‘Rice paddy art’ reaches new heights of sophistication

August 19, 2012

By JUNICHI BEKKU/ Staff Writer

INAKADATE, Aomori Prefecture--In the hands of a true "artiste," just about anything can be transformed into a canvas for creative expression--even a rice paddy.

“Rice paddy art,” which the village of Inakadate claims to have pioneered in 1993, has been evolving into a sophisticated form with the increasing addition of rice plants in diverse colors and improved techniques to present intricate designs.

This year’s themes in Inakadate are “the goddess of mercy” and “the god of fire,” to be interpreted in rice paddies measuring 143 x 104 meters.

The huge pictures come to life in rice plants of white, red, purple, yellow and three other shades, just as if they were enormous painted versions.

“Our techniques and the final outcome are making great strides each year,” said Takatoshi Asari, a village official in charge of the rice paddy art project.

Until 2001, the village had created an image of a local mountain with the use of rice plants in green, yellow and purple.

Originating from the Edo Period (1603-1867), the yellow and purple rice plants are common in the area.

Later, a repertoire of colors expanded with the assistance of the Aomori Prefectural Industrial Technology Research Center, which provided the village with different colors developed from experimental breeding of rice plants.

Red became available in 2006, white in 2008, and orange and dark green in 2011.

The addition of white significantly contributed to enhancing the quality of a picture and making it sharper, according to Asari.

The "Mona Lisa," the subject of 2003, marked a major turning point.

When seen from a distant popular viewing deck, the iconic smile of Leonardo da Vinci's famous muse was disproportionately small. Ever since, the rice paddy pictures have been created so as to look perfect from the deck, with the section farthest away made deliberately larger and the nearest smaller.

The rice paddy art is now a major draw for the village, bringing more than 100,000 visitors a year.

Starting this year, the village charges 200 yen ($2.56) for a junior high school student or older for admission to the observation deck to help finance the 5 million yen project.

This year’s presentation will be viewable until Sept. 30.

Large-scale rice paddy art is also staged at about 30 locations across the nation, including those from Asahikawa in Hokkaido to Minami-Kyushu in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Apart from being a visual attraction, the paddy art also helps raise the interest in agriculture, according to Kiyokazu Izumi, who heads the adverting department of Ie no Hikari Shuppan Sogo Service, a Tokyo publisher of agriculture-related publications that promotes rice paddy art.

“It serves an opportunity to convey the allure of farming by getting citizens to participate in planting and to view the rice art work,” Izumi said.

By JUNICHI BEKKU/ Staff Writer
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"The goddess of mercy” and “the god of fire” in Inakadate, Aomori Prefecture (Junichi Bekku)

"The goddess of mercy” and “the god of fire” in Inakadate, Aomori Prefecture (Junichi Bekku)

  • "The goddess of mercy” and “the god of fire” in Inakadate, Aomori Prefecture (Junichi Bekku)
  • Mona Lisa in 2003 (Provided by the Inakadate village hall)
  • The image of a local mountain presented in three colors between 1993 and 2001 (Provided by the Inakadate village hall)

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