Rice Paddy Art: Agricultural Masterpiece

The tanbo art, or rice paddy art phenomenon began in 1993 in Inakadate, Aomori, Japan. Faced with trying economic conditions, the village residents decided to create a rice field behind the town hall, in order to honor the town’s history and culture. However, this would not be an average rice field. The villagers set about meticulously planting various types of semi-aquatic rice which would grow into an image of Mount Iwaki. The tanbo art was admired by spectators in a special tower built by the local government. This tradition continued for nine years before the villagers decided to use difference designs.

In the years since the Inakadate rice paddy has featured designs ranging from the “Mona Lisa” to Godzilla. Also, local landowners have allowed their property to be used for the purpose of rice paddy art, which has allowed for the creation of more pieces. Approximately 250,000 tourists travel to Inakadate each summer to take in these masterpieces. Tourists are encouraged to donate to the city in appreciation of the art, resulting in about $70,000 in revenue per season. At the time Inakadate started the rice paddy tradition, the town was in economic disarray. The revenue from tourism helped the town immensely. Today, it is a source of revenue, but also a point of pride for the residents. Other Japanese villages have followed suit by dedicating volunteers and land to the creation of rice paddy art.

The process used to create rice paddy art has become more and more sophisticated. Villagers vote to choose the designs before using computer software to map out their designs ahead of time. Then hundreds of volunteers use ropes to outline the design in the rice paddy, before planting the rice across approximately 15,000 square meters of land. Four different strains of rice are used to produce different colors in the designs. The designs continue to become more intricate and precise, as the villagers learn from each passing season. These amazing images are fleeting, though. It takes approximately six weeks to plant the seeds and wait for them to grow into the design. A little over a month later the plants are harvested and the artwork is gone. During the harvest, the villagers actually avoid harvesting the main image until the last possible moment, which really makes the image pop even though it has already changed color.

In 2008 the committee in control of the project began to place advertisements at the bottom of some of the tanbo art, with the aim of increasing profits. However, the local government was less than pleased and they ended the practice promptly. The rice paddies have been used to display more heart-warming messages. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami when the Japanese people were in need of a morale boost, one of the art pieces contained a message saying “Gambaru Japan!!” which translates to ‘do your best, Japan’. A similar message in another paddy implored viewers to “please think of others.” Tanbo art is a spectacular modern art phenomenon and it is definitely worthy of making it on to anyone’s bucket list.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons