Bridge Over Troubled Water

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Dizzy. I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning… But this whirlpool does end. A little too quickly, in fact. Forty-one metres below us in the Naruto Narrows dozens of little whirlpools are forming and collapsing, like a swarm of small hurricanes. They’re caused by a drop in water level that surges as the tide goes in and out, water flooding between Japan’s Inland Sea and the vast Pacific Ocean.
In terms of the history of the world, they’re very young – much younger than man, in fact. It’s believed that the Inland Sea was only formed after sea levels rose following the last Ice Age. That means we were a good 30,000 years old before the water invaded the land, then started washing back and forward to create these angry little swirls.

Today, they’re located directly under the Onaruto Bridge, which was completed as late as 1985. It was supposed to be an ultra-efficient connection between Shikoku and the mainland of Honshu: the plan was to have a four-lane highway with a shinkansen line below. Fortunately (depending on your perspective) the money ran out, so now, while cars thunder overhead, tourists – not high speed trains – shuffle along a walkway, trying to glimpse the whirlpools below. To help them, terrifying plexi-glass viewing panels have been installed. Failing that, punters can pay for a boat ride out to take a closer look at the gateways to the abyss.

That’s the theory anyway. But for us, it wasn’t so much like a scene from the incrementally more rubbish Pirates of the Carribbean, as a series of large sinks, draining very briefly. The best time to visit is apparently spring, so in late autumn, a bit too long after low tide, we got less natural wonder than the posters had led us to expect.

Mercifully, although Naruto has only around 60,000 inhabitants, it’s got another very expensive trick up its sleeve. To see if man could make something more impressive than nature had mustered, we headed around the peninsula – past a little man who makes a living poking out the eyes of fish – to Otsuka Museum of Art.

Put simply, this is easily the best collection of art anywhere in the world. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? It’s home to the Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and his Last Supper (code and all), and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and Warhol’s Marilyn, and Munch’s Scream, and all of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Not ringing any bells? It’s got most of Monet’s watercolours for goodness’ sake! It’s got the bloody Sistine Chapel! There’s Renoits, Constables, Picassos, Turners, Goyas, Vermeers… I tell you, it’s the best collection of art the world has ever known!

Except it’s not, of course. Despite costing $400 million, there’s not a single original work on display in Naruto, but rather an utterly colossal gathering of over 1,000 replicas of the planet’s most important pieces, sourced from over 2,000 years of human history. At huge cost to industrialist Masahito Otsuka, all of the work in his museum has been recreated exactly, with the precise original dimensions, on large ceramic panels.
There are two ways of looking at it all: either it’s as good as a tremendous collection of fine art, or it’s the world’s most expensive array of fancy bathroom tiles. In the end, our collective opinion straddles the divide.

On the downside, the medium, while very accurate, does have its limitations. The finish is distinctly shiny, for one, and the texture of a real painting is lost, for another. Worst of all, the enormous lines of the individual panels that make up some of the larger works are hard to ignore. Plus, with the sheer enormity of the museum, unless you have an entire day, moving around the 4km of wall space (the largest in Japan) is overwhelming. It’s possible to get masterpiece fatigue here, which probably isn’t healthy.
On the other hand, the collection is an art student’s dream, and gives less-moneyed Japanese people the chance to come and see convincing, life-sized replicas of the world’s most important artworks. It would cost several million yen to jet around the globe to see them all in their original housings. It’s structured very well, too, to lead visitors chronologically through the artists’ development, all the way from ancient Greece to Andy Warhol’s New York studio. Best of all – for Katy – is that here you can take pictures, allowing a rare chance to take detailed pictures of her favourite pieces.

After two hours sprinting through the artistic ages, we decided that, overall, it was man who had triumphed over nature when it came to Naruto’s main attractions. But then we went outside, and were quite happy to be proved wrong all over again.