by John Webber
This Japanese museum’s sacred beauty is worth the detour – even though it is an hour outside Kyoto.
The most spectacular aspect of the Miho Museum, nestled in a nature preserve outside Shigaraki, an hour southeast of Kyoto, is the approach. On the approach, one must take a long winding cab ride from town, walk through a sleek tunnel and cross a suspension bridge over a vertiginous ravine.
Only when crossing the bridge does Pritzker Prize winner I. M. Pei’s temple like glass-and-steel building reveal itself. The Chinese American architect (who just turned a robust 100 years of age last year in 2017) modeled it after the idea of Shangri-La, the mythical Himalayan utopia one can discover only by chance and never revisit. The museum which opened in 1997, was commissioned by Mihoko Koyama and her daughter Hiroko Koyama. It is approximately 17400 square meters, three-quarters of it is underground and mostly carved out of a rocky mountaintop. The building’s roof is a large glass and steel construction, while the exterior and interior walls and floors are made of a warm beige colored limestone from France – the same material used by Mr. Pei in the reception hall of the Louvre in Paris. The museum is dedicated to ancient artifacts from around the world and regularly holds superb exhibitions. Ultimately, for the social media butterfly, this museum and its enchanting environs is highly Instagram worthy.
The grounds are also something of a regular place of worship. The museum’s benefactor, the late textile heiress Mihoko Koyama, founded the spiritual movement known as Shinji Shumeikai. It’s thousands of followers who believe that beauty and art offer the truest path to inner fulfillment, also make use of the serene grounds as a place of meditation and worship.
Miho Museum: 300 Tashiro Momodani, Shigaraki-cho, Shiga Prefecture ; miho.or.jp
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