Difference between revisions of "Koka"
Revision as of 18:56, 5 November 2011
Kōka is well known for its ninja history (Kōga ninja clan), unique ceramics and position on the Tokaido Road. The Kōga ninja clan were rivals of the nearby Iga ninjas. Unlike the Iga ninja, whose power was well-known, the Kōga clan are said to have used stealth and deception to mask their size and power, creating fake rivals for themselves. In 1581, the two clans joined forces against Oda Nobunaga, but were defeated by Nobunaga's overwhelming forces, and the surviving members of the Kōga ninja went into retreat.
The ceramics produced in Kōka, known as Shigaraki-yaki, have been prized across Japan for centuries. Today you will see many small pottery shops lining the streets near Shigaraki Station.
The Tokaido Road was for centuries the main route from Kyoto to Edo (present day Tokyo). The road passes through the heart of Kōka, and two famous rest stations, Tsuchiyama and Minakuchi, are located here.
In 2004 the towns of Minakuchi, Shigaraki, Tsuchiyama, Kōka and Kōnan merged to form Kōka City. This is a rural area with few English speakers. Some Japanese language capability is needed to find sites.
Kōka has five stations on the JR Kusatsu Line. The largest station, Kibukawa, is about a 45 minute ride from Kyoto.
From JR Osaka or Kyoto Station, get on any regular, rapid or special rapid train headed for Kusatsu, Yasu, Maibara, Nagahama or Tsuruga. Get off the train at Kusatsu. From Kyoto this takes about 15-20 minutes. Do not exit Kusatsu station, and transfer to any train bound for Kibukawa or Tsuge (Keep in mind that trains bound for Tsuge will stop at all stations in Kōka City, while trains bound for Kibukawa will only stop at Kibukawa). The train from Kusatsu to Kibukawa takes about 25 minutes.
Along with the JR train line, Kōka has 4 stops on the Omi Railway and 5 stops on the Shigaraki Kogen Railway. Both of these railways can be accessed at JR Kibukawa Station. Kōka also has an extensive bus network, with many buses departing from Kibukawa Station.
Miho Museum (ミホ・ミュージアム) - The Miho Museum, located in the heart of Shigaraki, is one of Kōka City's true gems. Exhibits in the expansive museum change every several months and generally include art and artifacts from the Silk Road area. The design of the museum is just as noteworthy as the exhibits. It was conceived by world famous architect I.M. Pei, who is known for also designing the John Hancock Tower in Boston, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
The Miho was the dream of Mihoko Koyama (after whom it is named), the heiress to the Toyobo textile business, and one of the richest women in Japan. In 1970 she founded the Shinji Shumeikai spiritual movement which is now said to have some 300,000 members worldwide, and in the 1990's she commissioned the museum to be designed by I M Pei and built close to the Shumei temple in the Shiga mountains. It houses Mihoko Koyama's private collection of Asian and Western antiques as well as US$300 million to US$1 billion (depending on your sources) worth of other pieces bought on the world market by Shumei in the years before the museum was opened in 1997.
Over a thousand pieces in total, of which about 250 are displayed at any one time. I M Pei's design is a masterpiece, executed in a hilly and forested landscape that he came to call Shangri-La. About three quarters of the building is situated underground, carved out of a rocky mountaintop. The roof is an enormous glass and steel construction, while the exterior and interior walls and floor are made of a warm beige-coloured limestone from France – the same material used by Pei in the reception hall of the Louvre. Compared to marble, it creates a softer atmosphere and a more relaxed lightness. The colours of the stone, the silver space frame, the textured wooden louvers and the vegetation outside each counterbalance each other in wonderful harmony.
Perhaps the most spectacular part of Pei's achievement, however, is the approach to the hilltop "paradise". When you arrive at the site, you first see a modest reception pavilion amid cedar trees, facing a circular courtyard, and you may be forgiven for thinking this is the museum. Opposite this building is a wide curved walkway lined with peach trees that leads to the mouth of a gleaming stainless-steel-lined tunnel cut into a ridge. As you walk into this silent, echoless, vast tunnel – it is at least three traffic lanes wide – it sweeps you in a single, 200-metre curve until sunlight suddenly appears, and – through the graceful cables of a half suspension bridge cantilevered 120 metres across a deep, narrow gorge – you finally see the Chinese-style moon-gate entrance to the museum pavilion. Allow at least two hours to browse the exhibits – each stunning piece was carefully selected as much for its artistic beauty as its historical significance, and the whole collection is brilliantly displayed and skilfully lit.
Admission ¥1000, audio guide ¥500. Open from 10 AM to 5 PM daily except Monday; note that the museum is normally closed from mid-December to mid-March, as well as parts of June/July and August/Sept, so check the calendar  first.
From Kyoto station, take a twenty-minute train ride with JR to Ishiyama on the south shore of Lake Biwa (¥230) and from there a very pleasant and scenic 40-minute cab ride or shuttle bus (from bus bay 3 at Ishiyama station, ¥800) through semi-rural areas with rice paddies to the museum's reception pavillion. Last returning bus to Ishiyama is 1715.
Many of the above sights offer a number of activities that go beyond simply "looking." Furthermore, Kōka is an excellent destination for cherry blossoms (early to mid April), hiking and autumn foliage
Kōka offers a number of lodging choices, ranging from top quality hotels to traditional Japanese ryokan inns.