Motoyuki Shitamichi at Miyanoura Gallery 6. Photo by A. D. McCormick.

The Venice Biennale alum discusses photography, research, and his latest project on Japan’s “island of art.”


Motoyuki Shitamichi is an explorer first and artist second: a nomad whose quests have taken him on a road trip uncovering along the coast of Japan; to former colonies in Asia in search of from Japan’s war-era occupations; and to the remotest scattering of tiny atolls in his homeland’s southern periphery, where he sought by ancient tsunamis. This last adventure brought him to the Venice Biennale, where his videos of the…

Koinobori, traditional carp windsocks, flying over Naoshima’s school grounds this month.

After a few days of perfect, cloud-free blue, the sky on Naoshima settled into a muted gray. Up the street from us, an old man was burning wood scraps and other garbage in a barrel, and the campfire smell made its way through the village. But unlike most Aprils, this year there wasn’t anyone walking around to notice the smoke. The island has no tourists.

Back in January, when a still-nameless virus was spreading disease and fear through Wuhan and China locked the entire city down, I was in America with my son, reading the news online. Like just about…

An abandoned factory building, now maintained as part of the Seirensho Art Museum campus. Photo by the author.

This article is part of a series on the “art islands” in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Read the first installment .

Of the thousands of islands in the Seto Inland Sea, a few are vast landscapes of green, punctuated by cities, rivers, and farmland. However, the great majority are little more than forested rocks sticking up from the waves. Inujima is one of those. But the story of this little island is epic, Inujima having gone from a two-household fishing village in the 1700s to a bustling industrial zone with up to 4,000 inhabitants in the early 20th century, before…

A small island’s fame as a destination for art tourists is growing by the day, but the big picture is more complicated.

From the moment the ferry to Naoshima leaves Uno port, the sea-rooted mountainscape unfolds around you. It’s here in the Seto Inland Sea where you can most readily appreciate how Japan is one big mountain range sitting on the ocean floor, with bits here and there poking up above the waves. Even on clear days, the atmosphere sets the distance between you and the surrounding peaks, with close-by islands sharp and vivid, while those further away are delicately blued by successive washes of haze.

Several minutes later, Naoshima dominates the view as you pass along its western side from the…

By A. D. McCormick

In the lingering heat of September, teams of locals buzzed on sake take their deities on rides through the neighborhood. Welcome to Kichijōji, the hippest spot in Musashino, just west of Tokyo proper.

In praise of Japan’s small cities, Part 1.

On my first trip to Japan in 2016, I spent about 24 hours in center-of-everything Tokyo before hopping on the bullet train out of the big city. Destination: Kurashiki, a town you’ve never heard of, and that I knew next to nothing about at the time.

Kurashiki is called a “city” but it’s really a suburb of nearby Okayama City, its population of 500,000 spread out over a large area, with a small urban core surrounded by rice paddies, tidy suburban homes, and forest. …

Just about nobody goes to Phoenix in August if they can help it. When I arrived, the temperature had fallen to 110 degrees Fahrenheit from close to 120 several days prior, and it was all the locals were talking about:

“You’re lucky you weren’t here last week.”

Mitsukejima and Jianhua Liu’s “Drifting Landscape” in Suzu. All photos by A. D. McCormick unless otherwise noted.

Schools are closing. Populations are shrinking. Towns are fading away. Rural Japan is turning to art festivals for a fresh start.

Last September, I traveled to a little town on the edge of nowhere in Japan to look at art. Nearly a hundred miles from the nearest urban center, Suzu City is alive with art: large-scale indoor installations and outdoor sculptures, freshly built and breathlessly promoted on a slick new website and in the pages of a substantial guidebook. It’s all so new that when the guidebook went to press a scant few months before my arrival, nothing was ready, so the artworks were represented rather lamely by conceptual drawings and computer renderings. …

A. D. McCormick

A. D. McCormick is the director of the Art Island Center on Naoshima.

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