In 1988, Soichiro Fukutake, then president and representative director of Fukutake Publishing (now Benesse Corporation), approached architect Tadao Ando and told him that he wanted to create a "utopia" in Japan. He explained his idea of transforming the neglected, economically poor islands of the Seto Inland Sea in Kagawa Prefecture into a "paradise" that would host world-famous artists' work for everyone to enjoy — and in doing so revitalize the area. He asked Ando to join him in his vision.

"No," the architect said. "That's impossible."

Twenty-five years later, Ando still laughs about his initial response, "At that time the Seto Inland Sea was ravaged," he explained at a Setouchi Triennale press conference in Tokyo in May. "There was a dark mood among the people of the islands. They were despondent. To reinvigorate the community, I thought, was an impossible dream."