|In the remodeled Akita Prefectural Museum, an exhibition called "Kaze Hikaru Tanada" (Terraced Rice Fields in Sunlight and Wind) was held in the early summer of 2005. It focused on the culture associated with rice cultivation in the rice terraces of Luzon, the only rice-growing area that has been selected as a world heritage site. Rice has been grown on these terraces at an elevation of 1500 meters over the last 1000 years.|
|Part of the exhibition is a collection of over 200 tools and artifacts from this region and photographs showing how they were used. It includes labor-intensive, primitive tools used for stone splitting and excavation, hand-made farm tools which have been polished with the sweat and oil of many hands over the years, simple tools for seasonal agricultural tasks, strong furniture made of thick planks and rounded branches of trees, wooden mortars and mallets for pounding out rice cakes, and rice storage containers. There are also religious images and ritual equipment, which are used in festivals and ceremonies conducted by shamans, and everyday bamboo products that suggest a symbiotic relationship with nature.|
|Visitors to this exhibition will be amazed when they come in to see the large figure of a snake, 60 meters long, writhing along the floor of the hall from the entrance to the exhibition area. A spiral structure made of stainless steel 70 cm in diameter supports a robe of straw rice sacks that represent rice cultivation areas. It is partially covered with the leaves of an ancient cedar tree. The snake is a natural enemy of moles and mice, and so it is an object of faith for the rice terrace farmers, who worship gods of rice. For a similar reason, large lizards are popular as decorative motifs on ritual equipment and everyday goods. This large snake, which is somewhat unusual as an installation in a museum, was produced by the sculptor Tanabe Mitsuaki with the cooperation of citizens who support the museum. Tanabe is also the collector who provided the photographic documentation and the objects on display from the rice terraces of the Philippines. This is the second exhibition of this kind, the first having taken place at the Toro Museum of Shizuoka in 2001.|
Tanabe started his career by erecting monumental sculptures in public squares (in Saku, Naoetsu, and Yokohama), but later he began making art based on a worldview that is common to most of the peoples of Asia, the idea that "a single grain of rice is as heavy as Mt. Sumer," the high mountain at the center of the world. His major works are monumental depictions of unhulled grains of wild rice (momi) made of stainless steel. One of these is included in the present exhibition. It is meant to promote in-situ conservation of wild rice habitat. Similar works have been accepted by the International Rice Research Institute in Manila as well as museums, schools, and government institutions in Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, India, the United States, Cuba, and Australia.
Wild rice still grows today in the tropical regions of Asia in spite of the violent effects of development; it is the source of the cultivated rice that has spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world. It is the origin of rice cultivation, a witness to the history of its advance. The original meaning of the word culture is the cultivation of plants, wild rice corresponds to an ideal form of what later became cultivated rice. If the ideal of a thing is lost, it will eventually be destroyed. The survival of wild rice is connected to the fate of culture. Because of Tanabeﾕs approach to his work, he notices the way of life of the people of the rice terraces, the people who cultivate rice under the most extreme conditions. There is deep meaning in collecting and preserving objects that were created there over many generations. Tanabe has visited the remote villages of the Ifugao people of Luzon twice under of the auspices of the IRRI, staying in ordinary houses, and carefully observing the agricultural practices and life of these people who live in harmony with nature.
In the field of art, the tendency of positively evaluating artistic expressions of ages and regions that exist outside of the tradition of Western art going back to the renaissance is known as primitivism. From the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century, there have been people who sought the source of beauty in art tendency of thought has sought the source of beauty in art among the native peoples of Africa, Oceania, and North America. This way of thinking has made a revolutionary contribution to contemporary art. A new national museum being constructed in France is acquiring objects made by the rice-growing peoples of Asia for its collection. The poster announcing this future exhibition shows an image of the rice god of the Ifugao like the one that appears in this exhibition.
Tanabe says of his own collection,
In the crisis of survival of the present age, we can only hope that the Spoon with Carved Centipede (one of the objects displayed in this exhibition), which was made long ago by the people of the rice terraces, can deliver the bitter medicine that we need to our mouths.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson