Art + Botany: Rice Paddy Illustrations

Art + Botany: Rice Paddy Illustrations

February 12, 2011
Photo by: Samurai figure Ushiwakamaru, 2010. Photo: Boko999

For the past nearly two decades, a small village in Japan has been perfecting a new art form: rice paddy art. It's a hybrid of traditional illustration and farming, made possible with modern technology and new colors of rice plants. Emerging as the plants grow, the images in Inkadate's rice paddies include historic landscapes and figures, contemporary television characters, and at least one face with international appeal (for example, the "Mona Riza" in 2003). 

They call it "paddy art," and it does take a village to grow a picture in a rice field. Each picture is designed by illustrators, plotted by digital artists, and planted by village volunteers. Each tiny detail and broad stroke is colored by one of several rice plants (the palette includes yellow, white, dark red, and a spectrum of greens and browns). 


Inkadate, 2009: detail from a Sengoku-period warrior. Photo: Karaponeyami.

The designs have grown more complex in the years since Koichi Hanada, a clerk at the village hall, was tasked to come up with a new initiative for Inkadate's waning tourism. A scene between a samurai and warrior monk required more than 8,000 stakes to create guides for the multi-colored planting. In 2010, the paddy art exhibit attracted more than 170,000 visitors to the quiet village. Villagers say that the enormous site-specific installations have fostered a community spirit, and mayor Koyu Suzuki hopes to transform Inkadate into an appealing "art village." They now have a Japanese-style mascot named Little Mr. Rice-Rice (a smiling grain of rice) and an observation deck styled like a medieval Japanese castle, to admire the rice art below. 


Inkadate, 2010: the legendary warrior-monk Benkei (left) and samurai Ushiwakamaru (right). Photo: Boko999


Town of Yonezawa, Yamagata, 2009. In another rice paddy art venue town, a 16th-century samurai Naoe Kanetsugu and his wife, Osen, whose lives are chronicled in Tenchijin, a television series. Photo: Flickr user contri.

Inkadate; after a growing season, villagers harvest the rice. Photo: Boko999.

time lapse
Inkadate, 2007: a pair of famous Hokusai woodblock prints, created with four different varieties of rice. Photo: Inkadate.

Anna Laurent is a writer and producer of educational botanical media. Photographs from her forthcoming field guide to Los Angeles are available for exhibition and purchase at the author's shop.