Nestled in the dense, green hills of Shigaraki about an hour’s drive from Kyoto is one of Japan’s least-known architectural gems. In the 1970’s, Mihoko Koyama, wealthy benefactor and the leader of a religious organization (dare I say, cult) Shinji Shumeikai, commissioned world-renowned architect I.M. Pei to design a bell tower for the religion’s headquarters – in fact, the bell tower can be seen from the Miho Museum.
You could be forgiven for thinking of your whole journey to the Miho Museum – by train from Kyoto, bus, and finally into a mountainside by electric car or foot – as a scene straight out of a Bond flick, in which you’re going to meet the villain in his remote lair. In the movie, it might not go well for you. In real life, we promise, it will.
The museum was designed by I. M. Pei on a 250-acre site in the Shigaraki mountains. Most architects want their work to be seen, but in this case Pei set 80% of the museum’s structure below ground. When he first visited the site, he called it “Shangri-La” and sometimes even starchitects know when to let nature have its moment.
In his sensitive interplay between man and environment, Pei has also given us one of the great museum experiences in the world. Amid mountains frequently enveloped in mist, alongside cherry blossoms (in March and April), the stealth approach into the mountain signals a movement away from the world of the every day. Pei ups the ante by making the facade of the building a version of a Japanese mountain shrine – a further transition into the spiritual.
Inside, the artworks – ancient sculpture and objects – are sparingly placed among the interiors. A whole room may contain a single piece. If you give yourself over to the entire experience, it is an incomparable alliance, a nearly perfect harmony of nature and art.
The Museum reflect the architect’s innovative endeavors to break new ground, as with the novel appearance of sloped glass roofs composed of space frames, the warmth of the materials used, especially Magny Doré limestone from France and colored architectural concrete, and the system and the equipment for exhibiting works of art under the optimum conditions.
It has the architectural features the space frames with a basic span of 6.18 meters are the main structural elements, the skylights that produce a pattern of light and shadow that changes with the time of the day and through the four seasons of the year, the translucent sconces in the entrance hall and the lanterns on the railing of the steps in the North Wing Lobby are made of Spanish alabaster, the flat that rim lights suspended from the coffers of exhibition halls and the view through the glazed circular window of the main entrance door reveals an affinity between natural splendor and architecture. Throughout the interior, light filters in through aluminum louvers into the interior spaces surrounded by limestone, creating a peaceful atmosphere. The surface of louvers has been digitized to evoke the grain, texture and warmth of local cypress woods, thus merging technology and tradition, western and eastern cultures, interior and exterior spaces. Also have a restaurant, Peach Valley, serves meals using fresh, local, organic produce and ingredients. Soy sauce is made from organically-grown soybeans and can be bought as a souvenir. Inside the museum, the coffee shop, Pine View, serves fresh juices, cakes, and ice creams. PS: Through June 6th, there is a special exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founder of the museum.