Ferries in the Setouchi Triennale

Meon 2 Docking at Takamatsu Port

Meon 2 Docking at Takamatsu Port

The Setouchi Triennale is an art festival that is mainly held on several islands in the Seto Inland Sea.  It is very natural that you will be required to take a ferry to visit the various art installations.  Almost all of the art sites are located on small islands with only three regions being located on either Honshu or Shikoku, 2 of the 4 major islands in Japan.  It is no wonder that the ferry network from Takamatsu and Uno is extremely important.  Almost every day I spent at the festival involved going to the different art sites via ferry.  I was very used to the ferries by the end that I felt like a seasoned pro.  The learning curve to know where each ferry is located is a little steep but it gets easy quickly.  Unfortunately there is no easy way to explain how to find each ferry and where to buy tickets.  Each route is different with only a few of them combining their information.  Thankfully the Setouchi Triennale’s main information centre has all of the information you need, but they don’t necessarily tell you about where to get tickets and how to transfer from one boat to another.  As a person with limited Japanese ability, I did well enough to get everything done, but there were a few things I wish I had learned beforehand.

Naoshima/Shodoshima Ferry Terminal at Takamatsu Port

Naoshima/Shodoshima Ferry Terminal at Takamatsu Port

The two busiest ferry piers had to be the ferries that go to Naoshima and Shodoshima.  Both of them are located at the end of the covered walk from the Takamatsu Port Terminal Building.  Located at the north-west corner of the port, the building is always busy and full of people in the early mornings.  Lots of people head there to get on the first ferries heading to Shodoshima so they can go hiking.  Other people are heading to Naoshima in the early morning to enjoy the island before it becomes busy.  The ferry between Naoshima and Takamatsu is a nice large passenger and vehicle ferry.  It is a ferry that I took often as that model of boat was used extensively to service the various islands.  While the ferry is never completely full, boarding and disembarking the ferry can be a little difficult as there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing you want to do.  In Naoshima, the line to board the ferry can be very long and the efficiency of the crew can be painfully poor.  Watching one guy check all of the tickets everyone had was a little annoying but that is the way they did things.  Thankfully I didn’t have to worry too much about it.

Meon 2 at Takamatsu Port

Meon 2 Running the Takamatsu-Megijima-Ogijima route at Takamatsu Port

South of the main pier for ferries to Naoshima and Shodoshima is a couple of piers for small ferries and the ferry to Megijima and Ogijima.  There is a small passenger terminal there that is a little confusing.  For the ferry to Megijima and Ogijima, you need to go to the ticket window located outside of the building but for all other ferries, you have to use the ticket windows located inside the building.  The building itself services Oshima and Teshima passengers, but I think they also serve other passengers using the high speed ferries.  The ferry to Megijima and Ogijima was a nice boat with a capacity to handle many people.  The Meon 1 and 2 were used and it is probably one of the most recognizable boats in the entire port.  The red base and white top along with the characters on the side of the boat make it really easy to spot.  I found the passenger area to be a little small but it was probably due to the large number of people using the ferry for the Triennale.  The high speed ferries were a little different.  They were small boats that ploughed their way through the waters.

Thunderbird ferry at Inujima (This ferry runs the Naoshima-Teshima-Inujima route)

Thunderbird Ferry Running the Naoshima-Teshima-Inujima Route at Inujima

I had the opportunity to take two different high speed ferries.  The high speed ferries are simply small boats that go a little faster than the large vehicle ferries.  They have both an indoor section and an open rear section.  People are allowed to stand but the number of people allowed on each boat is limited.  It is very important that you arrive early enough to get a ticket or you may not be able to get onto the boat.  The ferry from Naoshima to Teshima and Inujima was a nice little boat that had extra seating in the aisle.  They had special hidden seats in the aisle that I didn’t know about but the view from the back was nice.  The ferry from Teshima to Takamatsu was a different story.  The boat had three sections, a forward section, a driver’s section in the middle, and a rear open section.  The forward section was nice but you are situated low in the boat and can’t see out of the windows.  This can easily help in causing sea sickness.  The best seats are in the driver’s section where you can watch the crew operate the boat as well as get decent views of the area around you.  If you have a choice, avoid the forward section if you are not good on boats.

Uno-Takamatsu ferry route terminal in Takamatsu

Uno-Takamatsu ferry route terminal in Takamatsu

The last ferry I took was the ferry between Uno and Takamatsu.  They used similar boats to the Takamatsu and Naoshima route so the ferries themselves were not very interesting.  The upper deck was not very nice but the route they took was very interesting.  Departing Uno, the ship heads around the west side of Naoshima allowing you to see the shipyards just west of Uno.  I had a chance to see a few of the military ships that were being fitted as well as other ships in dock.  Once you pass the shipyard things get a little boring if you have been that way before as the view is almost the same as the Naoshima route.  One thing to note is that the ferry itself is not located with the other ferries in Takamatsu.  It is located at the east end of the port, about 200 metres from the other piers.  This is probably due to the popularity of the boat for vehicles.  The pier is very well marked by bright flashing neon lights at both the Takamatsu and Uno port.  You can’t miss the pier but it is easy to miss it if you are not looking in the correct direction.

Asahi Ferry at Miyanoura Port on Naoshima

Asahi Ferry at Miyanoura Port on Naoshima

Naoshima has a couple of ports for various ships.  The main port is at Miyanoura.  The port at Miyanoura is capable of handling at least a hundred passengers and most people will be familiar with the main area that encompasses the information centre as well as the main terminal building.  During the Triennale, they convert an unused event space into a gift shop and information centre for the Triennale.  The main port building is generally busy and they have more items related to the region rather than the art itself.  It was a little confusing the first day I arrived as I was heading to the fast ferry to go to Inujima.  I found the ferry about 100 metres away from the main pier and headed there right away but what I didn’t know was that I needed a special green card to board the ferry.  I felt it was a stupid requirement as most people had a 2 day pass, but it was a simple way to know how many people were going to take the ferry.  I ended up running back to the main terminal just to get a simple green card.  The next time I went to visit Naoshima, I saw some volunteers holding the green cards after the ferry arrived.  I wonder if they learned their lesson or if it was just for the weekend only.

Fast Ferry on the Teshima-Takamatsu Route in Takamatsu Port

Fast Ferry on the Teshima-Takamatsu Route in Takamatsu Port

Teshima is the only other port that can be a little confusing.  The port itself is pretty small but the port building and the location of the different ferries is a little confusing.  The main vehicle ferry heads from Teshima to Uno and tickets can be obtained in the main terminal building.  If you are taking the fast ferry to Takamatsu, you need to head 150 meters west of the main terminal building.  I was lucky to have some time before my bus left the port so I could ask the information desk inside the terminal building about how to get tickets for the fast ferry.  They told me to head out to the dock and there will be a green car.  I was a little confused but understood the instructions.  Before taking the fast ferry to Takamatsu, you have to line up a little early and you can buy tickets from the little green car that pulls up just before the ferry arrives.  It was a cute little green car but unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of it.  Thankfully, during the Triennale, they will occasionally bring in a second ferry to make sure everyone gets home.  If you arrive early enough you won’t have any problems catching a ferry to your destination.

2 Day Ferry Pass

2 Day Ferry Pass

The Setouchi Triennale has a very useful 2 day ferry pass.  It is valid on all ferries that allow access to the participating islands of the Triennale.  The pass costs 4000 yen but it isn’t worth it on certain routes.  If you are taking the regular ferries, it isn’t worthwhile to use the ferry pass unless you plan to visit a couple islands at a time.  I found that it was most useful on the fast ferries as they often cost more than 1000 yen each way.  I used the pass for the first 2 days at the festival.  The first day I took a regular ferry to Naoshima, then the fast ferry to Inujima.  I then took a fast ferry to Teshima and another fast ferry to Takamatsu.  On my second day, I took the fast ferry out to Teshima again before taking a regular ferry to Uno and then Takamatsu.  On my first day alone, I would have spent 4810 Yen and on my second day I spent 2610.  As you can easily see, the first day alone I had already made use of my pass and the second day was essentially free.  Many of the regular ferries also have round trip deals but the way the Triennale works, it isn’t always easy to make use of the round trip tickets.  If you do plan to visit Inujima or Teshima, the pass is definitely worth it, but if you are taking a regular ferry, it probably isn’t worth it.

Last Ferry Arriving at Takamatsu Port from Shodoshima

Last Ferry Arriving at Takamatsu Port from Shodoshima

Ferries are the lifeline of the Setouchi Triennale.  The festival itself wouldn’t be able to operate without ferries and building a bridge to each of the islands is not really feasible.  A bridge linking the islands would completely destroy the look and feel of each island and the ferries themselves are a part of the festival.  While the art is front and centre when it comes to the festival, the people, the islands, and the ferries are also integral to the festival.  You can’t have this festival without any of these parts and if any of them are missing, the atmosphere would change for the worse.  When taking any of the ferries, be sure to enjoy them as much as possible as you will find that they are just as important as the art and leave an equally lasting memory.

Ferries in the Setouchi Triennale is part of a series of posts on the Setouchi Triennale.  Follow the links below to read more about the different aspects of the Setouchi Triennale.

Information: