.”

Art has revitalised an island that was on the decline with a shrinking, aged population. It has created employment not only for the locals but for an influx of young people who can see a future for themselves in this unique and somewhat bucolic community. It suggests one idea that New Zealand would benefit from: using world class art collections to win overseas visitors. Naoshima and its associated art islands attracted at least as many overseas visitors during their Setouchi Triennale 2016 (130,000) as the Rugby World

Cup did for NZ in 2011 (133,000.) The added bonus is that art-filled buildings can be enjoyed all year round by locals and tourists alike.

To get there from Tokyo, it takes a day, three trains and a ferry ride - as thousands of visitors can attest, it’s worth all that effort!