Shigaraki, Japan: Shangri-La with art
Let's get James Bond out of the way.
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.
Through June 6th, there is a special exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founder of the museum.