If you go to the Japanese town of Nishikan during the annual rice harvest, you’ll see a lot more than just farmers harvesting rice. On display until the end of October, you will see enormous animals, insects, and mythical creatures made of rice straw. These are part of the region’s annual summer Wara Art Festival. (1)
The Amazing Creatures of Japan’s Wara Art Festival
Japan’s Niigata Prefecture is one of the country’s largest producers of rice. Rice straw is a leftover product of the annual summer rice harvest. Starting in 2008, every summer the region has put on an art festival featuring gigantic creatures made from the leftover rice straw.
In the past, the leftover straw was used for tools, to make sandals, as livestock feed, and natural compost to fertilize the soil. With today’s modern technology and more advanced farming tools and methods, however, the straw is no longer needed for many of these reasons. The farmers were finding themselves with a lot leftover after each harvest. In 2006, the people of Nishikan Ward and Tokyo’s Musashino Art University formed a partnership with the idea of turning this rice straw into something for the people.
Department of Science of Design professor Shingo Miyajima had the idea that the art students and local farmers could collaborate to create some sort of art project between the two groups. From this idea, the Wara Art Festival was born. Now it is an annual event.
How It All Works
They decided that the leftover rice straw would be used to create gigantic creatures of all kinds. Some of them are real animals and insects that exist on our planet. Some are ancient creatures that have long been extinct. Others are mythical creatures either from folklore or from the students’ own imaginations.
Artisans from Nishikan construct the students’ designs from the rice straw given to them by the local farmers. They are made of wooden beams to provide the structure and then thatched straw to bring them to life. The structures are up to 30 feet tall and are absolutely a sight to be seen.
A True Collaboration
Especially in the early years, the local artisans have been an indispensable resource for the student artists. This is because the students are not accustomed to working with the straw, so the artisans are vital in helping the students bring their visions to fruition. While the students are working on the project, they actually go and live in Nishikan and work in person with the locals.
While living there, the students eat local cuisine prepared by the farmers and their families. They learn about the local culture and tradition, which is so different from their very urban Tokyo lives. True friendships are born from this project, with many of the students continuing to send postcards and letters to their farmer and artisan hosts for years after. The diversity of age, lifestyle, and origins of the people who work on the Wara Art Festival are what make this event truly amazing.
The creatures are a sight to behold! Check out some of the photos of these incredible pieces of art.
The Bear: This is one angry-looking animal! Good thing it is just made of straw.
The Dragon: Alongside real creatures are plenty of beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes weird mythical ones.
The Monkey: People love posing with the various creations. Especially the cute ones!
Interactive art: These aren’t just art pieces. They are very solid structures! Strong enough so that visitors can actually sit on them for photos.
The Chamelion: In front of each one is a sign saying what it is and who designed and worked on it.
The Eagle: As you can see, the structures are quite large!
If you’re planning a trip to Japan next summer, make sure you put the Wara Art Festival on your list of must-see attractions.
- “About Nishikan Ward and Wara Art” Wara Art Niigata City