Nazca Lines in Peru and Cerne Abbas Giant in the UK are amazing large scale works with long history. Rice field art in Japan comes close in that it has a similar scale, but it is transient – disappearing with the harvest. And in that it perfectly embodies the Japanese concept of “mono no aware” or “a melancholic appreciation of the transience of existence”. Making rice fields beautiful is as expected from the country where even the manholes have their own cute designs!
No, it’s definitely not that the rice field is colored from a helicopter, if you were entertaining that thought. Rice field art starts way before the rice is planted – in choosing different varieties of rice. The planters follow a plan that they trust, as there is no way of knowing instantly if they did a good job. As the rice grows the image grows and forms with it.
Rice is usually planted between April and June, and harvested between October and November. Naturally, rice paddy art is annual and at its prime between August and September. Moreover, the image reveals itself from a certain higher standpoint/observation deck, so you might even be passing next to rice field art and not knowing it!
Rice paddy art has spread from Inakadate across Japan, and Gyoda city in Saitama is one notable newcomer to this art form. In addition to be conveniently located for a daytrip from Tokyo, Gyoda’s rice field art holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest rice paddy art (27,195 square meters).
There’s an observation deck from which you can see the art for a small entrance fee (400 yen for adults). After the rice is harvested in autumn, the locals who helped plant it get to cook it and make onigiri! Of course, some of the rice varieties used for their color are not edible, so they become animal feed.
Fun fact: The 2019 rice field art depicted three members of the Japanese Rugby team in honour of the Rugby World Cup that took place in Japan in the same year. The families of the rugby players came to help with planting the rice, which took two consecutive days to finish.
2375-1 Kobari, Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture 361-0024
Inakadate village, Aomori Prefecture is where rice paddy art began in 1993 as a means of regional economic revitalization and boosting tourism. To this day, Inakadate has the most lavish displays, and more than one!
They usually pay homage to Japanese history and mythology, as well as anime and other modern offerings of Japanese culture. From famous samurai to Godzilla, they often have super cool rice field art. Their inspiration doesn’t stop at Japan’s borders though, as the rice paddy art has often depicted iconic images from around the world such as Hollywood legends. “Gone with the Wind” and “Star Wars” are a few notable mentions.
Original observation tower: Inakadatemura Village Office, Observation Deck & Cultural Hall
123-1 Nakatsuji Inakadate, Inakadate-mura, Minamitsugaru-gun 038-1113 Aomori
Second observation tower: Michi no eki Inakadate nicknamed “Yayoi no sato”
4-1 Takahiizumi, Inakadate
JR Hirosaki Station
Another lesser know spot for rice paddy art is in Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture. They have been creating rice field art since 20016, and are mostly depicting famous samurai (as pictured above) and other Japanese historical figures.
Recently, Azumino in Nagano prefecture has started making rice paddy art. In 2019 they planted the image of Shiso Kanakuri, the first Japanese marathon runner to compete in the Olympics. They based the artwork on the actor that plays him in a popular NHK TV series.
All of these rice paddy art spots are community-run and very often they accept volunteers for planting and harvesting. Sometimes you pay a small fee to take part in the harvesting experience but in exchange you get to take some rice home!
If you want to register for planting or harvesting, contact the respective Tourist Association offices.