The impressive Miho Museum is one of Japan’s architectural highlights and houses a breathtaking collection of ancient artifacts. The museum lies hidden in the densely forested rocky landscape near Shigaraki, about one hour by train and bus from Kyoto.
The Miho Museum is named after its founder Koyama Mihoko, who was one of the richest persons in Japan. The magnificent building is a design from I.M. Pei and covers 10,000 sq. meter in a gorgeous area that is part of the prefectural park of Shiga. I.M. Pei is one of the world’s leading modern architects who also designed the Grand Louvre in Paris and the modern wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
The building with the surrounding park alone would already be worth the visit.
Because of the strict building rules applicable in this natural area of Japan about 75 % of the museum is under the surface.
Take the JR Line (any service) from Kyoto Station to Ishiyama Station (15 min). From there take Teisan bus number 150 to the Miho Museum (50 min). The bus time table, a map and further directions for if you come by car can be found on the museum website. My tip. Don’t forget to check on the website of the museum the days and months that it is open. Several months per year the museum is closed.
The road to the museum entrance
The bus arrives and departs just in front of the reception building where also the entrance tickets are sold. Follow the path bordered by trees and flowers to the entrance of the tunnel. The access is beautiful in all seasons. For reference my pictures were taken in the month of November.
The story goes that when I.M. Pei arrived for the first time at the site he called it “Shangri-La”. Indeed the 15 minute walk to the museum will leave you speechless. Note that for elderly and less mobile visitors you can also ride the electric shuttle bus. Entering the tunnel under the hill that hides the museum will make you feel like in a futuristic structure. Because of the special lighting it gave me the impression of an interstellar passageway from the Star Trek saga.
The end of the tunnel gives way to a bridge over a gorge from where you get to see the entrance of the museum. The 120 meter long bridge was considered so aesthetically beautiful and a piece of modern engineering that in 2002 it was awarded the prestigious IABSE (International Association for Bridges and Structural Engineering) price for outstanding engineering.
The South wing
The art displayed in the South wing of the museum covers mainly the old civilisations from what is now present day Egypt, Greece, the Middle East over Afghanistan and Pakistan to China.
The museum asks not to reproduce pictures of the collection which I want to respect. It is possible to view the collection on the museum website though. Scroll through the South wing collection on the museum website, enlarge some of the pictures and you will get a great idea of what to expect.
The North wing
The North wing of the museum is focusing on Japanese art and has also a periodically changing collection. At the time I visited the museum a fantastic collection of Dogu were exhibited.
Dogu, meaning clay figures in Japanese, are small humanoid and animal figurines made during the late Jōmon period (14,000–400 BC) of prehistoric Japan. Dogu come exclusively from the Jōmon period. After that period they were not longer made. (source the Dogu page on Wikipedia)
The Shumei headquarters
Mrs. Mihoko Koyama founder of the museum was also the spiritual leader of Shumei, a kind of new spiritual organisation aiming for an ideal state of happiness and health. From the museum you can see the rectangular Meishusama Hall at the center of Shumei’s headquarters that can hold 5000 people. It was designed by Yamasaki Minoru, the architect of the former world trade center twin towers in New York.
The smaller construction to the left, barely visible on the photo, is the ‘Joy of Angels’ carillon tower. Another structure designed by I.M. Pei. Its fifty bells were cast at the famous Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry in The Netherlands.
Restaurant and tea room
There is a tearoom in the South wing of the museum. For those that left Kyoto early in the morning I can recommend the Peach Valley restaurant in the reception building next to the bus stop. The restaurant serves excellent light dishes prepared with ingredients grown in an organic way. Check the museum website for the menu.
To conclude I personally think that the Miho museum is of a serene beauty rarely seen and so well integrated in the surrounding nature that if there would exist a worldwide shortlist of museums to visit it would maybe rank it in the top five.
Unfortunately it is much less known in the West but if you are lucky enough to make a big tour of Japan it is a must see. Surely if you visit the Kyoto area then don’t miss it.