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Visiting the Miho Museum an Hour out of Kyoto
desktop background image of the tunnel leading to the Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) in Shiga Prefecture, Japan -- A Bit Futuristic tunnel on the path to the Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) Shiga Prefecture, Japan -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/125 sec, f/8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
A Bit Futuristic
tunnel on the path to the Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム)
Shiga Prefecture, Japan
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Yesterday I made my first visit to the famous Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) in the mountains of southern Shiga Prefecture, an hour or so out of Kyoto.

There are two things that must be said when talking about this museum:

The first is that a visit is a spectacular experience. I can't begin to tell you the high level of sense and style the designers have in displaying works of art. In particular, the current special collection on display until the middle of this month, of what I can best describe as a bunch of old red plates, is jaw-dropping eye-popping bathing-in-the-light-of-angels spec·tac·u·lar.

Photography was not allowed and so I can't even begin to show it, but even if photography were allowed, no photo could do the interactive 3D experience justice. The folks who designed the display are masters of light and sightlines and presentation, and their work oozes with class and style.

When I actually stopped to read the details of some 1,000-year-old plate or bowl I found interest in imagining who might have made it, and what kind of hands it may have passed through on the way to the display case in front of me, but much more than that I was in awe of how these objects were displayed, and my jaw dropped at every turn in the twisty many-roomed gallery.

But I'm getting ahead of myself... first, we have to arrive. From the parking lot you can walk the 600m (0.4 miles) to the museum, or hop onto a golf-cart type shuttle. I was with Paul Barr and Stéphane Barbery, and we chose to walk.

The initial part of the road is, I'm sure, spectacular during cherry-blossom season, but it was quite dull for us:

The First and Last Scene that we saw that could be described as “ dull ” -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
The First and Last Scene
that we saw that could be described as dull

Eventually you come to the opening of a tunnel...

Tunnel and Shuttle shuttle is approaching -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Tunnel and Shuttle
shuttle is approaching
Tunnel Entrance and shuttle just passed -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/1250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Tunnel Entrance
and shuttle just passed

The lead photo is from inside the tunnel. Here's a similar one, with the white balance set for the incandescent lights lining the tunnel instead of for the sunlight splashing in...

desktop background image of the tunnel leading to the Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) in Shiga Prefecture, Japan -- Spacey Vibe -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/125 sec, f/8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Spacey Vibe
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Eventually the curve leads you to see the museum in the distance...

Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/1000 sec, f/2.2, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos

... but before you arrive to it you first must cross a bridge supported by thick, photogenically-arranged cables...

End of the Tunnel -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/125 sec, f/10, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
End of the Tunnel
Me taking the shot above photo by Stéphane Barbery -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Stéphane Barbery, http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbery
DMC-GX7 + VARIO 35-100/F2.8 at an effective 200mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 500 — map & image datanearby photos
Me
taking the shot above
photo by Stéphane Barbery
Looking Back from the middle of the bridge back to the tunnel I'm probably the first person ever to take this shot. Same for all of these shots. -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Looking Back
from the middle of the bridge back to the tunnel
I'm probably the first person ever to take this shot. Same for all of these shots.

The thick cables terminate into an industrial-looking gridwork on the outer edges of the bridge, a theme (as we'll see) carried throughout the whole museum. (The industrial vibe reminds me of some of the photos on A Visit to Suntory's Kyoto Beer Brewery.)

Totally Tubular -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/2000 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Totally Tubular

At last we approach the museum entrance...

Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/4000 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos

At this point one must dutifully mention that the museum was designed by that Louvre pyramid guy; in this case the look mimics traditional thatched-roofed farmhouses of the region, such as these seen on the road near the museum:

I was told that food for the cafe is grown here -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/1600 sec, f/3.2, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
I was told that food for the cafe is grown here

The inside is done tastefully. Here's the foyer for the special-collections wing:

Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos

The glass ceiling is supported on a framework similar to that of the bridge, and this theme is carried out throughout the various wings of the building.

At the Cafe -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
At the Cafe
Veggie Plate of exquisite quality -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Veggie Plate
of exquisite quality
Random Staircase -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Random Staircase
Near the Main Lobby -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Near the Main Lobby

Let's go back down the random staircase to take a closer look at that 1,600-year-old mosaic on the floor...

Lasers ● Bullet-Proof Glass ● Motion Sensors ● Ugly Warning Placards ● Yellow-Braided Ropes none of these things mar the experience -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/80 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Lasers ● Bullet-Proof Glass ● Motion Sensors ● Ugly Warning Placards ● Yellow-Braided Ropes
none of these things mar the experience

Just six little stones that look like they've been taken from the parking lot protect a 3rd-4th century floor mosaic depicting Dyonysos's discovery of Ariadne on Naxos (whatever that is). Really, have you ever seen a museum so devoid of things that detract from the experience of why you're there in the first place?

If you look closely at the big version of the photo you get when you click through, you can sort of make it out the description card on the bumper closest to Paul, and even harder to make out is a no touch symbol next to it, but otherwise there are no signs or warnings of any kind visible in the shot.

Simple clean understated first-class class. The whole place is like this.

Up Close and Personal -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/2.5, ISO 140 — map & image datanearby photos
Up Close and Personal

Like the special collection area, photography was not allowed in the permanent exhibits either, but here's a shot from just outside the Egypt room:

Egypt Room -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Egypt Room

When you walk inside, and take a sharp right, on the wall is a small poster that, though it's not apparent until you really pay attention, serves as an overall description for the entire room. At the bottom is a small no photography symbol, and that's the full extent of the no photography warnings at this place... one small sticker on an easy-to-miss poster in each room.

It's so easy to miss that Paul and I had looked around and decided that photography must be allowed in this room, before eventually noticing the sticker. There was no staff anywhere nearby to ask. We decided that the sticker was meant to convey no photography in this room instead of the at-first-glance no photography of this poster, so we refrained.

It seems clear to me that they don't care whether you take photos of the artworks... they care whether your taking photos would disrupt others' enjoyment of the artworks. Perhaps they had trouble in the past, but even if not, I can easily imagine the clickity-click of even reserved, respectful photographers would disrupt the atmosphere.

Later, at the larger restaurant near the parking lot, we had another, larger lunch just because it had such a good reputation...

Second Lunch -- Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 220 — map & image datanearby photos
Second Lunch

It was very good.

So, at the beginning of this article I said that there were two thing that must be said when talking about this museum, but I've so far mentioned only one.

The second is that the museum is owned and run by a religious movement that, according rumors I've heard from everyone I've ever heard about the museum from, is a cult. I've heard that it's similar to scientology in that it has a pyramid-like scheme for advancement and that the ultimate goal seems to be extracting money from its believers.

I have no idea whether that's true. As far as I can tell (and I was on the lookout for it from the moment we arrived), there's not the slightest hint of cult or spiritual movement at the museum... it's a museum 100% and that's that. I recall that on one poster I saw the founder of the museum's name mentioned, which is perhaps relevant because that lady also started the religious movement (cult?), but at no time on the museum grounds did I ever even see the religious movement mentioned by name, implied, or even hinted at. Ever.

Yet here we have a private museum that rumors say cost a billion US dollars to build and curate. And that's not all... looking out the window you're meant with a sci-fi like view of the church off in the distance...

Miho Museum (ミホミュージアム) -- Koka, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/2500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos

That's a lot of land in between.

Even more strange is that the Wikipedia entries for the museum and its owning religion make no mention of any kind of cult status or even rumors.

I've been told that the religion has three main tenants: eat only healthy food, appreciate art, and that people's spirits can heal one another. If this is true (that these indeed are the tenants), the first is well represented in the lunches we ate, and the second one was apparent everywhere.

I highly recommend a visit, but do check their calendar. Paul, who has been there a few times, said that it's normally quite crowded, and he was shocked (and pleasantly surprised) at how uncrowded it was yesterday.

Continued here...


Comments so far....

Indeed, very cool museum! And, I can confirm that the food is excellent ;)

— comment by Nicolas on December 6th, 2013 at 8:05am JST (4 months, 11 days ago) comment permalink

The tunnel entrance and the whole museum experience reminds me of the museum in Hakone outside Tokyo. Very similar feel.

http://luc.lakephoto.org/journal/2011/12/12/day-in-hakone/
http://www.hakone-oam.or.jp/english/facility.html

— comment by luc on December 6th, 2013 at 10:09am JST (4 months, 11 days ago) comment permalink

Knocks the eyes out to be sure. Simply gorgeous. I have been wanting to go for some years and never seem to have time when the spouse does

— comment by Will on December 6th, 2013 at 1:48pm JST (4 months, 11 days ago) comment permalink

ミホミュージアム 私も好きなところです。トンネルと玄関ホールからの眺めが好きです。 最近は景色に感動することが無くなっています。

— comment by uozumigentu on December 6th, 2013 at 8:03pm JST (4 months, 11 days ago) comment permalink

Wow. Defiinitely more impressed with your review of the Miho museum than mine. Not that I didn’t like the museum but I never knew the bit about the religious affiliation or that the building in the distance is their temple.

At the time of our visit, architecture pundits were saying if you could visit any one of 3 architectural masterpieces it had to be that metal foil deal in Bilbao, Spain or the Miho in Japan. So we went for the Miho. (Can’t remember the 3rd.)

The one thing I remember about the place was that the art within seemed like a sideshow or undercard. The main event was the architecture and that tunnel. Not crapping on antiquity art but it definitely felt outshined by the museum itself. -The ‘cult’ religion seems just that much more fascinating after mixing your opinions with what I remember.

Can’t wait for you’re review (and photos) of the Museum of Wood in Tajima. (Another architectural standout that outshines its content.)

— comment by Ron Evans on December 8th, 2013 at 11:44am JST (4 months, 9 days ago) comment permalink

The interior of that museum is impressive, and your photos of its angles look great. I’m particularly fond of “Near the Main Lobby”.

— comment by Christopher on December 9th, 2013 at 5:38am JST (4 months, 8 days ago) comment permalink
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