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From Farm to Table

Fresh from the Fields
Kanō Sanraku<br/> Japanese 1559–1635<br/> <em>Scene of Rice Cultivation</em>, about 1625<br/> Ink and gold on paper<br/> Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund and gift of funds from Louis W. Hill, Jr.
  Kanō Sanraku
Japanese 1559–1635
Scene of Rice Cultivation, about 1625
Ink and gold on paper
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund and gift of funds from Louis W. Hill, Jr.


Look closely at this painting. What seems to be going on?

This scene of rice threshing, hulling, and winnowing is from a set of sixteen painted screens showing the activities of rice farming. The screens formed the walls of the emperor's reception room at Saga Castle in Kyoto. Why did the emperor of Japan want to be surrounded by paintings of humble farmers cultivating rice?

Rice represented the emperor's connection to heaven and his right to rule. According to the Japanese creation story, the first emperor, Jimmu, brought rice seeds with him from heaven. When he planted the seeds, Japan was transformed from a wilderness into a land of abundance. Although rice actually came to Japan by way of China, around 350 BCE, the story of Jimmu linked rice crops and harvests with Japan's emperors. (Even today the emperor tends a small rice paddy on the palace grounds.) These paintings would have reminded the emperor's guests of his divine authority.

Rice was very important in Japanese life. During the Edo period (1615–1868), wealthy and powerful people kept impressive stores of rice, and landlords measured their worth by how much rice their peasants produced. Samurai received their stipends in rice, and peasants paid their taxes in rice. Even though they grew this valuable crop, peasants rarely ate rice. Instead, they generally had millet or sweet potatoes, saving rice for special occasions or ceremonies.

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1. In ancient Egypt, influential people like rulers and priests were buried with papyruses that helped ensure their safe passage to the afterlife. This funeral papyrus features the dead person offering foods including onions and grapes to the god Osiris, who watches over the entrance to the afterlife. What other foods do you recognize? Egypt, Funerary Papyrus of the Priest of Amon, Jekhonsefonkh, 1085–710 BCE, painted papyrus, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
2. The French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro often depicted people working harmoniously with nature to preserve the beauty and simplicity of country living. The peasants in this scene are harvesting a field of beets. Camille Pissarro, French 1830–1903, The Beet Harvest, 1881, gouache over graphite, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Mary Young Janes
3. Daikoku is the god of agriculture and bountiful harvest in Buddhist-inspired Japanese folklore. He is often shown standing on rice bales (representing good harvests) and holding a magical mallet that can bring prosperity. Japan, Daikoku God on Rice Bales, late 17th–early 18th century, woodblock print, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Ruth Lathrop Sikes in memory of her brother Bruce Sikes, 1967


May 2013