It's always a pleasure to visit Naoshima, Benesse's "art island," whether it happens to be a Setouchi Triennale festival year or not. Many permanent exhibitions are available for perusal, including those inside museums (Monet waterlilies in the Chichu Art Museum, for example), the Art House Projects located in traditional Japanese houses (James Turrell's experiential "Backside of the Moon") and outdoor installations with marine backdrops (Yayoi Kusama's pumpkins).

But the expansion of exhibits to the surrounding islets is what really sets off the Triennale. These additional works help keep the Naoshima contemporary art concept fresh while providing an island-hopping opportunity you won't find anywhere else in the world.

Art has gone a long way to helping restore these sparsely populated islands to sustainability. Located along the marine byways of the Seto Inland Sea, these once-thriving communities suffer from the draw of the mainland. Modern city life has reeled in the lifeblood of these fishing villages. Homes are either vacant or abandoned, schools are closed and lack of medical care is becoming a contentious issue for the elderly who remain. The islands' destinies are typically left to a handful of remaining residents, mostly elderly, who lack the strength — and often the vision — to revitalize their moribund hometowns themselves.