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A Sip Of Matcha

Published: Monday November 24, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday November 24, 2014 MYT 9:57:21 AM

Hakone Museum of Art: A treasure trove of masterpieces from man and nature

Nature’s splendour: Maple trees in the grounds of the Hakone Museum of Art dazzle visitors every autumn.

Nature’s splendour: Maple trees in the grounds of the Hakone Museum of Art dazzle visitors every autumn.

Unique museum in Japan offers visual feast to visitors.

OVER dinner some time back, when I casually suggested an outing to Hakone, I never thought my husband would take me seriously.

Located at Ashigarashimo district in Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone is famed for its hot spring resorts and other attractions.

As usual, Koji refused to reveal where we were headed when we set off the following morning. As it was kouyou (foliage viewing) season, busloads of tourists were making a beeline for Hakone.

We arrived at Gora district and parked our car. After passing through a small tunnel to a ticket booth at the premises, it dawned on me that we were going to visit the Hakone Museum of Art. It was our first time there.

Visitors to the museum are greeted by picturesque views all around.
Visitors to the museum are greeted by picturesque views all around.

As I stepped inside and crossed a small arched bridge, I wondered where the museum was. A tranquil moss garden dotted with more than 200 maple trees stretched out before us. The ground and rocks were carpeted with moss.

Visitors strolling along the meandering stone path could not help admiring the flaming red momiji (Japanese maples) and the moss.

There are more than 130 varieties of moss in this well-tended garden. Several “keep off the moss” signs are stuck on the ground to remind visitors not to overstep their limits.

Hakone’s climate enables the moss to thrive well. The mid-year rainy season supplies sufficient water and the dappled shade of the momiji provides ample sunlight and protects the moss from being scorched in summer.

“Excuse me, please keep your feet off the moss,” a female attendant cautioned a man. The tip of his shoes had touched the moss while he was engrossed in snapping photographs of the momiji.

Taking photographs using a tripod is forbidden in the garden. Pets and plants are not allowed to be brought in. Guide dogs, however, are allowed.

Most visitors stop in their tracks to take shots of the mini waterfall and breathtaking autumn foliage before they adjourn to the museum.

Hakone Museum of Art was established in 1952 by a collector of Oriental art, Okada Mokichi. The two-storey building is perched on top of a hilly landscape with picturesque views all around.

This museum focuses mainly on pottery. The display of medieval Japanese ceramics from the Jomon period (around 10,000-300BC) through the Edo period (1603-1868) traces the development of earthenware. The male Haniwa, a terracotta clay figure, stands as an important piece of cultural property.

Intricately designed porcelain ware from China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) are exhibited in another room.

Over 130 varieties of moss can be found at the moss garden.

Art works of contemporary artists are also featured. I particularly like a cute set of nesting bowls and a container; the tiniest bowl has a circumference of 0.5cm.

Okada’s drawings are exhibited in a gallery on another floor. Currently there is a special exhibition which is on until Dec 24. Enclosed in showcases in another gallery are ancient hand-drawn paintings illustrating early activities at 53 stations of the Tokaido – the rest areas along a coastal route that ran from Nihonbashi in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Sanjo Ohashi in Kyoto. Explanations in Japanese and English are provided.

The sprawling grounds of the museum houses a small bamboo garden, Sekirakuen garden (a traditional Japanese landscaped garden), a cottage with a bush clover path, traditional houses, tea houses, a restaurant, a museum shop, and an annex, “The World of Mokichi Okada”.

Looking across the museum, I was intrigued by a gigantic Chinese character, dai (“big” or “great”) carved on the summit of Mt Myojogatake.

In an annual bonfire festival called Daimonji-yaki, held to send off the spirits of the dead, torches are lit on the night of Aug 16 to illuminate the character, dai.

The museum’s unique appeal lies in the fact that it is designed for visitors to appreciate the seasonal beauty of nature as well.

Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, resides in Japan.

Tags / Keywords: kouyou season, foliage viewing, autumn, japan, sarah mori

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