RICE PADDY ART in INAKADATE

You’ve heard of crop circles in England, thought to be the product of alien invaders? Well, in the northern part of Japan there is a village where native genius and artistic instinct go hand in hand with a sense of fantasy to create giant images by planting colorful rice in unique designs- from Mt. Fuji to characters from Japanese pop icons. Only in Japan!

Inakadate, located near Hirosaki in Japan’s Aomori prefecture, is famous for its landscape art created on a grand scale in rice paddy fields. These rice paddy fields are so popular that they attract over 200,000 tourists a year. This year, a picture of Oiran, the Japanese courtesan, and Marilyn Monroe were painted on the rice paddy fields.

Inakadate’s population of 8,000 have been rice farmers for many centuries, and rice paddy fields make up over fifty percent of the village’s land. The soil in these lands is so fertile that the yield has consistently been higher than from any other village or town in Japan.

And the rice strains of Inakadate are ancient in origin - over 2,000 years old, according to archeologists. To celebrate this fact, and to attract tourists, the local tourism office decided to showcase their abundant production of rice in “rice paddy art.”

So, in 1993, they began a ‘rice farming tour’, offering visitors the opportunity to experience traditional rice farming – from planting to harvesting. To promote the tour, the tourism department hired artists to draw huge, colorful characters on to the paddy. Thus began the backbone of Inakadate’s tourism industry.

To create rice paddy art, famers combine a range of colorful rice strains along with the traditional green. These different varieties of rice grow naturally, without artificial dye. Tsugaru Roman, for instance, is green. Yukiasobi rice is white and Beniasobi rice is red. Other ancient strains of rice are used for purple and yellow. These multiple colors enable the rice paddy artists to create complex and elaborate designs, evolving over time.

Today, the artisan-farmers of Inakadate recreate classic art pieces, such as the Mona Lisa and Hokusai Katsushika’s Ukiyo-e. They also depict pop icons and historical figures like Marilyn Monroe and Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as Japanese warriors, demons and deities. To see the whole picture, the visitors climb up on the Japanese traditional castle next to the fields to enjoy the scenery.

To make sure these works of art are executed to perfection, they are first designed on a computer. Then, various strains of rice are planted and reaped manually in order to maintain precise accuracy. These images need to be viewed from a height, so an observation deck at the top of the town hall is available exclusively for this purpose.

The designs, never repeated twice, have become more ingenious and striking each year, such as a scene from the folk tale Hagoromo – a fisherman who finds a magical coat of feathers belonging to a celestial dancer. This intricate image has been recreated using 10 different strains of rice.

This year’s designs also include Mt. Fuji, chosen to commemorate its newly acquired status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as a few characters from popular anime cartoons.

Paddy art is created in Inakadate every year between June and September. The villagers welcome everyone to join in their yearly rice farming tours. Other villages have joined in this tradition -- today, there are over 100 such villages to visit, but Inakadate remains the home of this unique art form.

To see more pictures, or to learn about the visit, click the link below.
(Photos are from the official website and blog.livedoor.jp/momo_ri)