Inakadate, Japan: Home Of Sensational Rice Fields | CoolJapan

The beauty of art is that it exists in many forms and the possibilities are only limited by one’s creativity. The villagers of Inakadate, a nondescript small town located in Aomori prefecture, took creativity to a whole new, spectacular level.

Samurai Warlord Sengoku Busho Rice Field Art

Samurai Warlord Sengoku Busho Rice Field Art. Photo from: Captain76/CC.

In 1993, with the humble rice fields as their inspiration, the villagers came up with an idea to create words and shapes on their rice fields using various types of coloured rice plants. The original purpose was actually to promote "Tsurugaotome rice", a local brand of rice, and to revive the old village. This public art project became a huge success. Better known as Tanbo (meaning rice field) Art, this spark of genius evolved into a world-famous annual rice field art event in Inakadate that attracts lots of tourists every year.

Over the years, they grew more adventurous and produced impressively complicated images of famous figures and Japanese folklore. 

How rice field art is created

In painting, different shades form shadows and highlights to make an image come alive. Rice field art employs the same technique, but with rice plants in various colours instead of ink. Aside from the use of shadows and highlights, the making of rice field art also requires designing with an aerial perspective in mind. Then comes the site surveying and actual rice planting. This technique is unique to Japan, and eventually, the makers of Tanbo Art have become so skilled that they are able to replicate the most intricate of designs — even a famous scene in Gone With the Wind.

The rice plants used to create these astounding artworks are a combination of standard varieties used for everyday consumption and ornamental varieties. The colours typically included are green, yellow, deep purple, white, orange, red and more. For more complicated designs, the medley of rice plants used to form the colour palette may include more than 10 varieties. Ultimately, what gets planted and cultivated will be based on the final artwork design. By early summer, the plants mature and the stunning art piece is ready to be appreciated by over 100,000 Japanese and foreign visitors. Here's a tip: the best season to view the rice field art in its full glory is during the months of July and August.

From quiet village to famed tourism spot

Last year marked the 27th Inakadate Village Rice Field Art event. Unfortunately, this year’s event will be cancelled because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, no one can deny that the sensational paddy fields of art have revitalised this small rice-growing town with only 7,985 residents (as of 2017) and transformed it into a thriving community.

To commemorate its 10th anniversary in 2002, the villagers decided to create a majestic design of Mount Iwaki and the moon, which received an incredible amount of publicity from the local and international media. From then on, Inakadate gained more and more attention. In 2006, around 200,000 tourists flocked to Inakadate village to view the rice field artwork and in 2016, the tourism numbers rose to an astounding number (around 340,000).

And the development did not stop there. In 2018, cameras were installed at both rice fields to deliver live cam feed to anyone who wants to observe the growth status of the rice plants or to view the artwork as it changes over time. If you are interested to view the fascinating artworks of Inakadate village over the years, click here.

Tanbo Art in other regions of Tohoku

Rice Fields Of Tohoku

Tohoku region has long been regarded as a leading producer of rice due to its ideal climate and conditions. Photo from: zcf428526 via Pixabay.

Inevitably, the success of Tanbo Art exploded. With the expertise and help from the villagers of Inakadate, other rice-growing prefectures in Tohoku started to implement art into their rice fields as well. Now, you can find remarkable rice field art all across Tohoku and even in other parts of Japan. Some of the many locations include the historically rich Tsunoda city (Miyagi prefecture), the idyllic Yonezawa city (Yamagata pref), the World Heritage Hiraizumi town (Iwate prefecture), the small quiet town of Hachirogata (Akita prefecture) and the beautiful coastal city of Iwaki (Fukushima prefecture).

For an unforgettable cultural experience of Japan, do remember to include Tanbo Art viewing into your must-do list when you're able to visit the country.