Since 1993, the farmers of the Japanese village of Inakadate, in Aomori Prefecture, has been creating elaborate designs on rice paddy fields by intermixing a variety of rice strains to create large scale artworks. Each year these farmers plant rice of different color to create new artworks and they last all through the growing season until the time of harvest. Over the years they have made classical art pieces like Mona Lisa, and images of historical figures such as Napoleon, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as traditional Japanese icons and figures. To see these artworks, a tall viewing platform is erected and hundreds of thousands of visitors come driving from all across Japan clogging the narrow streets of this quiet community with hours-long traffic jams.
But twenty year ago, the village was almost dying with a shrinking population, a crushing debt and declining revenues from agriculture. The village’s only claim to fame was the 1981 discovery of archaeological remains of 2,000-year-old rice paddies, that made Inakadate one of the oldest rice-growing regions in northern Japan. The village tried to capitalize on the discovery by building a Neolithic-themed amusement park. Not only the park was a colossal failure, it sank the village under a debt of $106 million, three times as large as its total annual budget.
The paddy art, on the other hand, cost just $35,000 per year to rent, plant and maintain and brings in $70,000 in revenue from tourists. The revenue generated is entirely from donation as the village does not charge visitors to see the paddy art.
To create these work of art they are first designed on a computer to figure out where and how to plant the rice. Then hundreds of volunteers plant the rice stakes that have been genetically engineered to produce a variety of colors — dark red, yellow and white, which are mixed with the local green-leafed variety to produce intricate designs. The designs themselves have been improving with each passing year as the villagers learn from their past mistakes and refine their skills.
Now other villages have started to create their own paddy art but none seem as intricate as Inakadate’s.
This article has been revised and republished from an earlier article that appeared on Amusing Planet on November 28, 2008
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