Tanabe Mitsuaki's first work on the theme of wild rice was made in 1991 for a factory building. I did not actually see this work until quite a bit later because of its location.
As it appears in a photograph, the tall spindle-shaped work is attached vertically to the wall in the high-ceilinged entrance room. It is an elegant abstract form made of stainless steel wire and painted in seven colors. When I saw the actual piece, I noticed an enigmatic feature, the web of brushstrokes added to the gently swelling shoulders at the top of the spindle-like form. When I asked the artist about this, he said, "That is the germ." After hearing this, I could see the point at the bottom of the piece as the nogi and the double indentation in this part as the constricted part of it. I also came to understand the symbolism of the colors, showing that just one grain in the middle of the rice ears floating on the surface of the water in the original habitat is about to search for a black, fertile bed at the bottom of the blue water and enter the condition of germination. The germ, which is covered by the husk and cannot actually be seen, becomes visible because of the artistユs earnest desire to express the existence of spirit in things with form. It is easy to lose a belief in such things in the present age of mass consumption and production. However, in Tanabeユs case, this concern became the motivation to make a number of large sculptures using natural wood from trees that had to be cut down.
In 1996, Tanabe made MOMI 1996 - Pathum Thani at the museum connected to the Pathumm Thani Rice Research Center in Thailand. The material and the technique were completely different from the first work on the theme of wild rice. The material was bamboo, which was split, bundled together, bent, woven, and assembled. The native peoples of Asia have used this heaven-sent resource with sophisticated techniques rivaling anything that can be done with a machine to create marvelous for all sorts of everyday uses. In MOMI 1991, the artist used a manual technique to join the stainless steel wire, and the work was so painstaking that it almost made his hands bleed, but he did not attempt to show skill or achieve perfection. Rather he expressed the incomplete nature of life in the germ, which sets out to attempt the impossible, in the midst of chaotic irregularities and imbalances.
The bamboo MOMI 1996 is a memorial celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Pathum Thani Rice Reseach Center. Tanabe told me that an old plow is sealed inside the momi. On the day of the celebration, the sculpture was decorated like the bamboo fronds set up for the Tanabata festival in Japan or a Christmas tree. When I saw it a year later, store-bought toy animals were hanging from the tips of the split pieces of bamboo, probably put there by the young people who helped the artist make the work. Tanabe later made sculptures of animals with grotesque forms, and this playful gesture might have provided the unexpected motivation for this work.
The first of these natural wood pieces, which might be described as "incomplete and grotesque," were several figures of animals carved in short logs of camphor wood included in an installation in the "Tanabe Mitsuaki Exhibitionモ at the Kanagawa Prefectural Citizens" Hall in 1999. The artist later donated these sculptures as a group to Gokurakuji temple in Yokohama. In this temple, a bronze momi that Tanabe made early in his career is enshrined in the main worship hall. It is a sprout of cultivated rice that has a beautifully smooth and rounded form. The grotesque forms of the snake, lizard, leech, and centipede were added as organisms that have a symbiotic relationship with wild rice. They appear as new forms of the Asuras and Yashas, the protective deities and deities of the Buddhist pantheon. After spending a night at this temple, the poet Hidaka Teru wrote,

The depths of these carved forms
Contain the sound of.temple bells.

These grotesque, fragmentary forms are like the spots that suggest the existence of a leapord or sounds that continue to change with reverberations that recall previous sounds. They express the incompleteness of life like a germinated bud.

Tanabe carved two monuments on the campus of Shizuoka University in 2003, one from a metasequoia log (20 meters in length) with the branches removed and one from Himalayan cedar (10 meters in length) with the branches cut short. The former is carved in the shape of a momi, commemorating the work of the university, which supports the in-situ conservation of the habitat of wild rice in Thailand. The latter expresses the diversity of life found in a single tree. The latter work contains samples of siderite and stromatolite, which suggest the ancient origins of the Earth and life, and it also features carved images of lizards and cranes that are in danger of extinction. The world of organisms has evolved to create great diversity with a delicate balance between plants, the producers, animals, the consumers, and microorganisms, the cleaners. There is a need to sound a warning that balance is threatened by the acts of human beings.

On either side of the main altar in Kofukuji temple in Yokohama, Tanabe has placed logs of cedar (11 meters in length) and persimmon (5.2 meters in length), carved into straight momi form with long nogi and there is a pair of large centipedes wrapped around the logs. The material is not forced to conform with the artistユs intentions. The relief is carved to incorporate the knots, protuberances, cracks, and hollows that provide evidence of the natural treeユs struggle for survival. These works are collaborations with nature, and I believe that they can be described with a concept of incompleteness.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson