Environmental Graphics

Kome: The Art of Rice

The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.

A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.

Designer Taku Satoh called the main gallery display “Rice Cloud. “ Concentric mounds of rice straw, covered by transparent glass. Encircled overhead is an enlarged calendar of agricultural activities. The open space in the center represents the concept of void.

Magnified 360 times, this display shows models of unhulled, unmilled and polished rice.

Rice straw is braided into rope and into decorative forms to celebrate the rice harvest.

Exhibitions are their own form of storytelling. Designers and curators organize objects to create a framework for enhancing appreciation of the subject. They consider story flow, pacing, information hierarchy, and sub-themes to engage the attention of visitors, while keeping in mind the limitations of the space, traffic patterns and maintaining a story narrative even when visitors are not looking at the displays sequentially. What’s impressive about the Kome exhibit is that the visual presentation melds perfectly with the story of rice, leaving visitors to see the mystical beauty of something so commonplace and basic.

Designer Azusa Kawaji lined up tiny pots each with a grain of rice to represent the 3,000 rice grains in an average bowl of rice.

Glass cylinders display stalks of rice, with tiny pots of rice gains arranged into the shape of the Japanese archipelago, to show the diversity of rice varieties and their characteristics.