Past Setouchi Triennales
2018.08.03 Tracing the history of the “Island of Stone” along the stone wall path
Exploring Setouchi #9
Inujima Island is known for its art museums, galleries and installations, such as the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, the Inujima “Art House Project”, and the “Inujima Life Garden”, all of which are managed by Benesse Art Site Naoshima.
In historic times, Inujima was known for the production of high quality granite. This granite was shipped throughout Japan, and used to construct the stone walls of Osaka Castle, the torii gates of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, and other notable sites.
Inujima has a circumference of about 4 kilometers.
Although there are hills on Inujima, they are so gentle that it is possible to stroll around the island in an hour.
After touring the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, the Inujima “Art House Project”, and Inujima Life Garden that are scattered throughout the community, why not give yourself another hour to just stroll around Inujima? It is a wonderful opportunity to experience island life first hand as you explore the history of this “Island of Stone”.
Be sure to double-check the ferry times before you set out on your walk.
* “Benesse Art Site Naoshima” is the collective name for all art-related activities conducted by Benesse Holdings Inc. and Fukutake Foundation on the islands of Naoshima and Teshima in Kagawa Prefecture and on Inujima Island in Okayama Prefecture.
A ticket is required for entry into Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, Inujima “Art House Project”, and “Inujima Life Garden”. Also, please refrain from taking photos or videos of the art installations.
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum
Photo: Daici Ano
Inujima Island, the “Island of Stone”, was at its most lively during the Meiji Period, when the island’s quarries supplied stone for the construction of Osaka Port. During this time, Inujima was bustling with visiting sailors and stone craftsmen, and the harbor was filled with hundreds of boats.
In 1909, Inujima’s copper refinery opened.
The refinery, which closed for business after approximately 10 years of operation, has been preserved by Benesse Art Site Naoshima's project , and given new life as the “Inujima Art Project Seirensho” (currently the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum).
About a 2 minute walk from the harbor, you will see some stores come into view on the left hand side. Please take a moment to look up at the mountain there.
You will see the silhouette of what appears to be a cute little house.
This is Yamajinja Shrine, where the guardian deity of stone-cutters is worshiped.
The charming silhouette you see is actually the ruins of a large lantern, which is said to have been used as a lighthouse in ancient times.
Walk behind Yamajinja Shrine, duck under the torii gates, look up to your right, and you will be able to see the lantern.
Also, if you climb the stone steps of the shrine, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Seto Inland Sea and the village of Inujima.
Inujima “Art House Project” F-Art House
Photo: Takashi Homma
Next to Yamajinja Shrine you will find “F-Art House”, part of the Inujima “Art House Project”.
As you walk around Inujima, you may come to appreciate the beauty of the stone walls which appear slightly pink and orange.
“The stones change color in the rain”, an island resident kindly explained to me.
Of course, walking around Inujima on a sunny day is an enjoyable experience, but now I look forward to taking a stroll on a rainy day as well.
By the way, why do you suppose the island is called “Inujima”, which literally translates into “Dog Island?”
Legend has it that a long time ago, Sugawarano Michizane, a Japanese scholar and statesman, was sailing the Seto Inland Sea, when he found himself caught up in a storm and was almost thrown from his boat. At that moment, he heard a dog barking, and he was guided to safety by this sound.
Once out of danger, he looked up and noticed an enormous dog-shaped rock before him.
It is said that a pet dog Michizane had kept in the past had taken the form of the rock and saved his life.
This rock, which is located on Inujima’s neighboring island, Inunoshima, is now worshipped as “Inuishi Sama”.
Inunoshima is only open to the public once a year, on May 3rd for the Inuishi Festival.
Head towards the stone monument inscribed with the “Olive Song”, located on the west side of the island, or perhaps to the area around the Inujima Shizen-no-ie (Nature House), and look out in the direction of Inunoshima. You may not see all of Inuishi Sama, but you can catch a glimpse of him in the distance.
Next, I follow a small path along the stone wall as I take in the sights at “S-Art House”, “A-Art House”, (both part of the Inujima “Art House Project”), and Nakanotani Gazebo.
*A new exhibition will be installed in “A-Art House” and as a result not be available for viewing from August 13th.
When you pass by Inujima Clinic and go past the Olive Song Monument, which is located on a gentle slope, you will see a long set of stone stairs and a torii gate on the right hand side.
This is Inujima Tenmangu Shrine, where the island’s local deity is enshrined.
After visiting Inujima Tenmangu Shrine, you can continue down the narrow path toward the ocean.
Along the way, a building that looks like a school house will come into view.
This building was formerly Inujima School, where kindergarten, elementary, and junior high school classes were held. The school was later made into a public boarding house by the name of “Inujima Shizen-no-ie” (Nature House).
If you find yourself getting hungry as you walk around the island, head to a local restaurant or café.
There are restaurants where you can try home-style dishes which have been enjoyed on the island since the old days, such as a donburi (rice bowl) with sole topped with a flavorful sauce. There are also cafés run by residents new to Inujima, who moved to the island from afar.
※Some restaurants keep irregular hours, while others are only open on the weekend, so it is best to check before you go.
Once you have walked around the west side of the island, head back toward the Olive Song Monument and make your way to “C-Art House” and “I-Art House” of the Inujima “Art House Project”.
Also, there is Inujima Campground and Inujima Beach on the south side of the island, where you can enjoy swimming in the ocean while gazing at the islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
As you stroll around the island while enjoying the view of the stone walls, you will come across a number of ponds.
These ponds are actually the ruins of stone quarries.
After quarrymen leveled the mountains and dug deep within the earth, water collected in the holes over time.
For example, the large pond that you will come across on the way back to the harbor after viewing the Inujima “Art House Project”, “I-Art House”, was originally a mountain called Gionsan.
In the sea close to the harbor, there are a number of large, round rocks that resemble dango (sweet rice dumplings) scattered here and there.
If you have time to stroll around and experience the island’s history and lifestyle firsthand, you will find the art on exhibition here all the more interesting.
I hope you find your very own “perfect view” on Inujima.
For detailed information about the museums and galleries on Inujima, please visit the Benesse Art Site Naoshima website.