Transforming rice paddies into art
The journey to the village of Inakadate-mura is a car trip of approximately 40 minutes from Aomori Airport. Another route is to take a train on the Ou Main Line from JR Shin-Aomori Station to Kawabe Station and then take a taxi for about ten minutes. Inakadate-mura is literally an environment of countryside (inaka) surrounded by rice paddies (tanbo). Although the village has a population of only about 8,200, each year from mid-July to mid-August it’s swarmed by visitors. The sole purpose of their visit is to see “tanbo art (rice paddy art).” Last year, as many as 250,000 people visited Inakadate-mura.
The history of tanbo art goes back to 1993 when an event featuring “rice” was held in the village. To convey the enjoyment of growing rice and the fun of farming, letters were arranged in rice paddy fields by planting different colors of rice plants, which were later improved with the incorporation of pictorial elements. Through the use of more detailed, artistic designs, the method eventually evolved into the “tanbo art,” whereupon it drew greater attention. It is unknown whether the improved artistic quality is what attracts visitors by the hundreds of thousands, but artistically speaking the “real thing” has the power to attract people.
The tanbo art in Inakadate-mura is now one of Aomori Prefecture’s main sightseeing attractions. Although similar tanbo art can be found in other areas of the country, in comparative terms that of Inakadate is considered highly valuable.
As the design themes for the year 2014, which marks its twenty-second season, “Mt. Fuji and the Hagoromo Legend” was chosen for the first (main) tanbo art and “Sazae-san” (© the Hasegawa Machiko Art Museum) for the secondary tanbo art. “Mt. Fuji and the Hagoromo Legend” was selected because of Mt. Fuji’s designation as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The main rice paddy field features a pair of art works divided by a road that runs in between. Thus the longer side of each art work exceeds 100 meters, being sufficiently large in scale to attract huge crowds.
Seven colorful rice plants
The first question that comes to mind with anyone who sees the rice paddy art is whether it’s created with rice plants alone. Yes, it’s true. Only rice plants are used. It’s obvious, too, when seen from ground level, as the fields are entirely covered by rice plants. The first ricepaddy art for this year used seven colors and ten plant varieties, including “purple-leafed rice” “yellow-leafed rice” and “Tsugaru Roman.” However, as with the Nazca Lines, the designs cannot be grasped from the ground. It’s essential that the art works are appreciated from the observation tower at the Village Hall, which has the appearance of a Japanese castle. On the observation deck, security guards repeatedly call out, “Please do not stop. Keep moving,” but no one listens. Most of the visitors stop to take photos, trying to capture the entire view in a single shot.