It all started in 1993. People of Inakadate, Aomori Prefecture were not particularly happy about how the things were going for their village. Archaeologists were saying that rice had been cultivated in the area for more than 2000 years, since the Yayoi Period (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) Was this the way to revitalize Inakadate?
The villagers decided to take up ancient ways of rice growing, and soon started to invite visitors to show off their skills of traditional rice farming done by hand.
Following the success of those first tours, they began making a mural in the rice fields of Mt. Iwaki (岩木山), one of Tohoku’s most beautiful mountains. To do this they used three kinds of rice; a purple rice called murasakiine(紫稲), a yellow rice called kiine (黄稲) and Tsugaru Roman (つがるロマン), a local Aomori variety.
They did it, and more tourists came.
In 2002, the tanbo (rice field) art celebrated its 10th anniversary. To commemorate the day, farmers created an original design of Iwaki-san and the moon, which won the Impact Award from NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). This honor gave the rice patch art lots of publicity, landing them TV and newspaper exposure.
A year later, talented rice growers of Inakadate tried ever more complicated designs, including a mural of the Mona Lisa.
In 2004, the villages took their art form to another level, using designs with a perspective effect — three-dimensional when seen from viewing observatories and breathtakingly beautiful. 30,000 visitors came that year and a whopping 130,000 the following summer.
In 2006, the farmer-artists added two new varieties of red rice. The next year 240,000 people came to see the God of Wind and Thunder, a recreation of the famous painting by Katsushika Hakusai.
During the following two years, two new kinds of rice were added — yukiasobi (ゆきあそび), the variety with white leaves, and the red-tipped iwaiakane (祝い茜). They used five crops for their 2010 designs and upped this number by two more varieties in 2011.
To commemorate 20th anniversary of Tanbo Art in Inakadate, two special designs have been chosen. 1,200 volunteers methodically planted the seedlings using, for the first time, nine kinds of rice.
The best time for viewing the beautiful creations is July and August…