Miho MuseumFamily

Gem in the Hidden Mountain of Shigaraki

Miho Museum (美秀美術館) is a private museum managed by the religious group Shinji Shumeikai (神慈秀明会). It is named after the founder of the group, Mrs. Mihoko Koyama and initially housed the vast collection of tea ceremony utensils and Asian antiquities collected by her. The collection was subsequently grew into a vision of an art museum, aligning with Koyama’s vision of promoting beauty, peace and joy through art.

The museum is a place that I have been longing for a visit.

Yes, for a very long time.

In fact, I had been there before but not exactly visited the museum. Why?

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Back in 2006 while I was touring with my wife in Kyoto, we had no specific place to go on one rainy day. I looked up the GPS searching for places to go around the area. All of a sudden, a very familiar name came to sight, Miho Museum – one that I learnt from a documentary years ago.

Without any further checking, I drove up to Miho Museum. That trip was a little scary. The rain was quite heavy and it was terribly foggy. It took me more than an hour to climb along those narrow and hilly roads. By the time I arrived, Oh My God, I found that the museum was closed few days ago for change of exhibit.

So if you want to visit Miho Museum, make sure to check their website for the museum schedule.

During my recent holiday tour to the Biwako area, I finally have the chance to visit the Miho Museum.

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Why so Special?

The story began with the Joy of Angels Bell Tower, designed by the famous Chinese American architect I. M. Pei, at Shinji Shumeikai International in Misono. I. M. Pei, born in 1917 in China and went to US for studying architecture. Major design works included the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Massachusetts, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, Bank of China Building in Hong Kong, Bank of China Head Office in Beijing and Grand Louvre in Paris.

 

In 1991, thrilled by the success of the Bell Tower, Miss Koyama commissioned Pei to build the Miho Museum, located on the mountain of Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture.

Pei’s design was inspired by the famous Chinese tale of “Peach Blossom Valley” by Tao Yum Ming.

There once lived a fisherman in Eastern China. One day, as he was rowing up a mountain stream, he came across a peach orchard in full bloom

Your exploration starts with a slow climb along the Approach to the Museum
Your exploration starts with a slow climb along the Approach to the Museum

At the end of the orchard, he noticed a ray of light coming from a small cave at the foot of a mountain.

Tunnel at the end of the climb with cherry blossom trees along the sides (sorry I was not not in the right season!)
Tunnel at the end of the climb with cherry blossom trees along the sides (sorry I was not in the right season!)

Once inside, he found himself on a narrow road,

The Metallic tunnel
The Metallic tunnel

but traveling deeper, a splendid view suddenly opened before him.

Strolling along the metallic tunnel and prepare for the scenery ahead
Strolling along the metallic tunnel and prepare for the scenery ahead
The wonderful Miho Museum on the other side of the tunnel
The wonderful Miho Museum on the other side of the tunnel

There was the Shangri-La.

Electric Cart Stop in front of the Miho Museum main building
Electric Cart Stop in front of the Miho Museum main building

As the piece of land was within a nature reserve, there were a number of restrictions that must be followed:

  1. Any building structure here must be opened to public – Despite the museum is privately owned, it is designed for public visit
  2. Height of building must not exceed 10 meters – To meet the restriction without downsizing, 80% of the museum is built deep inside the mountain with only just 20% is exposed. Trees and earth were removed to make place for the building site and then relocated back once the construction was completed.
  3. All building structures must be sloped and not affecting the natural environment of the area – This is how Mr. I. M. Pei making use of basic geometric shapes to design the silhouette to be in-lined with the mountains here – An architectural masterpiece.
Miho Museum - A traditional Japanese style building that harmonised with the surrounding
Miho Museum – A traditional Japanese style building that harmonised with the surrounding
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How to Get There?

Public bus service operated by Teisan is available from the Ishiyama JR Station to the Miho Museum Bus Stop. Bus frequency is about once in every hour.

You can also go by car via Shiga Prefectural Route 12 towards Shigaraki. Free parking space is available in front of the museum. However, pay attention when driving along Route 12 as it is steep and narrow. There are many sections that only support single lane traffic. In fact, the museum will be closed during winter period from December to March of the following year due to snowing.

Since we lived in hotel next to the Seta JR Station and the bus stop, we took a slightly different route by boarding the Teisan bus at the station towards Ishiyama JR Station and changed to the Miho Bus at the Hashimoto Bus Stop.

Seta JR Station and the Teisan Bus Stop
Seta JR Station and the Teisan Bus Stop
Hand drawn instruction for changing bus to Miho Museum
Hand drawn instruction for changing bus to Miho Museum
Getting off at the Hashimoto Bus Stop
Getting off at the Hashimoto Bus Stop
Changing bus to Miho Museum at the Hashimoto Bus Stop in Sekisho-no-michi
Changing bus to Miho Museum at the Hashimoto Bus Stop in Sekisho-no-michi
Onboard the public bus towards Miho Museum
Onboard the public bus towards Miho Museum
Bus fares varied across location (bus stop) of boarding the bus
Bus fares varied across location (bus stop) of boarding the bus
Paying bus fare at the end of the bus journey
Paying bus fare at the end of the bus journey
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Our Visit to Miho Museum

Other than taking the public bus or by car, there are also bikers and cyclists who enjoyed riding up the steep roads to the museum.

Two types of bikes living in harmony @Miho Museum
Two types of bikes living in harmony @Miho Museum

After getting off the bus next to the parking area, the first place came to sight is the Reception Pavilion where the ticketing counter is located. It also housed one of the two restaurants, the Peach Valley, where we would have our lunch later on.

Reception pavilion looking from the museum carpark
Reception pavilion looking from the museum car park
Across the bus stop to the Miho Museum reception pavilion
Across the bus stop to the Miho Museum reception pavilion
Staircase to the Miho Museum reception pavilion
Staircase to the Miho Museum reception pavilion
Miho Museum reception pavilion
Miho Museum reception pavilion
Lobby of the reception pavilion
Lobby of the reception pavilion

Admission fee is ¥1,100 for adults and ¥300 for kids over age of six.

Paying the museum admission fees
Paying the museum admission fees

Before going into details, take a look at the aerial views of the Miho Museum.

Aerial View with Reception Pavilion at the bottom and Museum main building at the top
Aerial View with Reception Pavilion at the bottom and Museum main building at the top
Aerial View of the Museum main building and the suspension bridge
Aerial View of the Museum main building and the suspension bridge

Free electric cart is available to take you along the Approach to the main museum block on the other side of the mountain.

Electric Cart bring visitors to the Miho Museum
Electric Cart bring visitors to the Miho Museum

To better enjoy the scenery of the nature reserve, we deliberately walked along the Approach instead.

Boys posing in front of the tunnel
Boys posing in front of the tunnel

If you looked back from the tunnel and at the right season (of course I’m not!), you would have a view full of the cherry blossom trees, a vibrant pink color that looked really great.

Looking back from the metallic tunnel
Looking back from the metallic tunnel
A suspension bridge linking to the Museum at the end of the tunnel
A suspension bridge linking to the Museum at the end of the tunnel
Suspension bridge viewing from the main museum building
Suspension bridge viewing from the main museum building
Looking out from the suspension bridge linking the tunnel to the Museum
Looking out from the suspension bridge linking the tunnel to the Museum
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Architectural View of the Miho Museum

Going inside to the main hall of the Miho Museum
Going inside to the main hall of the Miho Museum

1F – Miho Museum

Here it comes the Entrance Hall.

The Entrance Hall at 1F of the Miho Museum
The Entrance Hall at 1F of the Miho Museum

It’s really hard to describe the scenery in words.

Mr. I. M. Pei cleverly making use of natural light as the key and utilised basic geometric shapes as the building blocks to the Museum.

Right in front of the windows are old pine trees that were removed during building of the Museum and relocated back afterward. Their original locations and postures were carefully maintained. A respect to the environment and the mastery work of the Japanese engineers and builders.

The long wooden bench on the lower left of the above photo was craved out from one tall pine tree. The way it was cut was to preserve the original shape of the trunk.

At the far end, you would also see the Bell Tower at Misono and the Shrine of Shumei located at the headquarters of the Shinji Shumeikai.

Looking out from the main hall - Bell tower at Misono (left) and the Shrine of Shumei (right)
Looking out from the main hall – Bell tower at Misono (left) and the Shrine of Shumei (right)
Towards the North Wing
Towards the North Wing

2F – Miho Museum

Geometric structure at the North Wing of the Miho Museum
Geometric structure at the North Wing of the Miho Museum
Exhibition on the Holy colors of Blue and Red
Exhibition on the Holy colors of Blue and Red
The Courtyard (Japanese Garden) located in 2F of the North Wing
The Courtyard (Japanese Garden) located in 2F of the North Wing
Another view of the Courtyard (Japanese Garden)
Another view of the Courtyard (Japanese Garden)
Small exhibition showing the interaction between red and blue
Small exhibition showing the interaction between red and blue
Small exhibition showing the interaction between red and blue
Small exhibition showing the interaction between red and blue

B1F – Miho Museum

Floor Mosaic depicting Dionysos's Discovery of Ariadne on Naxos at B1F
Floor Mosaic depicting Dionysos’s Discovery of Ariadne on Naxos at B1F
Use of natural lighting in the Museum Shop at B1F
Use of natural lighting in the Museum Shop at B1F
Another example of natural lighting in the B1F lobby
Another example of natural lighting in the B1F lobby
The Rotary of the Museum at B1F - Used for Electric Cart Stop in summer and rainy days
The Rotary of the Museum at B1F – Used for Electric Cart Stop in summer and rainy days
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Lunch at the Miho Museum

Our visit to the Miho Museum couldn’t be completed without having the wonderful lunch there.

At the South Wing of the Museum, there is the Pine View Tea Room serving drinks, sandwiches and desserts. A good place for a break during your visit to the museum collection. As we all felt hungry after the visit, we preferred to have full lunch at the Peach Valley Restaurant at the Reception Pavilion.

In fact, both the Pine View Tea Room and Peach Valley used ingredients produced by the Shumei Natural Agricultural approach which is free from any additives including fertilisers and agrochemicals.

Peach Valley Restaurant, Reception Pavilion, Miho Museum
Peach Valley Restaurant, Reception Pavilion, Miho Museum
Menu of the Peach Valley Restaurant, Miho Museum
Menu of the Peach Valley Restaurant, Miho Museum
Udon menu
Udon menu

After a short wait, we finally had a table and ordered our foods.

Enjoyed the delicious lunch at the Peach Valley Restaurant
Enjoyed the delicious lunch at the Peach Valley Restaurant
Hot Udon set meal
Hot Udon set meal
Chilled Udon set meal
Chilled Udon set meal
Chilled spaghetti with summer vegetables and handmade bread
Chilled spaghetti with summer vegetables and handmade bread
Reginette pasta (emmer & durum) with seasonal vegetables and handmade bread
Reginette pasta (emmer & durum) with seasonal vegetables and handmade bread

Being a baker myself, it was hard to resist buying handmade breads from the bakery of the museum.

Bakery at the reception pavilion
Bakery at the reception pavilion
End of my visit to the Miho Museum with bag of handmade breads
End of my visit to the Miho Museum with bag of handmade breads

Finally, my dream to visit the Miho Museum was fulfilled. Magnificent architectural masterpiece of Mr. I. M. Pei, delicious foods and having wonderful time with my family, I really couldn’t ask for more!

Public Bus Stop at the Miho Museum
Public Bus Stop at the Miho Museum
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Additional Information

This is a Youtube video containing two documentaries related to the Miho Museum. The first one is “First Person Singular  I. M. Pei“. Discussion on Miho is located at 40:38.

The second one started at 1:25:30 is “Miho Museum 1991-1997” that I have referred to in the beginning of this post.

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