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Naoshima Art Island travel guide! Yayoi Kusama pumpkins, tickets to Chichu museum, Hiroshima Goth shops.

realisation par model, dresses, shanghai emilie mini dress

Did you know… Japan has an island populated by giant polka-dot pumpkins? 

If you’re a contemporary art-lover, then you might have guessed that I’m hinting at the magical isle of Naoshima.

(Wearing an Emilie Shanghai Nights dress by Realisation Par. Full grain leather dark blue backpack by Leo et Violette.)

big yayoi kusama pumpkin naoshima

Read on for my guide to visiting Naoshima, Japan — including how to get tickets to the Chichu Museum, and find limited-edition Yayoi Kusama merch.

You’ll also see illustrations from our trip, by artists Naomi Rubin and Becky Hawkins… who made a new home inside this dotty pumpkin!

realisation par emilie dress, shanghai nights asian print dresses

To get in the mood, I’m wearing a dress with a traditional Asian print. This is the Emilie Shanghai Nights mini dress by Realisation Par — love the pink floral pattern on dark blue silk.

pentagram earrings, alex streeter gold star studs earring

Details of my 18 karat gold star stud earring, by Alex Streeter. I wear it with the point down, making it a lucky pentagram! The Gothfather of occult jewelry also sent me the silver Marquise ring, carved with two scorpions holding a black stone.

The pink sparkle Sailor Moon ring is by Sapphire Studios. (Always combine Satan with kawaii, right?)

revolve fashion blogger realisation par clothing

I was drawn to the sakura blossom design of this Realisation Par Emilie Shanghai dress. It’s an A-line fitted mini dress with adjustable straps, and looks great under a leather jacket.

layering gold necklaces fashion  blogger stacking chains coin pendants

On my other ear, I hung a thread-thorough earring with a gold ankh by Wendy Nichol.

I also layered gold pendant necklaces on chains of different lengths. The bumble bee is Stephen Einhorn, and the Queen Nefertiti bust is from Luxor’s gold shop in Vegas.

(Click the thumbnails to see similar Egyptian queen pendants below…)

fashion blogger realisation par emilie chinese silk dress

And now, the story of how we visited Naoshima, Japan! For a long time, I’ve been eager to travel to this “art island,” which sits in the Seto Inland Sea.

yayoi kusama gift store shop

Naoshima has become a hub for avantgarde museums and creative exhibits, shrouded in architecture that reflects the beauty of the isle. The famed Yayoi Kusama (painter of dots and pumpkins) has several permanent works here.

(If you’re unfamiliar with this madcap artist, check out my report on Yayoi’s exhibit in Sweden.)

kusama pumpkins naoshima island japan chichu

It’s important to plan ahead, if you want to make the most of your visit. You can’t simply arrive on Naoshima Island and waltz into the main sights.

Tickets to the main Chichu art museum sell out weeks to months in advance, so be sure to book your exact date and time slot well before you come. Check the Benesse website for closure dates, and for info on how to get passes to the numerous other art sites on the island.

tickets book ferry to naoshima island japan

Then, there’s the matter of getting here. Most people begin by taking the train to Okayama, which you should reserve in advance. Next, transfer to the local train and ride to Uno Station. Cross the street to the boat terminal, and buy a ticket for the ferry to Naoshima, which leaves frequently.

Since we were coming from Hiroshima, we managed to book the Hello Kitty bullet train to Okayama!

red pumpkin yayoi kusama naoshima isle

Since we had limited time, we only did a day trip to Naoshima (arriving in the morning, and leaving in the late afternoon when the museums closed).

If you’re keen to see more of the artistic attractions, I recommend staying for at least one night. Be sure to book a hotel room in advance, or you might have to camp out in Yayoi’s giant red pumpkin near the port!

shuttle bus to Benesse Art Site Naoshima chichu museum

After the ferry docks, you can board a free shuttle bus that takes you to all the major art sites. As you can gleam, it’s a bit of a trek to get to Naoshima — but worth it to see the quirky pumpkins and art.

Naoshima Tourist Cente visitor

We first stopped at the Naoshima Visitor’s Center, as our Chichu museum tickets were for later in the day.

Here, we bought tickets for the Honmura Art House Projects (you can’t get these in advance online). The Art Houses are abandoned village homes that were transformed into thought-provoking works. There are six in total; you can purchase passes to see as many as you’d like.

art house project ticket office naoshima

The Naoshima tourist center also has an enticing gift shop, featuring limited edition items with Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins.

 yayoi kusama pumpkin print scarf cloth fabric

I couldn’t resist picking up a red and white Yayoi pumpkin scarf. Later, I got a paper hand fan from the Chichu Museum gift store. (It took a lot of effort to get to Naoshima, and these designs are only available here, so I was keen to pick up some mementos.)

naoshima buildings houses

We decided to see three art houses that were within walking distance from the visitor center. On the way, we encountered adorable village houses with peaked roofs.

details street art naoshima japan

Naoshima grew from a tiny fishing village into a one-of-a-kind island that celebrates contemporary art. The works are constantly changing, and you’ll find little expressions everywhere.

art house project houses naoshima

A docent welcomed us into this Art House Project. Photos aren’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to imagine a dark pool filled with LED lights, with glowing numbers counting up and down.

Chichu Art Museum, visit tourists travel guide

Allow plenty of time to get around to each place. You can check the bus schedules to see when the next one departs.

tadao ando chi chu museum architecture

We arrived at Chichu Museum in time for our slot. There was yet another trek up the path to the museum, which passed by lily-topped ponds inspired by Monet’s paintings.

Finally, we arrived at the stark, geometric museum designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The galleries are entirely underground, and photos aren’t permitted, so this is just a glimpse at the Chichu entrance.

chichu naoshima cafe interior

We were allowed to take photos in and outside the Chichu Museum Cafe, however. After the long journey, it was lovely to sip on cold coffees and munch on salmon sandwiches, while looking out at the sea and mountains.

chichu museum guide program booklet

Benesse’s Chichu isn’t like most museums. There’s only a handful of permanent exhibits, which blend harmoniously with Tadao Ando’s modern architecture.

These include five waterlily paintings by Claude Monet, an alien-like room with a giant sphere by Walter de Maria, and James Turrell works including an interactive one that alters your perceptions through light.

sketches art exhibits naoshima

While photography isn’t allowed inside, artists are at leisure to capture the experience through sketches! Naomi Rubin shows the room with the big metal ball (it feels as if you’ve been abducted into a spaceship, and approaching an alien overlord). She also has a behind-the-scenes of me napping as we waited for the ride back!

naoshima cafe benesse chichu art gallery

The concrete, minimalist architecture creates lights and shadows that change throughout the day. Chichu Museum is one of those places that you wouldn’t really “get” unless you see it with your own eyes — so if this story intrigues you, I hope you’ll make an effort to visit.

naoshima ferry boat pumpkin port

I was tempted to spend more time here, and see the Lee Ufan Museum, Ando museum, and other exhibits.

Alas, we have to say sayonara, Naoshima… Here’s a last look at the Yayoi Kusama Red Pumpkin, a cabin-sized gourd that anyone can enter.

shinkansen window bullet train view

We caught the train back to Hiroshima, where we spent another day exploring. In my first dispatch from Hiroshima, you’ll recall we went to the Peace Memorial Museum and castle.

becky hawkins travel sketchbecky hawkins comic artist postcard

There’s just too much to see in this city of culture… Becky Hawkins made this funny travel postcard about how we hustled to see the exhibits and get to the top of Hiroshima castle, before it closed!

bomu koba rock bar hiroshima

Fortunately, there are many nightlife spots in Hiroshima that stay open late. We loved hanging out at Koba, a rock music bar run by the personable Bomu! (Koba bar address: 1-4 Nakamachi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, 730-0037, Japan)

heavy metal rock bar goth hiroshima

Bomu is a die-hard fan of hard rock and heavy metal, especially from the 1970s and 80s. We headbanged along to hair metal music videos broadcast on the big screen, and admired his collection of KISS memorabilia.

bumu bar owner hiroshima rock music bars

Koba is a fab place to hang out with friends, listen to rock n roll, and share bottles of hot sake. Many people leave notes and drawings for Bomu, which he hangs above the bar. You can also order terrific izakaya food here (small, homey Japanese plates) — including Wagyu steak.

hiroshima sun mall goth fashion

While in Hiroshima, we also stumbled upon an old school Goth mall! Located in Hondori, the ironically named “Sunmall” has an entire floor dedicated to dark and alternative Japanese fashion.

japanese goth grunge fashion

As you know from my Tokyo posts, these types of shopping centers have become increasingly rare. Marui and Laforet have very little Gothic Lolita Punk fashion these days, and many of the alt brands have closed down.

hiroshima moi meme moitie mana clothing

However, Hiroshima Sunmall still has an impressive selection of Gothic and Lolita styles, including Moi-meme-Moitie. We wondered if this was because Hiroshima is the hometown of Mana-sama…

emily temple cute chouchou ange

Hiroshima Sun Mall has lots of boutiques on a single floor, including Chouchou Ange, Metamorphose, and Emily Temple Cute.

lolita cat print dress

Cat print Lolita dresses and white feather hats… this reminds me of the “old days” in Tokyo.

clothing pentacle pentagram japan

If the frilled Lolita dresses are too girly for you, you can find pierced berets and pentagrams in the punk area.

goth punk street style hiroshima

Hiroshima Sunmall gave us major throwbacks, as this type of Harajuku fashion is no longer prominent in Tokyo.

gothic sweet lolita shopping sunmall

Baby, the Stars Shine Bright lives on here.

cutie frash cyber gothic hiroshima

Qutie Frash, with their cyber / Japan / Wa inspired clothing, sits next to the Tyche Maria shop.

kawaii alternative goth boutique hiroshima

Pastel Gothic bomber jackets and spooky bear print shirts caught my attention.

gothic lolita dresses sale hiroshima

There hasn’t been much change in these Goth and Lolita styles over the years.

baby stars shine bright hiroshima shop

Pink dolly shoes and red-eyed bunnies sit in birdcage displays.

sweet lolita bonnets headdresses

Would you wear a lace bonnet like this?

angelic pretty hiroshima sun mall

As you know, I’ve sold most of my Lolita dresses (you can still find my clothes for sale here). However, it’s still fun to see browse these designs and reminisce about the old days.

sweet lolita pastel dresses rack

Shine on, Sunmall. (This is the place to go in Hiroshima, if you’re looking for Lolita, Goth, Punk and street style.)

big eyes purikura japan

My friends and I also ducked into a Hondori game center, which had floors of video games and purikura machines.

hello kitty ufo catcher machine sanrio

The UFO catcher machines were filled with giant stuffies, including Hello Kitty, Winnie the Pooh, and Sanrio’s Pompompurin.

kirby video game center japan

Look, it’s Kirby… next to Gackt! (So many questions, and no answers as to why Gackt is inside a UFO catcher game.)

pokemon center hiroshima japan store

The Hiroshima Pokemon Center also had an impressive selection of stuffed toys. Which pocket monster is your favorite?

witch halloween pikachu toys plush

Since it was around Halloween in Hiroshima, we were pleased to see Pikachu in a purple witch’s hat.

snorlax pokemon pillow toy

This yawning Snorlax pillow made us chuckle.

ghost pikachu mimikyu stuffed toys

Mimiyku, is that you? The ghost Pikachu character is a Gothic favorite.

visual kei jrock hiroshima concerts bands

As you can see, Hiroshima is one fun city with rock bars, old-school Goth and Lolita shopping, and kawaii pop culture. And Naoshima was an inspirational island of art.

Have you been to these Japanese destinations? For more travel tips, check out my previous Hiroshima article.

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Goths in Egypt! Visiting Abu Simbel in Aswan, relocated temples of Ramses II. Philae Temple tour.

ramses ii statues abu simbel girl traveler

I heart Egypt!

No Photoshop here… I still can’t believe that I got to see ancient marvels like these all throughout the country.

My 12-day journey with Travel Talk Tours included two ancient temples that were — believe it or not — relocated during the Aswan Dam construction. Let’s wander inside the magnificent Abu Simbel (honoring Pharoah Ramses II), and late period Philae Temple. 

Outfit details: Hope heart bag by Lola Ramona, sunhat by Tenth Street Hats, and dress by Jawbreaker Clothing.

Temple of Hathor goddess abu simbel

Our Travel Talk Tours group tour provided plenty of optional excursions. In Aswan, everyone had the opportunity to add on a morning trip to Abu Simbel. Yukiro and I jumped at this opportunity — it was worth leaving at 3:30am to arrive at Abu Simbel before other tourists.

Although we were sleepy on the ride over, we woke up as soon as we glimpsed this ancient Egyptian monument, carved into the side of a mountain. The immensity of the statues made our jaws drop. (For once, Yukiro is not the tallest person in the photos!)

ramesses ii giant statues

Abu Simbel is located southwest of Aswan, close to the border with Sudan.  The main temple is decorated with four gargantuan statues of Ramses II, the most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom.

Temple of queen Nefertari egypt

The iconic ruler built several grand temples in Upper Egypt (as the southern region leading to Nubia was known). Ramses II wanted to demonstrate his power in this region, since the Egyptians were continuing to expand into Nubia at the time.

Next to his temple, there’s a smaller but equally impressive Temple of Hathor (above) — dedicated to his queen Nefertari.

abu simbel temples carvings statues

Our Travel Talk Tours guide shared the story of how these ancient ruins were discovered. After the fall of Egyptian civilization, the entire complex became buried under sand.

However, in the early 1800s, an Egyptian boy named Abu Simbel stumbled upon one of the statues sticking out of the sand. He led European scholars to the site, and they began to excavate the “lost world.”

travel talk tours aswan abu simbel

Yukiro jumps for joy in front of the Great Temple of Ramesses II. In the 13th century BCE, the two structures were carved out of the mountainside, in an amazing feat of engineering and architecture.

ramses ii temple moved abu simbel

The four kingly statues once overlooked the River Nile. In the 1960s, Abu Simbel was at risk of being submerged during the building of the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser.

abu simbel carved mountain temple archaeology

As a result, archaeologists relocated the entire complex to higher ground! From 1964-68, the structure was carefully dismantled, moved, and reassembled nearby.

ankh key door gothic egypt

Appropriately, the key to the temple door is a giant gold ankh! This Egyptian symbol represents the key of life, making it a dramatic entrance to Abu Simbel. (My nails are by Glam Nail Studio in Vancouver.)

egyptiah goth fashion ankh

It doesn’t get more Goth than this. I’m standing next to a typical “walk like an Egyptian” carving from this period, featuring a profile pose, bent arms, and stiff triangular skirt.

weird carvings inside abu simbel

Yukiro and I first went inside the temple for Nefertari, the chief consort of Ramses II. It also honors Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess of joy, music, and motherhood. 

egyptian pillars columns ramses

The pillars featured carvings of ladies in kohl eyeliner and curled hair. This is the second Egyptian temple ever dedicated to a queen (the first, established by Akhenaten, honored his wife Nefertiti).

Seth and Horus crowning Ramses II abu simbel

What’s the deal with the “bowling pin hat”?

This unique royal headgear combines the white hedjet crown of Lower Egypt with the red deshret crown of Upper Egypt — symbolizing the pharoah’s rule over the entire country. The bas-relief shows Seth and Horus (the falcon-headed god) crowning Ramses the Second.

egyptian royal queen carvings art

The ancient Egyptians were certainly creative with their headpieces. These “bowling pins” and “bunny ears” had symbolic meanings and were associated with different deities.

For example, the central figure is Hathor. She’s depicted with cow horns and a sun in between, representing her bovine and solar powers.

ancient egypt art abu simbel tomb

The temples are surprisingly large. You can enter various chambers and tunnels filled with carvings (which made me feel like Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.)

bas relief wall carvings abu simbel

It’s remarkable how well the friezes inside the Great Temples have endured over the millennia.

interior inside abu simbel ankh goddess

We loved seeing depictions of queens and goddesses. Here is Nefertari, wearing a plumed or double-feather headdress with a solar disk. She’s flanked by Hathor and Mut, the wife of Amon-Ra.

four pharoah statues ancient egypt

A pyramid pose for Abu Simbel, which is a UNESCO heritage site and as impressive as the Pyramids of Giza.

best photography spots abu simbel aswan

How many head decorations can you count? Ramses II wears the double-crown or pschent, as well as the nemes (a striped headcloth, such as the one worn by King Tut). A uraeus, or coiled serpent, emerges from his forehead to symbolize sovereignty.

Then there’s me, in Tenth Street Hats.

huge standing statues egypt

The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari stands out, as the king and his consort are of equal size. (Usually, the wife is depicted smaller.)

relocated temples abu simbel

Fun fact: Ramses II spawned around 100 children. You can see carvings that represent his other wives and children beneath his seated figures.

nefertari temple ancient egypt

As always, our Travel Talk Tours leader struck a balance in sharing information, and then letting us explore on our own time.

bearded queen egyptian

Time to go inside Ramesses II’s temple. It opens into a huge hypostyle hall with eight pillars; they depict the pharoah as Osiris, the god of the Underworld.

horus carvings egypt

In contrast to the queen’s temple, there are many action-packed military carvings here. Ramses II commissioned art to commemorate his victory over the Hittites, in the Battle of Kadesh.

spooky goth ankhs occult

We Goths appreciated the proliferation of ankhs. (This favored symbol represents both mortal existence and the afterlife.)

egyptians eating ankhs

“Eat the ankh… eat it!”

We were amused to see Egyptian deities placing an ankh against the lips of devotees. This revitalizes the soul and brings them into the afterlife.

haunted egyptian temple inner shrine abu simbel

Deep inside the main temple, you’ll encounter this spooky sight (no wonder the ancient Egyptians are associated with curses and the occult!) This sanctuary houses four seated divinities: Horakhty, a deified Ramses, Amun-Ra, and Ptah.

temple hathor egypt paintings

Many of the paintings still retain their pigment. The delicate skill of these ancient artists is astonishing.

 Rameses II carvings abu simbel fighting Battle of Kadesh

The story of Ramses II’s military victories cover several walls. These bas-reliefs show the Battle of Kadesh, which is probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, with up to 6000 vehicles.

anubis jackal headed god afterlife mummies

Hail Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife. The man without a face probably had his head scratched off by the Christians in a later era…

travel talk tours blogger reviews

Hard to believe the majestic Abu Simbel was almost lost to the sands of time. More mysteries of ancient Egypt are revealed every year… I wonder what we might learn next about this fascinating civilization.

Bag Lola Ramona, sunhat Tenth Street Hats, dress Jawbreaker Clothing.

boat to philae temple egypt

Later that afternoon, Travel Talk Tours took the entire group to Philae Temple (this was one action-packed tour!). We boarded a boat and sailed to Agilkia Island, where Philae now rests. (It also was dismantled and moved here, during the Aswan Low Dam construction).

philae temple goddess isis aswan

Philae Temple is dedicated to Isis, the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. The important goddess helped children and those who were ill, and celebrated life and magic.

philae temple pylon entryway entrance

Philae Temple was built during the rule of the Greek Ptolemies (around 380–362 BCE). This was the final Egyptian dynasty, which ended with the death of Queen Cleopatra VII. 

Isis’ temple features a grand pylon entrance carved with deities. Philae was probably the last active site of the ancient Egyptian religion, which disappeared after the end of the Ptolemy era.

egyptian roman pillars aswan

As Philae was built in Hellenistic times, you can see the Greco-Roman influence in the architecture. I’m standing in the gateway of Trajan’s Kiosk, a hypaethral (open-roof) temple made by the Roman Emperor, Trajan.

philae temple isis worship egypt

Such a fascinating combination of Greco-Roman and New Kingdom Egyptian art. The ladies look a bit like the ones in Nefertari’s temple, but this one is sticking her tongue out!

temple of philae pillars complex

Some parts of Philae Temple look straight out of Greece or Rome, such as this long flank of fluted columns.

 Temple to Isis, Horus and Osiris on Philae Island

Inside Philae Temple, you’ll encounter a hypostyle hall, and chambers dedicated to other deities like Hathor.

late kingdom egypt carvings

As you can see, Egyptian art looks different in this late era of the civilization. The headdresses, poses, and hieroglyphics are similar to what you’ll see in Abu Simbel and Karnak

Sekhmet lion head goddess egypt

… however, the bodies are more voluptuous, and the carving style is dissimilar (look at the hair and finger detail for example). Here’s a close-up of Sekhmet, the lion head goddess, holding an ankh.

osiris winged god carving philae

This beautiful relief shows goddess Isis protecting her husband Osiris with outspread wings. A pharaoh (identifiable by his bowling pin crown) offers a libation to the gods.

temple of philae outside exterior

We learned so much about Egypt’s history throughout the tour. Not everyone knows that the final rulers descended from Ptolemy (including the famed Cleopatra) were ethnically Greek. They built temples like this to placate the Egyptian population, and legitimize their rule.

aswan dam temples moved reconstructed

After Cleopatra and Mark Antony died, Egypt became a Roman province ruled under Octavian. Egypt would no longer be ruled by its own people until the 20th century.

guided private tours egypt aswan

Egypt is everything I look for in a destination. Yukiro and I were glad we got to travel safely and see so much of the country, thanks to Travel Talk Tours.

Where am I off to next? Announcement to come soon, so stay tuned and check out my Instagram @lacarmina for regular updates!

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