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The sweaty pleasure of Japan’s inconvenient art

Japan is known for its convenience, but if you want to see some of the best artwork the country has to offer you’ll need to travel way off the beaten path. It involves trekking, sweating and, on the odd occasion, you don’t even know if the art will be there when you arrive. This week, writer Thu-Huong Ha is our tour guide into the world of Japan’s inconvenient art movement.

Hosted by Shaun McKenna and produced by Dave Cortez.

On this episode:

Shaun McKenna: Articles | X | Instagram

Thu-Huong Ha: Articles | X | Instagram

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Transcript note: Deep Dive is made to be listened to, and we recommend this transcript be used as an accompaniment to the episode. This transcript has been generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription, and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the episode.

Shaun McKenna 0:09

Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I’m Shaun McKenna. You know, I’ve been seeing a lot of old friends from home recently, and they’re among the hordes of tourists who’ve been taking advantage of the cheaper yen and post-pandemic wanderlust. And tourists have been everywhere in the news. monthly visitors in March exceeded 3 million for the first time ever, a number that held strong in April, and not everyone has been behaving in a way the locals appreciate. So, starting in April, tourists were banned from private alleys in Kyoto’s Gion district, giving the geisha a little respite from these budding paparazzi, and, of course, a town in Yamanashi built a 2½-meter-high, 20-meter-long mesh net to block the view of Mount Fuji at a prime photo spot the tourists were clogging up. Long lines, crowds of selfie sticks, tourist bans — for people coming here for the first time, as well as longer-term residents, there’s this question: Has Japan become like Venice or Paris, an ossified Disneyland in which people are resigned to copy-paste an itinerary? In short, is it still possible to have an original travel experience in Japan? After five years of living in Japan, today’s guest still thinks it’s possible — but you’ve got to be willing to sweat a little. On this week’s episode, I’m talking to culture writer Thu-Huong Ha about her feature from April, “Why is the most exciting art in Japan so hard to get to?” She reported on a unique movement of art in Japan that encourages sweaty, inconvenient travel, a movement that challenges assumptions of how people ought to consume art and culture.

Hi Thu, welcome back to Deep Dive.

Thu-Huong Ha 01:50

Happy to be here.

Shaun McKenna 01:52

So, today we’re talking about what you’ve dubbed Japan’s inconvenient art movement. You detailed this in an article for The Japan Times in April, and if I can just read a section of what you wrote: “To complete one of the original pilgrimages of the contemporary art world, you must eschew Japan’s august convenience completely. You must be willing to sweat, to arrive early, to stand in a queue, to trawl PDFs on your phone, to wander abandoned villages looking for signage, to run and catch the ferry or bus, to beg forgiveness of a white-gloved attendant for any number of rule violations.” Japan, in my experience, I’d describe it as a place of great convenience. So what are you finding inconvenient, what exactly is inconvenient art?

Thu-Huong Ha 02:36

Japan has this unique thing where a lot of public money goes into putting really, really great art in places that are really, really hard to get to.

Shaun McKenna 02:43

So we’re not talking like getting to Ueno by the Yamanote Line during rush hour, right?

Thu-Huong Ha 02:47

No, no.

Shaun McKenna 02:48

It’s more like the, what, the giant polka-dotted pumpkin out west?

Thu-Huong Ha 02:52

Exactly, so I think listeners would probably recognize Yayoi Kusama’s yellow pumpkin in Naoshima, which is this big yellow sculpture with black spots, and in the background is this blue sea.

Shaun McKenna 03:03

Yeah, I’ve never been.

Thu-Huong Ha 03:04

Shaun, you’ve lived in Japan for 23 years and you’ve never been to Naoshima?

Shaun McKenna 03:07

It’s on my to-do list for this year. Back off.

Thu-Huong Ha 03:11

It’s time. Yeah, I mean it is very far and I think that is part of the appeal for me. These inconvenient art sites and events and works are usually placed far from any major city, far from any shinkansen station. You need a lot of patience, you need a lot of logistics. It’s definitely not cheap. It’s definitely time-consuming.

Shaun McKenna 03:33

Well, let’s talk about that distance for a minute. So I think from my house, I think I’d need to catch a train to either an airport or shinkansen station, fly to what, Osaka or Okayama, and then I’d need to catch a ferry, right? So, I want to vacation. I don’t want around Japan in 80 days. But, you know, Deep Dive producer Dave Cortez, didn’t you visit Naoshima? Dave Cortez 03:56

Yeah, I did a few years ago. I really enjoyed the art. But it was August in 2021, and in my nearly 10 years in Japan, I have never experienced such a hot day. I was actually kind of baffled, like, really? Naoshima is the hottest place on the planet right now? But yeah, I did get a selfie with the pumpkin.

Thu-Huong Ha 04:17

And then that pumpkin blew away famously.

Dave Cortez 04:20

Yeah, I was actually there the day before that happened. So this really hot day with not a cloud in the sky. But then the next day this huge typhoon rolls in and washes the pumpkin away and I see it on the news just floating.

Thu-Huong Ha 04:31

Yeah, imagine going all the way to Naoshima and there’s no pumpkin. I think that’s part of the risk of these, like, inconvenient art spots. They take a lot of logistics. And then once you’re there, it’s just like, “Yeah, weather.”

Shaun McKenna 04:44

Yeah, in your article, though, you make this seem like a feature. So it’s kind of like the idea that, not to sound corny, but like the cherry blossoms, right? These are objects of beauty that are only here for a limited time. Is it part of the appeal that the artworks could disappear at any minute?

Thu-Huong Ha 05:00

I mean, the inconvenience is definitely by design. I think the artists and the organizers know that they’re taking a risk. They’re putting these public works just out there in the elements. But I don’t know if they’re psyched about the fragility, like it’s very romantic to think of it that way. But I think you know, these are publicly, partly publicly funded works and projects, and I can see how that can become hard to justify.

Shaun McKenna 05:21

So you might be thinking of Oku-Noto, right?

Thu-Huong Ha 05:25

Right. So last year, last fall, I went to Oku-Noto Triennale, which is very inconvenient, it’s at the tip of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. There’s only two flights a day from Tokyo, and then you’ve got to drive or you’re like, totally stranded. And on Jan. 1 of this year, it was hit by a pretty bad earthquake.

Shaun McKenna 05:43

Yeah, so you’re referring to the earthquake that hit New Year’s Day. It was a magnitude 7.6, and as of last month there were 245 people who had died and maybe three still missing, but thousands displaced from their homes and without permanent housing.

Thu-Huong Ha 05:59

Yeah, that’s right. And about half of the works from that festival sustained damage.

Shaun McKenna 06:02

That actually reminds me of something in your story, and it had to do with the salt tower. Do you want to tell that story?

Thu-Huong Ha 06:08

Sure. Yeah, so “A Path of Memories,” which is a work by Mottoi Yamamoto. It’s this big salt tower structure, it’s actually inside and, as many of these works are, it’s in an abandoned school. And it’s in this bright blue room and the salts is just like pure white Ishikawa salt. It looks like a crumbling brick wall and it’s, on the bottom, the salt is meticulously combed, like a Zen garden. It took volunteers 50 days or five months to complete and an already survived a big earthquake in May of 2023. And when I was there in the fall of 2023, I saw a toddler, like almost, end that artwork. She was barreling right for it, she was about to just, like, jump right in there and she was screaming, “I want to touch it!” But then one of her adults caught her in time.

Shaun McKenna 07:02

But the salt tower didn’t survive the January quake.

Thu-Huong Ha 07:05

No, it survived the toddler but it did not survive the earthquake, and it’s been completely toppled. But I did see on social media that Yamamoto said that maybe he can restore the tower.

Shaun McKenna 07:15

So if I were to make a checklist of what constitutes inconvenient art, I could probably add inaccessibility and maybe a kind of fragility, and that public funding aspect, at least in terms of what Japan is doing?

Thu-Huong Ha 07:28

Yeah, I think so.

Shaun McKenna 07:29

So what sparked your interest in this style of displaying art?

Thu-Huong Ha 07:32

The first time I came to Japan was actually a decade ago next week, I went to Naoshima on that trip, and I went to Teshima, which is another inconvenient art spot, it’s the neighboring island to Naoshima. And back then, I mean, I wasn’t living in Japan but I really, like, nobody I knew had heard of these places. Like maybe one or two people.

Shaun McKenna 07:52

Did you know much about Japan at the time?

Thu-Huong Ha 07:53

I didn’t it was my, you know, it was my first time I was just a, you know, trip with my parents. I was in my 20s, I wasn’t really doing what I wanted in my career, I actually got unexpectedly dumped the night before I left for my trip. I was very frayed on this trip — not a lot of sleep and a lot of emotions. But I think I, you know, I didn’t realize at the time, but I think Teshima really profoundly affected my life and, like, kind of, in a very, very indirect way set me on a trajectory that like, kind of oriented me for maybe where I’m sitting right now. It also kind of more concretely got me interested in pursuing these kinds of remote art destination type of places. So I think I’ve probably since then, I’ve traveled some, like 10,000 miles in the U.S. and in Japan to see these kinds of, you know, hard-to-access works. I’ve missed many boats. I’ve gotten speeding tickets. I got caught in this, like, really intense apocalyptic lightning storm, I’ve sweat a lot, I’ve lost a lot of money because of logistical mistakes.

Shaun McKenna 08:56

I think we’ve all been there, actually, except I don’t have anything to show for it, I haven’t even been to Naoshima. But I guess for you, I mean, like that initial pilgrimage, it seems to have had some kind of impact.

Thu-Huong Ha 09:06

Yeah, I think it definitely taught me a different way of traveling.

[music break]

Shaun McKenna 09:19

So we’ve been talking about the inconvenient pilgrimage to the far reaches of Japan to see this kind of art. Is this kind of experience unique to Japan? Like, do other countries have art that’s hard to get to?

Thu-Huong Ha 09:30

Yeah, for sure they do. I think a prominent example is land art, which is a conceptual art movement from the 1960s and 70s. In the U.S., an especially prominent example is “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson. These are works that are built directly into the Earth, and are often in hard-to-reach places because that’s where there’s space to build them. But it wasn’t always the point to actually go and see them. So part of the concept would be to record the works being made and then being eroded in photos and video. And those would be, like, shown in a gallery in New York, for example. But, you know, with these, the point is going is definitely part of it. In Japan, I think these inconvenient art places are, you know, to use a very journalistic term “more of a thing.” They’re more mainstream, you see kids at them. And then there’s this element of, you know, integration with the public citizenry.

Shaun McKenna 10:23

Well, tell us a little bit more about how this thing came about, like where did it all begin?

Thu-Huong Ha 10:27

So it really did start in Naoshima, actually. So now, Naoshima has this robust tourism industry. But from the early 1900s, it was actually a place for a large-scale copper refinery, and that was the dominant industry there. And that was on the island’s north side. In 1955, during Japan’s post-war baby boom, the population of the island peaked at 7,500 — that’s more than double what it is today. And by the 1960s, half of the working population of Naoshima was in manufacturing. But you know, pollution became, like, a pretty big problem, and agriculture was also a big problem here. Agriculture is, I think, still difficult to sustain on the north side of the island. The groundwater has this really intense sulfuric smell.

Shaun McKenna 11:12

Wow, Naoshima sounds like it was in rough shape.

Thu-Huong Ha 11:15

Yeah, and there was a mayor who played like an outsize importance in Naoshima’s history. Chikatsugu Miyake really wanted to change the image of Naoshima and he served from 1959 to 1995.

Shaun McKenna 11:29

Wow, what a term.

Thu-Huong Ha 11:30

He was also the priest of the main shrine.

Shaun McKenna 11:33

Renaissance man.

Thu-Huong Ha 11:36

So in 1985, he met Tetsuhiko Fukutake, who was the founder of Fukutake Publishing, which today is the billion-dollar corporation Benesse Holdings. They met on the south side of the island, so like not the factory side. And they talked about building a cultural center for kids. After Fukutake died unexpectedly, his son, Soichiro, came back to Okayama to take over the business. And then in 1988, Soichiro met Tadao Ando.

Shaun McKenna 12:05

Right, so Tadao Ando is a celebrated, Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect and, in Tokyo you might know his work, he did the revamped Shibuya Station — at least the subway part of it — Omotesando Hills … but he’s designed a lot of museums across the country, right, like, including Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

Thu-Huong Ha 12:23

Right, that Tadao Ando. At that time he was only 47, he was still seven years away from winning the Pritzker. And these two guys got together, they weren’t even sure they were going to work together. They met at an izakaya (Japanese pub) and then, yeah, kind of, the rest is history. Now Naoshima is covered in what’s very recognizable Tadao Ando architecture.

Shaun McKenna 12:44

You know, some of the most productive conversations happen at Japanese izakaya.

Thu-Huong Ha 12:48

You don’t have to tell me. So just backing up a little bit, they completed this arts camp in 1989, Naoshima International Camp, and Fukutake was getting more interested in art. In 1988, he went to this big Monet show in Boston, and he saw a “Water Lilies” painting, 2×6 meters. And he writes in his book, “Naoshima Setouchi Āto no Rakuen,” or “Naoshima Setouchi Art Paradise,” he said that the painting called to him, it said, “Buy me. Keep me near you.” And so, you know, he did what any other billionaire-to-be would do: He bought the Monet. And in 2004, he opened Chichu Art Museum, which is an underground building, also designed by Ando. It has just a few permanent works, which includes the “Water Lilies,” and installations by American artists James Terrell and Walter de Maria. And I think that museum, the Chichu Museum, is really what set Naoshima on its, on its course for now. Tourism to Naoshima had been kind of steady, and then, after the opening of the museum, numbers jumped, they nearly doubled in the Chichu’s first year, and then they doubled again by 2007.

Shaun McKenna 13:59

So, can we say that these three men, Chikatsugu Miyake, Soichiro Fukutake and Tadao Ando, were they kind of like the fathers of inconvenient art?

Thu-Huong Ha 14:09

So there’s actually one more key player who wasn’t like there yet? His name is Fram Kitagawa.

Shaun McKenna 14:16

Right, OK, tell us more about what he did.

Thu-Huong Ha 14:19

So Kitagawa was really different from these other guys. His name Fram, Furamu, is very unusual, you know, that’s his actual name his father gave it to him, it’s Norwegian for “progress.” And his father was an expelled member of the Communist Party, Kitagawa is pretty left, like, he organized this traveling art exhibition that was an anti-apartheid themed event, that went all around Japan in the 1980s. In 2000, he organized the first Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which was an art festival with site-specific works by pretty big names — Terrell, like I said, Marina Abromowich. People could actually stay overnight in these artworks. I stayed in one and came on this podcast to talk about it where I had to sleep in a coffin. The festival was designed really as a revitalization project, so has a couple of goals. One is to instill pride in the local citizens to make them, you know, proud again of where they live, to bring in outside tourism, obviously, to boost the local economy. And to some extent, I think they’re hoping that young people will want to relocate to these rapidly depopulating regions.

Shaun McKenna 15:27

How was the reaction from the art world? Did the art world really liked it?

Thu-Huong Ha 15:32

No, it was not a hit. I mean, I think the first one, barely anyone came maybe. Like, once a day someone would show up to see at work. There are a lot of complaints about humidity, about signage.

Shaun McKenna 15:44

So you went in 2022, and it kind of sounded like the same issues sort of still exist, right? Like, we spoke to you, as you mentioned, about the trip here on the podcast. Actually, that was almost a year ago.

Thu-Huong Ha 15:55

Yeah, it was hot man. And even by then, it was its eighth edition and it was super, super hard to navigate. Like, Niigata has these intensely humid summers. In the winter, it can get up to 9 meters of snow. The artworks are like half in the wild. We had paper maps, we were using their app, we had our own GPS and was still really hard to navigate. Just kind of ended up driving through like some overgrown brush and just being like, “Is that art? I can’t tell. I think I see art!” Then yeah, then you stop the car and look for a sign to check if it’s art or not. We’re used to seeing art in a very different way. Obviously, like, art isn’t usually hearty. It needs air conditioning and conservation. And so you know, that’s what we’re used to seeing in an art museum or in a gallery. But that was actually the point. Kitagawa didn’t want this typical art experience, he saw it as he writes in his book, “Hiraku Bijutsu” or “Open Art,” he saw “the charm of inefficient and sweaty art exhibitions.”

Shaun McKenna 17:00

Yeah, you must suffer for your art. But I don’t know if I should suffer. But, how do we connect Fram Kitagawa to this giant yellow polka-dot pumpkin in Naoshima.

Thu-Huong Ha 17:09

Eventually, Echigo-Tsumari did win people over. It took, I think, a couple of additions to get going. And I think people start to appreciate like, the remoteness and the stress and they start to think of it maybe as a bit more like a pilgrimage. And it was successful enough that it started to kind of become Kitagawa’s signature model. And people, like local governments, from around the country were calling him up and being like, “Hey, can you come do it in our place?” And in 2006, after the third Echigo-Tsumari, Kitagawa got a call from none other than Soichiro Fukutake of Benesse. He said, “Come and work on a festival based in Naoshima.”

Shaun McKenna 17:57

So help us put this into context. Why is inconvenient art so special? Like why are you, Thu, and all the Japanese people, driving around in the heat looking for polka-dot pumpkins?

Thu-Huong Ha 18:09

So I like this quote from this book about classical Japanese travel literature by Meredith McKinney. It’s called, “Travels with a Writing Brush.” And it’s about Heian Kyoto, which is like 800-1,200. You know, you think it’s a really far thing in the past. But, what she says is that “an understandable distaste for travel was heavily reinforced by the firm conviction that the Capital (present-day Kyoto), as it was generally called, was really the only place for a civilized person to be. … The Capital was the central site of culture, and the land beyond its borders quickly shaded off into the cultural equivalent of ‘the wilds.’” And I think that could just as easily apply today to New York or Paris or London or Tokyo. Art concentrates in the cultural capitals because that’s where people buy it. In Tokyo. The galleries are in Ginza in Shibuya, Roppongi. There’s a bunch of new art fairs that are in the cities. The aim of those is to bring all these galleries together in this really, you know, densely crowded place so that collectors can have easy and efficient access to new works. And they don’t even have to take a train, right? People really don’t want to be inconvenienced when they’re like shopping.

Shaun McKenna 19:22

Yeah this is more about shopping than art. I get that. OK.

Thu-Huong Ha 19:26

But even on the museum side, like, so not the commercial side, Japan really favors what are called blockbuster exhibitions. Large scale shows of big name crowd pleasers, often require a bunch of paintings to be shipped in from Europe. They’re not resilient. They need to be carefully lit, kept in climate controlled conditions. They’re heavily patrolled by staff who, you know, control the photography and people’s behavior. But you know, the founders of Japan’s inconvenient art movement, they really wanted to challenge the urban monopoly on art. They wanted something different And in their success, you know, definitely I would call it mainstream success, they’ve radically changed the way that culture is consumed in contemporary Japan, there’s actually good reason to think that this could be reflecting back on the market itself. So last year, according to a global markets report, put out by Art Basel, there was a surge in interest among global art collectors and acquiring work from Japan, which isn’t something that the industry has seen since postwar decades, his kind of like, you know, Japan is hip again, I guess. And as a Roppongi gallerist kind of speculative to me, he thinks that Naoshima could actually have a big part in this. So previously, collectors, when they came from abroad, they would just, you know, go to Tokyo, they would go to Kyoto, they would stop, you know, in the cities, but now they’re gonna be definitely stopping and Naoshima. It’s kind of like an essential stop on any Japan art trip. And this gallerist says that he believes that the exposure that they have to these kind of more remote parts of Japan, their nature, history, culture, you know, could be actually fueling a burgeoning interest among collectors to have a closer relationship to Japan in general. And that could actually genuinely be moving the needle on the business of contemporary Japanese art.

Shaun McKenna 21:18

You know, when I think of the art that’s on display in Naoshima, I’m kind of thinking like, where does the art kind of stop and a landmark begin? Because I think that pumpkin is even beyond art. It’s kind of a landmark at this point.

Thu-Huong Ha 21:32

Yeah, that’s true. I mean, it’s a really nice way of putting it. There are, you know, these artworks after overtime, they’re gonna start to become, you know, kind of like permanent fixtures of these places. And I think that that’s part of the goal. But there are, you know, there are pieces that rotate as well. And they bring in new works that are commissioned for the festivals, and they’ll take them down after or some of them also get left.

Shaun McKenna 21:54

OK, so it’s not kind of a thing where you visit Naoshima once and then you never go back there?

Thu-Huong Ha 21:57

Yeah, I think definitely, I’ve seen in the kind of lesser known islands, which I’ve also covered for the paper, there’s, like, still so much to be explored, and they change.

Shaun McKenna 22:11

So you talk in your piece about how you think this could be something that only happens in Japan?

Thu-Huong Ha 22:15

Well, right, I think that the public funding aspect of the projects is a big part of it, you know, these local governments are really, really, really invested. But also, I think, something I noticed that intrigued me was when I talked to some artists and Oku-Noto, you know, they come from countries like India, I think Mexico, Colombia, Spain, they all said like the same thing, which is that they thought that maybe these public artworks and public art projects might only be possible in a place like Japan, where the works will just like, not be stolen or like, vandalized, and people will not, like, do a lot of graffiti on them. They all described like, a kind of respect for the works and a non touching aspect of it. So like, even kids wouldn’t just like run up and start touching it. And it’s not a bad thing, if you know, kids want to touch public art, that’s like a normal reaction,

Shaun McKenna 23:10

That one girl with the salt tower.

Thu-Huong Ha 23:13

Like that, actually, to me made perfect sense as a reaction from her perspective. But I think that they can last quite a long time and in the way that the artist intended it, because of this, it’s almost like bringing the museum respect for the art outside and to these public art works. But then at the same time, Japan is itself under constant risk of, you know, geological threats, something that also adds this kind of like, as we discussed before, like a bit of this, like, special fragility or vulnerability that, you know, gives it this nice extra friction.

Shaun McKenna 23:48

So when thinking about this, from a tourist perspective, is this kind of like just another argument for you know, the journey is the destination kind of thing, or, you know, like, is it you know, a unique travel experience that, you know, like maybe tourists 2.0 can kind of have.

Thu-Huong Ha 24:07

So, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna just bring a little bit of theory here,

Shaun McKenna 24:10

No, go ahead, this is Deep Dive.

Thu-Huong Ha 24:13

But in literary criticism, so you know, when we talk about books, there’s something called reader response theory. And, that emphasizes a very active, ongoing participation between the reader and the work. So, we typically think of in traditional reading, as we, as the reader, read a text I mean, kind of extract something from it. But in this kind of theory, it’s more of a give and take, it’s more of a to and fro, and you know, both kind of reader and work kind of give to each other. And I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t seen as much corresponding theory in visual art, which I personally find surprising because I think that art, in many ways, is more subjective. And so what inconvenient art does like because of all this like extra hair, in your experience, it brings out an even richer and like more fruitful transaction between the viewer and the work. If it’s okay for me to quote my own, my own writing. “With all its stress and obstacles, its bad weather and tangents, its knots and missed chances, art pilgrimages generate millions more threads and criss-crossings of potential.” And to me that’s really the art of inconvenience.

Shaun McKenna 25:28

So, even an uncultured goof like myself has heard of Naoshima and Echigo-Tsumari . That’s because I read The Japan Times. Are there any other inconvenient art spots around Japan?

Thu-Huong Ha 25:39

Well so yeah, if we just look at the Kitagawa projects, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale starts in July this year. He’s also doing one in Nagano Prefecture in the Fall, that’s the Northern Alps Art Festival. Sounds very hard to get to, and very beautiful. And then next year will be the Setoguchi Triennale that runs all year. That’s the one that’s Naoshima. And then Oku-Noto Triannale, which was last Fall, as I said, it’s still pending if there’s going to be another one because of the earthquake.

Shaun McKenna 26:08

OK, so given the torment that you’ve gone through on your journey, do you have any tips for other inconvenient art lovers out there? Bring

Thu-Huong Ha 26:15

Bring deodorant?

Shaun McKenna 26:17

OK, yeah, that’s a good one.

Thu-Huong Ha 26:19

GPS is very helpful. Like, you know, I think you’re gonna need data. If you’re not a local resident, you better get some data, right? Check the ferry schedule. There’s gonna be some PDFs that you have to zoom in on to find these really Byzantine bus and ferry schedules. If you’re going to see the pumpkin, you know, there’s no entry fee or ticket or anything, but there will be a selfie line, so we’re gonna have to get in it. And if you look outside the cities, there are these smaller, inconvenient art places. We just published a story in The Japan Times by Mio Yamada about the Simose Art Museum in Otake, which is a ways out of Hiroshima city. There’s Enoura Observatory, that’s an Odawara. It’s this amazing, amazing space by Hiroshi Sugimoto. And then in Hakone, there’s also two great art spots. There’s the Open Art Museum and the Pola Museum of Art. These are all just inconvenient enough that you could spend like one day from a major city and not have to do a whole ferry.

Shaun McKenna 27:25

But, you know, for people who are coming here, is Naoshima kind of like, the king?

Thu-Huong Ha 27:30

I mean, I think Naoshima, it can be really rewarding. But actually for me the standout is still Teshima and I don’t want to give spoilers but that’s part of why it’s so good is because there’s almost no footage about like what’s in there online. You really just have to go and see it and it’s like there’s no public transport. You have to go from Naoshima maybe and get like another ferry and then get an electric bike and then bike to the other side of the island. It’s like super, super, super, super inconvenient. I’ve been there twice. I missed a boat because I was, like, so excited about it. And I was like, in there crying. And I mean, I just yeah I mean, I don’t want to make it sound like super, like, culty or anything. But I think that once you see it, you’ll understand why it’s so special.

Shaun McKenna 28:14

All right, then I guess I gotta move that one up to the top of my to-do list. Thu, thanks very much for coming on Deep Dive.

Thu-Huong Ha 28:20

Thanks for having me.

Shaun McKenna 28:25

My thanks again to Thu, we’ll post a link to her story about inconvenient art in the show notes. And it was announced this week that a new museum will open on Naoshima in spring of next year, it will focus on contemporary works by Japanese and other Asian artists, and it is also being designed by Tadao Ando. And in other news, Japan’s birth rate hit a new low last year of 1.2 kids per family, replacement level fertility for developed countries needs to be 2.1 children per family in order to maintain the population. The new rate is the lowest since the government began keeping records in 1947. And the recent data also shows that Japanese women are having children later in life — the average age of a first child being 31. For comparison, that number was 25.7 in 1975. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said during a news conference that the next six years, before we hit 2030, will be critical in trying to halt the depopulation trend. Tokyo is trying to do its part in reversing the trend by announcing a new dating app. Users will be required to submit documentation that they are legally single, sign a letter stating they’re willing to get married and verify their annual salary through a tax certificate. For more on those stories, check The Japan Times Online at japantimes.co.jp. Deep Dive is produced by Dave Cortez, our outgoing music is by Oscar Boyd and our theme music is by the Japanese musician LLLL. I’m Shaun McKenna, podtsukaresama.

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