Japan has strong traditions dating back many millennia and the people of Japan are known for their excellent craftsmanship and designing skills, many of whom still flourish today and are coveted because of their excellent quality.
Growing rice, a basic staple, was one such tradition and rice fields were found all over the country. But over time, rice fields became fewer in some areas as the pace of modern life intensified.
In 1993, the village of Inakadate, in Aomori Prefecture, were looking for ways to rejuvenate their village.
The realization that rice had been grown in the area for over 2,000 years led the people of the village to the decision to honor the age old tradition by starting a paddy field behind the town hall and use it as a canvas to create giant artworks, using a combination of heirloom and newer strains of seeds, all of which produce plants of various colors and hues.
Mount Iwak, a stratovolcano in the Aomori Prefecture, was their first creation. At the time, they may not have realized the scale of planning involved to create the art projects they had in mind, so they recreated the volcano for the first nine years.
Having honed their skills on the simple design of the mountain, they were ready to move on to more challenging projects.
Although the people of the village were initially divided on whether to create traditional or international art which would feature the likes of famous people, place or artwork amongst others, in the end, variety won the vote and a new tradition, known as Tanbo art, grew from the village rice paddies.
Inakadate turned into a tourist attraction with visitors arriving during July and August in anticipation of viewing the art of that season.
To improve viewing of the whole picture, best done from above, a 22m mock castle tower was built at the village office and another observation tower was built at the second Tanbo art location.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Napoleon Bonaparte, Marilyn Manroe, Gone with the Wind and Star Wars, as well as Japanese heroes, anime characters and scenes were just some of the iconic images grown at the village’s rice paddy art gallery.
Although Inakadate was the first, and only place to exhibit rice paddy artworks, like all good ideas, it has spread across Japan and to Korea and Taiwan with over a 100 places now offering Tanbo art galleries.