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KS Cover no. 75 2006 August

August 2006 :: 075

Near and far: Shiga

Ishiyamadera and the Miho Museum, Shiga

Traveling east toward Lake Biwa from Kyoto, urban congestion quickly vanishes and the train passes through green canyons and peaceful towns. This is the way to Shiga prefecture: the eastern limit of Kansai's rail network and an ideal daytrip out of the big city.

At Ishiyamadera, a mountainside Buddhist complex with a commanding view of Japan's largest lake, you can peer into the room where Murasaki Shikibu laboured on The Tale of Genji. A short trip from there, deep into Shiga's mountains, the IM Peidesigned Miho Museum is a work of art in itself — a meditation on Eastern art and spirituality, cast in hidden temples of shimmering glass and limestone.

The Setagawa River, often filled with rowing crews, accompanies the short walk south from Ishiyamadera station to the temple complex. The entrance gate (¥500) yields to a shaded lane and a sheer rocky bluff, atop of which stands the Tahoto, or treasure tower (a national treasure built 750 years ago, it appears on ¥4 stamps). The surrounding forest features a wealth of seasonal flowers and hiking trails — one of which leads to the Lake Biwa overlook.

But the big attraction is the temple's connection to Genji's author. Experts agree that she stayed at the temple in 1004. The poet and novelist Shimazaki Toson also stayed here during the Meiji era. If Ishiyamdera is a mountain retreat, then the Miho Museum is a mountain exile in the middle of nowhere.

The Miho museum, a bus ride from Ishiyamadera, is located amid a nature preserve and is virtually invisible from the approach. After purchasing a ticket at the visitor center and passing through a huge winding tunnel, IM Pei's geometric glass roofs come dramatically into view. Rising parallel to the mountain range, the gate-like structure is a state of the art take on Far East architecture, replete with a Zen-like circular portal. Pei, who also designed the pyramid at the Louvre in Paris and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has said that he consciously designed the building to blend with nature.

While the museum's exterior reflects its serenity by design, its ancient content is dazzling. Shumei began compiling its collection of European, Middle Eastern and Asian art in the 1990s after Pei suggested the collection be international and has amassed a significant horde since then. The standout pieces include a massive 2nd Century standing Buddha from Pakistan as well as an Egyptian figurine of the god Horus that is more than 3,000 years old.

Text & photos: Dan Wilcock

:: Online Articles


Mt. Sosha




Ishiyama & Miho Museum






Iya Village


Yoron Island

:: Kansai Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + Kansai art listings


Best events + Kansai event listings


Best gigs + Kansai live listings


Parties not to miss + Kansai club listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Cafe Terrace de Paris, Kitano


VADE MECVM., Utsubo Park


Best festivals & listings + hanabi


Japan revealed + Random Walk


Best films + cinema listings


Nihongo to go


I Scream, you Scream, everybody loves ice cream
Japanese ice creams


Life during wartime
Escape from Beirut


A horror movie in heaven
Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Ways & Means


Though Ishiyamadera is less than an hour by train from Kyoto, it helps to get an early start to see both places (mostly because the Miho is remote). Take the Kyoto Tozai subway at Keihan's Sanjo Station in Kyoto to Keihan Hama-Otsu station. From there, Keihan trains go directly on the Ishiyamazaka line to Ishiyamadera (total cost: ¥540, 50 minutes). JR also runs trains to Ishiyama station from Kyoto Station on the Tokaido line via Sanyohonsen (¥230, 35 minutes). From there, transfer over to Keihan for the three-minute leg to Ishiyamadera station (¥160).


To get the Miho, backtrack from Ishiyamadera to Ishiyama station and from there take the No. 150 bus (leaves every hour from 9am to around 1 pm on weekends). The 50-minute ride (¥800) winds up into the hills to the museum (0748-82-3411, www.miho.or.jp, admission ¥1,000 adults /¥300 children, 10am to 5pm daily, closed Mon except on holidays).