The exhibition room (Photo: Peter Sidell)

Musée de Somé Seiryu, Kyoto

A little gem of a dye museum in the heart of the city

The exhibition room (Photo: Peter Sidell)
Peter Sidell   - 3 min read

Kyoto may be best known for its wealth of temples and shrines, but it's also very much a city of arts and crafts, both traditional and modern. Some of its museums are big and grand, such as the National Museum of Modern Art, while others are on a more intimate scale and often dedicated to a particular form, like the Seishu Netsuke Museum and the Namikawa Cloisonné Museum, and the Somé Museum, which proclaims itself as the world's first dedicated dye art museum.

Immediately next to Kyoto Art Center just round the corner from Shijo and Karasuma stations, it may not take you long to get round, but that's reflected in the low admission charge (¥300); and whether or not you're a particular aficionado of dye art, it's worth visiting for the subtle beauty and the (possibly surprising) variety of its exhibits.

At the entrance I was asked to take off my shoes and put them in a locker: padding around gently in my socks on the cool tatami floor made me feel at ease, as if I were visiting a family home rather than a museum. This relaxed feeling was enhanced by the muted color scheme, unfussy design and soft lighting around the entrance.

There's just the one room, which when I was there was given over to a group exhibition by four artists, who between them displayed a range of different, inventive styles. There were delicate hangings dyed in soft colors to show charming snowy landscape scenes, with touches of gentle humor such as little trains running along the telegraph wires; "Jewelled Truss" was a display of impossibly fragile-looking jewelery; around the walls were semi-abstract canvases in aquatic blues and greens; and on the floor were layered hills of cut paper, which looked to me like colorful fungus or shallow-water coral, but with repeated cogwheel patterns and little pastel airplanes dotted around. There were only a couple of other visitors while I was there, so despite the small space, there was a hushed, relaxed atmosphere which suited the understated nature of the exhibition.

After you've enjoyed the art you can relax on a couple of seats near the entrance, or buy a souvenir card from the (very) small selection for sale at the counter. If you're in the area and have a little time to spare, a visit to the Somé Museum more than rewards the little time and money it requires.

Getting there

It is just 2 blocks north west of Karasuma station, near the epicentre of Kyoto.

Peter Sidell

Peter Sidell @peter.sidell

I came to Japan from Manchester, England in 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I'm not working, I write satire and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check YouTube for a taste.