Shioya Diner in Naoshima has retro decor and a menu packed with burgers, barbecue, chilli dogs, tacos and root beer (it also has the friendliest service you’ll encounter)

Naoshima is a small island town located in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea in the Okayama Prefecture, about half a day’s train travel from Tokyo. This beautiful rural/coastal getaway was originally a fishing village, but after that the surrounding sea was polluted by heavy smelting industry. It has since been rehabilitated with a number of more creative initiatives such as modern rice farming, aquaculture and, incredibly, contemporary art.

The island is home to art galleries designed by self-taught Japanese architect Tadao Ando, installations by light master James Turrell, and sculptures by polka-dot-and-pumpkin obsessed Yayoi Kasuma

It also has a beautiful gallery dedicated to water-lily period paintings by Monet, among other amazing things (but I’ll leave the art for another story).

One of Yayoi Kasuma's pumpkins on Naoshima. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
One of Yayoi Kasuma’s pumpkins on Naoshima. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

Put it this way: Naoshima is just about the last place in the world where you’d expect to find a ’50s diner, but this is where hot-rod-lovin’ Shimpei “Buddy” Nakamura and his wife Misuzu decided to settle down and raise their two gorgeous girls after running a vintage store in Tokyo.

Shioya Diner’s interior is painted a bright turquoise and almost all available wall space is covered with Margaret Keane’s “big-eye” paintings, those kitsch “Love is…” plastic sculptures you may have had as a kid and cutesy mermaid-themed wall plaques. Tables and chairs are bright yellow, patterned in fantastic atomic-age patterns.

Kitsch, yes, awesome - hell, yes! Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
Kitsch, yes, awesome – hell, yes! Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
A couple of Keanes! Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
A couple of Keanes! Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

A big old gallon-drum barbecue sits outside, which Buddy fires up for burgers at dinner time. He’ll also often grill sea urchin and other seafood pulled straight from the sea that day.

I popped in for lunch and downed a chilli dog, an upturned packet of Lay’s potato crisps and an A&W root beer (they also sell Dr Pepper and Stewart’s along with Dos Equis beer). The dog features a sausage from the Kokubunji region of Tokyo (very yummy!), and Buddy describes the chilli as “Cincinnati-style, seasoned a la Tokyo”.

My A&W was delicious. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
My A&W was delicious. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

Contact details

Shioya Diner: Opening hours are 11am-9pm, Tues-Sun. Address: 2227 Naoshimacho Ichien, Naoshima. Tel: +81 87 892 3290. Check them out on Facebook here

Fun fact: Buddy is the drummer in frenetic Japanese garage punk band Charlie and the Hot Wheels. Listen to them here

Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

How to get to Naoshima

1) From Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka: Take the JR Shinkansen (the bullet train) to Okayama station, on the Sanyo Shinkansen line.

The trip takes four hours from Tokyo (on the Hikari-type train); 90 minutes from Kyoto (on the Hikari train); and 45 minutes from Shin-Osaka (on the Hikari train). Trains depart approximately once an hour, so take a look at the timetable to besy plan here

2) From Okayama Station: Once at Okayama, hop on board a local train to Uno Station (JR Uno line). The trip takes between 45 and 60 minutes. Not all trains are direct, so if indicated you will need to transfer at Chayamachi Station (just cross the platform). This trip is not covered by the JR Rail Pass, but it’s super cheap at 580 Yen one way (approx. AUD$6.30).

3) From Uno Station: Uno is a port, and it is from here that you catch the ferry to Naoshima. Just cross the road from the station and you’ll see the ferry terminal. The ride costs 280 Yen and takes about 20 minutes to get to Miyanoura Port (the main ferry terminal on Naoshima, and the one closest to Shioya Diner – may as well head straight there as you’ll be hungry from all that travelling). The best timetable for the ferry can be found at Bennesse Art Site’s web page, here

4) Nearly there! Shioya Diner is located in the warren of skinny streets directly ahead of you as you disembark the ferry. See the “Contact Details” above for address and directions. If you can find the cool bathhouse with the huge sign in the style of those of a chrome ladies found on trucks’ mud flaps (I Love Yu Bathhouse), the diner is on the opposite corner.

I Love Yu Bathhouse. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
I Love Yu Bathhouse. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

Travel tip!

Buy a National Japan Rail Pass before you leave your home country for fantastic savings on fast train travel within Japan. They cannot be used by residents of Japan, and they cannot be purchased once you are in Japan.

Prices: AUD$315 for seven days; AUD$495 for 14 days and AUD$633 for 21 days (including free international FedEx courier to your home). Children aged six-11 years can travel on child tickets for approximately half the price.

My JR Pass. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
My JR Pass. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

Note that the JR Pass does not allow you to travel on Nozomi trains, so the shinkansen types you can take with the pass are noted in the “How to Get to Naoshima” info above.

Regional Japan passes are also available if you are only going to be travelling within a certain part of the country. To look at your options (and to book a JR pass) go here

•All prices correct as of August 2015. Please check for updates before you travel. If you don’t understand these currencies, you can convert to your own currency at xe.com

The Nakamura family from Shioya Diner. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
The Nakamura family from Shioya Diner. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

Keep scrolling for food pics!

Close-up of Shioya's chilli dawg. Photo supplied
Close-up of Shioya’s chilli dawg. Photo supplied
Burgers on the grill. Photo supplied
Burgers on the grill. Photo supplied
Tacos! Photo supplied.
Tacos and Dos Equis! Photo supplied