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Miho Museum: Hidden Gem of the Shigaraki Mountains

Commissioned by Toyobo textile heiress Mihoko Koyama in the 1990s, the Miho Museum is an outstanding architectural and culturally relevant masterpiece located in the remote depths of the Shigaraki mountains of Shiga prefecture.  The tranquility, natural mysticism, and covert location of the Miho Museum are all familiar facets of the Shinji Shumeikai religious cult, of whom Koyama is the original founder.  The foundational teachings of the Shinji Shumeikai are based in objectives of peace and attainment of happiness through spiritual enlightenment, maintenance of the natural environment, and cultivation of a healthy livelihood based on the natural harvests of the Earth.

Upon purchasing a ticket at the main entryway, visitors are invited to either take a 10 minute stroll to the main museum, or if they prefer, a free shuttle.  If one is able to, it is highly suggested to walk, as the journey to the museum is just as fulfilling as the museum itself.  Trees hang high overhead the pathway, leading visitors down a carefully cultivated forest.  The pathway opens up naturally, creating a tunnel through the forest.  The pursued task of creating an environmentally efficient “Shangri-La” that is harmonious with nature is visible from the very beginning.

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The pathway progresses towards an enormous silver grey tunnel.  The transformation from natural to industrial is a practical postmodern journey through the other side of the mountain.  The tunnel blends seamlessly into the environment and maintains the natural integrity of the surroundings.  The bridge itself is integrated into the structure of the earth with both cantilevered, cable-stays and post-tension design, corrupting the surroundings in the least possible way.  Coalescing with the natural topography and geographical conditions of the land, the museum truly is the “Shangri-la” that I.M. Pei sought to create.

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An environmentally harmonious paradise on earth, I.M. Pei has constructed a world built upon the collision of the natural and man-made realms.  Most well known for his construction of the Lourve glass pyramid in Paris, I.M. Pei employs a synonymous geometric dimensional structure within the Miho Museum.

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The building is ¾ underground, and the display rooms have been designed with the artifacts in mind.  On the reception level, the roof is glass, supported by steal beams.  Even on an overcast day, light is drawn in and saturates in the limestone walls and floors.  A wide expanse of windows facing the Shigaraki Mountains is a stunning scene to be appreciated in itself.  Viewers can delight in peering over the sweeping panoramic view, where the Shinji Shumeikai Belltower can be seen at a distance.  Emerging from the isolated location of Misono, the belltower is a pronounced beacon in the distance.  Constructed by I.M. Pei in 1990, the belltower is the manifestation of Koyama’s path to heaven from earth, a spiritual soundscape, and landmark to the international headquarters of the Shumei Shumeikai.

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The artwork inside is reflective of the architecture that houses it – culturally significant, diverse, and broad in style and origins.  The permanent collections contain ancient pottery, lacquer ware, tea ceremony utensils, regional artifacts, as well as painted screens, and Buddhists relics.  Egyptian, Assyrian, Roman, Greek, Persian, Chinese, and South Asian artifacts are displayed in sections that are complementary to their spirit, rather than stifling.

The Peach Valley Café inside offers seasonal dishes that are vegetarian friendly and abide to the agricultural philosophies of Shinji Shumeikai, using only ingredients that are grown organically, locally, and in season.

Information
Miho Museum
Address: 300 Shigarakicho Tashiro, Koka, Shiga Prefecture 529-1814
Telephone: +81 748-82-3411
Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (Tue -Sun)
Regular Holidays: Mondays.  Closed in the winter from December to mid-March
Fee: 1,000 Yen for Adults, 800 Yen for high school and college students, 300 Yen for elementary school students
Access 1: JR Biwako line from Kyoto Station to Ishiyama Station ( 230 yen, 15 min.). From the south gate of Ishiyama station, take Teisan bus number 150 to Miho museum ( 800 yen, 50 min.). Approximately 1 hour from Kyoto
Distance to airport: About 100 km from Kansai International Airport
Wi-Fi availability: No
Religious info: Shinji Shumeikai
Language: Japanese, English
Credit cards Accepted: Yes

Article by Jen

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