Teshima art museum on Teshima island, one of the Setouchi Islands, Japan.
Chatchawat Prasertsom—Shutterstock

While the Venice Biennale may get more buzz, the Setouchi Triennale, held every three years since 2010, is arguably more distinctive.

Spread out over 14 locations and three seasonal sessions from April to November, the world-class art festival has revitalized this cluster of rural islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, which suffered from a shrinking population. Now, abandoned elementary schools and homes exhibit works by the likes of James Turrell, and old fishing boats are turned into large-scale art installations.

Japan’s own 93-year-old pop art icon Yayoi Kusama put these islands on the art map with her enormous yellow polka-dot pumpkin—now removed due to damage from a typhoon. It had been housed at the Benesse House Museum a museum-hotel designed by Tadao Ando that is an ideal escape for art lovers. Also designed by Ando, the Valley Gallery opened on Naoshima this year and exhibits Kusama’s Narcissus Garden steel-balls installation.

The newly opened Ryokan Roka, a luxury inn that doubles as an art gallery and incubator for emerging artists, honors local culture with open-air onsens (hot springs) in all 11 suites. Japan has COVID-19 restrictions in place for visitors, who must be part of a registered tour group.

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