Japanese Village Creates Living Rice Field Art

The rice paddies of the small village of Inakadate in rural Japan are a sea of ​​swaying green, yellow, white, ocher and purple stalks, but they also hold a secret that attracts thousands of visitors each year – and it’s not revealed only with a bird’s eye. see.

From a skyward position on a nearby observation tower, visitors can view intricate works of art, freshly created each year. The art of the rice fields, known as tanbo art (tanbo means paddy or paddy field), has included incredibly detailed reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” as well as Japanese artist Seiki Kuroda’s painting, “Lakeside.” These two images, as well as many other images over the years, are created by a carefully designed planting of different types of rice in different hues.

Inakadate village is located in Aomori prefecture in Japan. It is about 600 kilometers north of Tokyo and close to Hirosaki, a city known for its cherry blossoms. However, the art of Inakadate’s rice fields may soon become the main attraction of the prefecture. Over the years, Rice Art has recreated incredibly detailed imagery ranging from Marilyn Monroe and Star Wars to samurai and anime characters.

How did the tradition of rice paddy art begin?

The tradition of the village’s rice paddy art began in 1993 when purple and yellow rice shoots were planted by about 20 volunteers to form its first famous image – Mount Iwaki, a three-peaked mountain about 1,500 kilometers away. from Inakadate. Since then, the tourist trade has become so vital to the rural village that authorities have built an observation tower in a nearby government building so visitors can view the artwork from above during its peak season: from mid -June to early October.

Fast forward to now, and Inakadate’s rice art is as much a must-see attraction as the rice dishes offered by nearby vendors. Visitors pay 300 to 500 yen ($2.50 to $4) to see the art of tanbo, while some tourists pay to participate in a harvesting experience at the end of the paddy’s growing season.

How is it made?

A year in advance, Inakadate officials and volunteers agree on the patterns to be recreated, then former high school art teacher Atsushi Yamamoto transforms the selected photographs, film stills, woodcuts or paintings into patterns that can be recreated using just seven different colors of rice plants. . When mapping the design, Yamamoto calculates perspective shifts that allow the art to be seen from its ideal vantage point in the observation tower.

Before the different colors of rice shoots can be planted, survey equipment is used in the paddy field to mark the dimensions and boundaries of the design. Once these flags are up each spring, 1,300 volunteers methodically plant specific types of rice shoots grown from rice seeds planted earlier. Weeks later, dedicated weeding takes place, along with replanting of areas that may have been missed. As rice plants grow and mature, their height and colors change almost daily, then reach their peak viewing range in July and August (although the season, including harvest, continues into october).

The resulting paddy field artwork currently attracts around 200,000 people who want to see the designs first-hand every year. In 2016, a paddy likeness of Godzilla was so popular that 340,000 people came to see it. In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Inakadate planted rice to form the words “One for all, all for one”.

The concept of tanbo art, first created in Inakadate, has now spread to hundreds of other places in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. In Inakadate, the art of tanbo has taken the village from obscurity to international fame.