The residents of Inakadate, Japan have taken the art of playing with their food to an entirely new level. Every year, rice farmers work together to plant their crops so that they’ll grow in artistic patterns visible only from above! It is painstaking work, but the end results are often breathtaking and magnificent!
The History Behind Rice Field Art
Farmers from Inakadate have been planting artistic rice fields since 1993. While they have earned the title of the most popular town when it comes to decorating rice paddies, they are certainly not alone. Farmers in Yonezawa, from the Yamagata Prefecture, as well as farmers from Nishio, in the Aichi Prefecture, plant artistic crops as well. Their works are incredible, but still pale in comparison next to the portraits painstakingly planted by the Inakadate farmers.
Rice fields in Japan, and throughout much of Asia, are much more than a simple place to grow food. In some cultures, whether or not a farmer owns land on which to cultivate rice is symbolic of his stature in the class system and overall social hierarchy. They spend hours of time not only in the fields, but also blessing and decorating the granaries within which they’ll store the rice once it has been harvested.
Other areas of Asia focus on more religious aspects. In some cultures, the rice crops were once harvested by hand (by women) in order to keep the female deities happy.
Today, modern technology has replaced some of the older traditions. Farmers aren’t as likely to conduct religious rituals in the fields or harvest their crops by hand. They instead embrace their culture by spending countless hours planning the layouts for rice fields that, in some cases, challenge the dedication of some of today’s finest modern artists.
In the case of Inakadate, however, the project originally simply came about as part of a revitalization effort designed to help enhance the beauty of their small village- checking in with only 8,700 residents. They started with simple designs, such as a picture of Mount Iwaki, but later began challenging themselves as their skills grew and they became more confident in their work.
In 2007, they attempted to recreate some of the famous woodblock prints created by Katsushika Hokusai in his series known as “Fugaku Sanjurokke,” which translates to “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” There are not enough words to describe the results of their marvelous efforts.
How Are Artistic Rice Fields Planted?
So how do they do it? Japanese farmers commonly grow a variety of rice, called tsugaru-roman, which buds with green leaves. In order to design their crop art, they include kodaimai rice, which grows with purple and yellow leaves and provides the contrast needed to create lines and depth within the work of art. Some farmers incorporate brown and yellow rice into their field art as well.
Artists begin each season with an empty rice field, where literally hundreds of farmers armed with the various rice varieties painstakingly follow previously plotted paths in order to ensure that the rice grows in the pattern they have envisioned. The timing of each planting must be carefully considered in order to ensure that the different rice varieties grow evenly.
Over time, Mother Nature cultivates the seeds and the rice plants begin to grow. Slowly but surely, the patterns planted in the soil become visible to the naked eye, becoming clearer and more colorful as the season wears on.
Eventually, farmers are left with a fully-grown field of rice that, for at least a while, doubles as a remarkable work of art. Visitors to the area clamber to the tops of buildings, hoping to catch a glimpse of each piece. Those lucky enough to have access to an airplane, or who happen to be passing over on a commercial flight, will get the best view. The small village of Inakadate receives over 150,000 visitors during this time!
Do not hesitate before going out to visit these amazing rice fields because they won’t last long. As soon as September rolls around the artwork will be destroyed during the annual harvest festival and the canvas will be erased. You can find a last minute Nagasaki hotel nearby. Never fear, though – the town committee will immediately start planning for next year.