GOKURAKUJI TEMPLE : Shingonsyu Buzanha Gankouzan Rengein
Midoriku Yokohama City (JAPAN), photo NAOKI TAKEDA
Mitsuaki Tanabe has chosen the momi, or rice seed, as the main theme of his sculpture. Rice is the staff of life for most of the people of Asia, and Tanabe has traveled widely in Japan and other parts of Asia to investigate the history and preset conditions of rice cultivation. He has observed the early evidence of rice farming in Neolithic sites and the terraced rice paddies tended by ethnic minorities in remote mountainous terrain. During his travels, he discovered that a species of wild rice, the ancestor of today's rice, atill grows in tropical wetlands in Asia in spite of the extensive environmental changes that have taken place over the last ten thousand years. He also found that the habitat of this wild rice is rapidly being destroyed by today's excessive economic development. Since then Tanabe has worked together with scientists to promote the in-situ conservation of wild rice habitat and has begun to plead his case to the world through art. Believing that there are no borders to the natural environment, he has made interior sculpture for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila and donated large-scale monuments to the agricultural ministries of Thailand and India. All of these sculptures represent rice grains and sprouts.
Gokurakuji Temple has acquired a bronze MOMI, which represents a sprouting rice seed, as well as live wood sculptures and one drawing of animals encountered by Tanabe in his travels to areas where wild rice grows. This is a valuable collection that provides a good overall picture of Tanabe's main artistic concerns. The wood sculptures include images of an elephant, a snake, a lizard, a centipede, and a leech carved into sections of camphor-wood logs. The animals are skillfully carved into the blocks of wood in simple, compact forms that give the viewer an interesting and pleasurable vision of their natural condition. These sculptures are placed in the outer chamber of the main hall of the temple so that they face the kneeling worshippers who visit the temple, creating a more intimate viewing experience than would be possibe in an art museum.
In order to carry out in-situ conservation of wild rice, it is necessary to leave the ervironment in its natural state and not disturb or damage the diverse flora and fauna that exist there. In the past, rice paddies provided a habitat for a variety of living things, but recently it has become customary to overprotect the rice plants and eliminate other forms of life as pests. Tanabe has chosen to pay attention to these despised and excluded creatures, and it is fortunate that his images of animals are preserved in a place guarded by the Buddha, a place of prayer and worship. This collection of sculptures effectively expresses the Buddhist teaching of compassion for all living creatures, and the display of these images in Gokurakuji temple is likely to result in a deeper form of communication between the hearts of the artist and the people who view them.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson







drawing : centipede