Part 3 of a three-part post on the "Kome: The Art of Rice" exhibition.
In a traditional farming society, no part of the rice would go to waste. The chaff from the hulls was mixed with mud and used as a building material for walls, or burned to make a nutrient-rich charcoal which was made a traditional fertilizer. And the bran polished off the grain (to produce white rice) would go – and still does – into the nuka-zuke bran-pickle crock.
As for the rice straw, that was/is woven in a remarkable range of designs, some visible in the photo above. Many have purely ritual uses, such as the braided straw ropes hung over the entrances of Shinto shrines. Others are more decorative, though they have always been made in celebration of the harvest.
And then there are the items for daily use: rainwear (known as mino); footwear (waraji sandals or fukagutsu boots); backpacks; carrying cases for charcoal and fireworks; and even the bales (kome-dawara) in which the rice was stored and transported. Apparently (according to the sign), this single bale below contains 2,608,695 grains of rice:
Rice straw was (and still is, here and there) plaited and twisted into twine that found myriad uses, especially as food packaging:
Above (L-R): shimi-dofu (aka koya-dofu: freeze-dried tofu); eggs; persimmons. Below (L-R): dried salmon; shishamo (small dried fish).
Shizengo (below left) has been sold this way, in a protective cover made from the straw of the organic rice it is brewed from, for decades. And the packaging for the Inaho (below right) is even more elaborate:
Rice straw is also, of course, the medium for preparing that ultimate farmhouse food, natto. Not just as the wrapping, but the original source of the microbes that convert cooked soybeans into aromatic, nutrient- and mucilage-rich fermented delicacy.
image on right taken from: http://pingmag.jp/2008/02/18/japanese-packaging-design-6-imitating-nature/
Two final images: an elegant woven spiral. And a wrapping for yubeshi, one of the most delectable Japanese preserves, made from yuzu stuffed either with sweet mochi as a confection or with miso as a pickle. Either way, it always tastes best when unwrapped from a rice-straw covering.
Simple but intricate, utilitarian but beautiful in their craftsmanship, these packages represent mingei folk art at its purest and most transient, since they are designed to biodegrade perfectly back into the soil.
They make up an essential section of the excellent "Kome: The Art of Rice" show now running at 21_21 Design Sight.