Day 8: Kyoto, Miho Museum

I had read very good reviews about the Miho Museum so even though it was quite an excursion to get there (train + bus for over an hour), we decided to allocate a day for this place.

As the bus winded deep into the hilly forests, I started to wonder what kind of lady would build a museum so far out from the city. All I knew was that this was a private museum started by a very rich lady called Koyama Mihoko, and designed by the renowned architect, I. M. Pei.

As the bus continued winding, I was feeling good about leaving the city. There was something very calming being amidst nature.

We finally reached the place and the grounds were manicured looking. We had heard that 80% of the structure was underground in respect of the surrounding nature, so we only came across a small building which housed the ticketing booth as well as a restaurant.

The founder believed in organic food and vegetables so we both had our first Western and Japanese vegetarian meal there. We were excited to explore the museum after our meal and first we had to go through a sound proof tunnel.

The material choices were impeccable and it was futuristic looking. Upon getting out of the tunnel, an impressive tension bridge greeted us.

This is the most beautiful and serene museum that I have ever been. Apart from its very nice architecture, there was a spirit to the place. You can feel the heart and effort put behind crafting the space and experience. It wasn’t just a soulless but empty beautiful shell. It was a place where it feels more like a sanctuary and pictures do not do the place justice.

Museums are also defined by their collections and I really enjoyed the ones they showcased at Miho Museum. The main collection was on Dogus — which are ancient clay figurines. The interesting thing was how they seriously look alien. For those alien believers out there, it would be like discovering alien remains behind the glass. Zip spines, goggle eyes, spacesuits..

What was most mind boggling to me were how many alien-looking figurines there were, and how when I spotted the more human looking faces, they were actually masks! Human looking faces as masks, alien looking faces as reality. Maybe we were really visited by aliens and hence they inspired so much figurines made after their looks? After all, a lot of the ancient art were based on realism. Hmm…

via here, where you could read more and see more pictures of Dogus

via here

I was moved by the art as some of them were so weird and delightful that the artists behind them must have been in a really good mood when making them. It also made me really want to learn pottery as often the remains of civilization are made out of clay. I love that human connection across time and space. What the artist was feeling at that time, and why he made the pieces.

We ended up at the museum cafe, where we looked out into a beautiful garden. I love this about Japan – all the attention to detail of what you would experience of nature while being in a space. It is almost as if contemplation was to be expected of every moment and they would love to help you find the right setting for it.

There was a media room near the cafe and I watched a mini documentary about the founder and apart from being really impressed by her and her pursuit of presenting beauty, I was struck by this story of what she did when she was selecting a suitable architect to bring her museum dream to life.

She hosted him at a house, and carefully selected a piece of art at the entryway and placed a flower bud on an ancient temple ladle from her collection and taught her staff how and when to sprinkle the right amount of water on the flower bud before the architect arrived.

What an amazing story! It showed how much she respected the meeting and cleverly used it as a test of sorts to see if the architect appreciated the art and aesthetics like she did. Evidently, the architect did notice and commented on the delightful presentation. I believe that was why he was eventually selected for the job.

Another interesting story is how I.M. Pei based his design on “Peach Blossom Valley,” a tale by the Chinese poet Tao Yuan–Ming (365–427 AD) who wrote about a fisherman who came upon a grove of peach trees in full bloom deep in the mountains. In the midst of this grove he discovered an idyllic land which was like paradise on earth. He was warmly welcomed by the people there, and after a while the fisherman returned to his own village. Later, when he sought to return to the earthly paradise, he could not find it again. I studied this poem when I was studying literature and it is a piece worth reading!

After I came home, I read up more about Ms. Koyama Mihoko, who has since passed away of old age and was impressed with her life philosophy and organization. However, soon I also read tales of how her spiritual organization is oppressively forcing followers to donate money and appears to be cultish. I do not know enough to know what is the truth, but it would be really sad if this was true.

If it was true, I wonder if the founder knew of what was going on in her organization. Was it an organization that started out with the best intentions and became corrupted along the way? From what I encountered at her museum, I am suspending my thoughts and really wish to believe that she had goodness in her, and not a top-class scammer dressed behind a facade of beauty, purity and elegance.


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