When it comes to colourful sculptures, mind-blowing installations and state-of-the-art museums, visitors to Naoshima are spoilt for choice. It seems as though there is something to inspire or move you in every nook of this aptly named ‘art island’. By day’s end, when the museums quietly usher you out, you can bet your bottom yen that your culture quota will be met. And if you’ve still got some foreign coins rolling around in your wallet, you can bet those that the walking, biking or bussing around will have left you more than a little weary, too. So what do you do? My suggestion: head to the island’s public bath house ” I♥︎湯 ” (I Love Yu) for a soak.  

The collage that was a bath house

The Miyanoura port area isn’t large, but even if it was, you couldn’t miss I Love Yu. Just a block from the ferry terminal, this public bath house was designed by artist Shinro Ohtake—also known for “Haisha” in the Art House Project. True to his style, the facade is a physical collage of colour and material. The tiles, mosaic, sculpture, neon and seemingly random detritus are complemented by tropical plants and creeping vines. Together, they create a building that is sure to stop you in your tracks. 

Up close, you can appreciate the finer details of the mish-mash, including the small pond with real goldfish inside. There certainly seems to be a blend of nature and quirk at play.  

The bath house’s name is almost as fun as the design. Officially written as ‘I♥︎湯’, it is actually pronounced ‘I love you’. The kanji character at the end means hot water, and is pronounced as ‘yu’. Looking up, you’ll spot a single hiragana character blazing neon red in the sky. ゆ (yu) is the phonetic way of writing 湯 (hot water) so you’ll see it marking onsen and sento all over Japan.  

Just below that is the bath house’s icon: the profile of a nude woman, like something straight off a mudflap. If you find yourself a little taken by her, good news: plenty of the merchandise features her, so you can take home a souvenir of your island crush. 

Splish Splash

For those looking to bathe, let me first say that tattoos are welcome. (Yay!) It’s also important to note that soap, shampoo and towels are neither provided nor rented. You can bring them from your hotel or purchase them inside to use/keep as a souvenir. 

I Love Yu functions just like a regular public bath, but with a dash of quirky art for good measure. First, you deposit your shoes in a locker and proceed into the binary male/female changing rooms. Put your stuff in a locker and head into the bathing area with your amenities and small towel. Wash thoroughly at the shower stations before finally relaxing in the hot bath. 

While in there, take some time to enjoy the eclectic art. I’m willing to bet that nude art viewing would be a first for many. Not only is there an interesting mosaic on the wall and bottom of the bath, but a succulent greenhouse and life-size elephant statue. Lovely natural elements to enjoy while in our most lovely, natural state. 

I don’t know about yu, but I love a hot bath. And if I can have one while staring up at a giant elephant statue, sign me up.   

Name: I Love Yu (I♥︎湯) Bath house
Address: 2252-2, Naoshima, Kagawa District, Kagawa  (link)
Open: 1:00pm until 9:00pm. (Usually closed Mondays, check website)
URL: http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/art/naoshimasento.html

Post by Japan Journeys.