Rice is an object and a word which plays a central and significant role in Japanese life and culture. It’s a sign of the depth and richness of the Japanese language that there are various names for each stage of growth such as – ine, momi, kome, meshi and so on. The English word “rice” doesn’t really do it any justice.
It’s just as well, then, that the good folk at 21_21 Design Site in Roppongi have put together a fascinating exhibition about rice - Kome: The Art of Rice. Directed by graphic designer Taku Satoh and Shinichi Takemura, an art and design professor at Kyoto University, the exhibition, which comes with full English translation, is both incredibly informative and beautifully designed.
The principal photography on display is stunning and the opening collage named “Kome mandara” by Yusuke Nishibe is perfect to subtly introduce the visitor to the theme of rice and rice plants. More of Nishibe’s atmospheric and lush images of paddy fields from around the country are used in the main gallery in a giant photo board titled “The well-known unknown.”
One of the exhibition highlights is a beautifully shot documentary, “Hakusho,” by acclaimed filmmaker Yu Yamanaka, which illustrates what rice means to Japanese people. In one section he films a group of sake brewers as they go through each stage of the brewing process whilst singing traditional folk songs. The documentary really links well with the “Japan Brand” exhibit which displays the numerous varieties of sake brands and labels made in Japan.
There are also various child-friendly exhibits such as “Bon Appetit!” which illustrates the variations of Japanese donburi, detailed graphics projected onto walls and CG renderings of the rice polishing process in addition to a kooky mechanized piece which shows the growth of rice plants.
From mochi and sake to sweets and gohan rice is used in numerous ways and has a multitude of functions in Japanese culture and society. Kome: The Art of Rice allows us to view and think more about how something so small can have such a significant role to play in the world we inhabit.
Showa era poet Kenji Miyazawa, whose work is featured in the exhibit, wrote about the power of rice in his poem “The Breeze Comes Filling the Valley.”
The rice stalks have risen. They are living things. They are precision machines. All stand erect. At their tips, which waited patiently in the rain, tiny white flowers glisten and above the quiet amber puddles reflecting the sun red dragonflies glide.
- Written by
- Paul McInnes
- Nathan Hosken