To Japanese

Rice Field Art in Inakadate Village

 Drafted 15th October 2023

  Revised 28th October 2023


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1. My Visit to Inakadate Village


Creating pictures by planting rice of different colours in paddy fields – this event has been of my interest for some time, but it was located in Inakadate Village, Aomori Prefecture, far from and not easily accessible from Tokyo. When I was planning a trip to Hokkaido a few months ago, I learned from an article in the Kahoku Shimpō Newspaper [1] that the theme of this 30th year anniversary rice field art was the work of two of my favourite artists, Shikō Munakata's Saku of Monze (Gates of Monze) and Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring and decided to stop there. On September 27th, I took a bus from Hirosaki to the Kōnan Railway Kōnan Line’s Tambo Art Station, where the village-run “Tambo Art Shuttle Wagon'' was standing by. Within 10 minutes the wagon arrived at the main venue (Rice Field Art Venue 1) behind the Inakadate Village Hall.




Fig.1 Front view of Inakadate village hall.[2]. On the right is a 1/350 Scale Plastic Model of the hall (sold at, in which the details of the rooftop is seen.


The rice fields can be viewed from the rooftop deck of the village hall. I had heard that when crowded one must join the queue for more than one hour but on that day luckily there were not many visitors. Fig. 2 shows a photograph taken in my camera, in which the Gates of Monze and the Girl with a Pearl Earring were beautifully depicted




Fig.2 A photograph of rice field art taken from the rooftop deck of the village hall (2023/09/28, Nikon Z6).



This photograph looked much rougher than the one shown in the Kahoku Shimpō Newspaper August 13 (Fig. 3), and stained by small dots all over. It was because the time was already close to the reaping time and the ears of ripen rice were drooping.




Fig.3 Photo published in Kahoku Shimpō (August 13, 2023). [3]



According to the Hirosaki Keizai Newspaper[4], rice ears ripen early this year due to the abnormal walm weather, and weeds become conspicuous in August, as seen in the front part of the Gates of Monze , so the weeds would be removed in September. In fact, not much weeds were seen in Fig. 2.


In the picture on the rice field, although there are no blue and pure red rice plants, if eyes are squinted, the shading in the original painting seems to be well expressed. To test it, the image in Fig. 3 was converted to grayscale and shown in Fig. 4. Just for comparison, the original paintings of the Gates of Monze and the Girl with a Pearl Earring and their grayscale images are shown in Fig. 5.




Fig. 4 Grayscale image of Fig.3.




Fig.5 Original and grayscale images of the Gate of Monze [5] and the Girl with a Pearl Earring[6].



For reference, the word “Monze'' in “Monze no Saku'' by Shikō Munakata is a word coined by Munakata, meaning the gates to the world placed at north, east, west, south and east corners of the picture, represented by the four letters. “Saku” is not a fence but means something like cards which pilgrims dedicate to temples, that is to say footsteps of one’s life. Except for his early brush paintings, most of Munakata’s works bear this word.


A most representative woodcut for praising women by Munakata, the Gate of Monze , alternatively called the Gates of Lady Aomori, has been designed for post cards and prints. Fig. 6 shows a ceramic plate prepared and distributed by Aomori Bank in 2003 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Bank and the 100th anniversary of Shikō Munakata's birth.




Fig.6 Ceramic plate of Gates of Monze. On the back of the frame are the words “60th Anniversary of Aomori Bank” (the present writer’s collection).




2. The Rice Field Art


2.1 Origin

The origin of rice field art dates back to 1993, when the Inakadate Agricultural Cooperative invited about one hundred customers from the Tokyo metropolitan area to experience rice farming to promote rice produced in the village. The idea came from the seedlings of different colour rice plants planted in a striped pattern in the fields of elementary school of the village. Nevertheless the design at that time was a simple one (Fig. 7) which depicted the famous local mountain, Mt. Iwaki and used only green, yellow, and purple rice. This design was followed until 2001, but in 2002 Mt. Iwaki, the Moon and Ears of rice '' that arranged the ears of rice and the moon on Mt. Iwaki was adopted (Fig. 8). For reference, the words “Rice culture village, Inakadate'' placed under the picture symbolised the fact that Yayoi culture had flourished in this far north part of Honshu, as deep pot-shaped earthenware, stone axes, carbonized rice, etc. were discovered in 1981 at the Tareyanagi ruins in the village. [7] , [8]




Fig. 7 Early rice field art representing Mt. Iwaki (1993-2001). [9]




Fig. 8 Rice field art depicting “Mt. Iwaki and the Moon,” 2002[10].



2.2 Artistry

In 2003, the expression of quality art was planned, and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was drawn according to the design drawing (see below) prepared by an art teacher who lived in the village. Fig. 9 shows an aerial photograph and a photograph taken from the rooftop deck of the village hall.




Fig. 9 The rice field art of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, 2003. An aerial photograph [11] and a photograph from the village hall rooftop deck[12].



This is a type of “Geoglyph” that is different from the Nazca Lines [13] in Peru, the White Horse of Afinto[14]and the Giant of San Abbas [15] in England, the feature being that it changes day by day after the planting and returns to the original dry field after the reaping. Representing a masterpiece must have been quite a challenge. Although the picture on the field would be recognised at first glance as the imitation of Mona Lisa , it was ridiculed as a “Bottom-part-dilated Mona Lisa”, because from the rooftop deck of the town hall, the width of the picture looked larger as the distance was shorter.


Next year (2004), design drawings were prepared taking the law of perspective into account and this technique has been used until today. The types of rice have gradually increased and currently ten types of rice with seven different colours are used[16]. In 2012, in addition to the Rice Field Venue 1 behind the village hall, the second venue, Rice Field Art Venue 2 was established in the Yayoi-no-Sato (Yayoi Village) area along the railway of Kōnan Railway, whereupon the railway company specially opened Tambo Art Station next to the Inakadate Station of the line. As seen in Table 1, the annual themes of Venue 1 have been famous domestic and foreign paintings, the scenes from movies and TV dramas. Many works of Shikō Munakata were adopted because he was a person born in Aomori. At Venue 2, scenes of contemporary comics and animations have been featured.




Table 1 The annual themes of Inakadate Rice Field Art [17]

Year Venue 1(Inakadate Village Hall - East side) Venue 2(Yayoi Village)
  1993 - 2001   "Mt. Iwaki and the words, Rice culture village”. It was called "Rice plant letters", as the word, "Tambo Art (Rice Field Art)" was yet to be defined.  
  2002   "Mt. Iwaki, the Moon and ears of rice”.  
  2003   Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa".  
  2004   The gates of Ragora (The Ten Great Disciples of Shakyamuni)” and
 “The gates of Yamanokamihi (The Goddess of mountains)”
  2005    Sharaku Toshusai’s “Yakko-Edobei by Oniji Ootani II” and Utamaro Kitagawa’s
 “Deeply  Hidden Love, from the series “Anthology of Poems: The Love Section”
  2006    Soutatsu Tawaraya’s “Wind and Thunder Gods”.  
  2007   Hokusai Katsushika’s prints, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa'' and
 “South Wind, Clear Sky”
  2008   Ebisu (the deity of commerce) and Daikoku (Daikoku (the deity of fortune)”  
  2009   A warring time warlord and Napoleon”  
  2010    Benkei and Ushiwakamaru”  
  2011   Tale of Taketori (Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)”  
  2012   Jibo Kwannon (Goddess of Mercy)and Fudo Myauō (Acala)”.   Shichi-fuku-jin (Seven happy gods) and Mazinger Z”
  2013   “An oiran (lady of pleasure) and a Hollywood’s star (Marilyn Monroe)”   “Ultraman (comic)”.
  2014   “Mt. Fuji and Tale of Hagoromo (a celestial)”.   Sazae-san (comic)”.
  2015   “Gone with the Wind” by Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.   Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.
  2016   Mitsunari Ishida and Masayuki Sanada”, From TV drama, Sanadamaru   New Godzilla”
  2017   Yamata-no-orochi (Eight-headed serpent) and God Susanowo”.   Momotaro (the here of tale)”.
  2018   Roman Holiday" of Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and Princess Anne (Audrey Hepburn).   Osamu Tezuka Characters”.
  2019   Oshin” from NHK’s TV drama.   “Garapico Poo (puppet show for children by NHK)”.
  2020 None for the pandemic of Covid-19. (Another event)
  2021  None for the pandemic of Covid-19. (Another event)
  2022   The Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and Kiyoteru Kuroda's "Lakeside"   “From the Jomon to Yayoi Period”
  2023   Munakata Shikō's "Gates of Monze" and Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring "   "ONE PIECE” animation.



2.3 The law of perspective

From the themes of Venue 1, let's have a look at the design drawing of Mona Lisa (adopted again in 2022) and Kiyoteru Kuroda's Lakeside, shown in Fig.10, prepared according to the perspective law.




Fig.10 The image of design drawing of Mona Lisa and Lakeside prepared according to the perspective law[18].



For confirmation the image of converted design drawing has been processed to restore the original normal image reversely using “the far and near correction function” of Corel Paintshop. The resultant Fig.11 has proved that the design drawing had been properly prepared.




Fig.11 The image of design drawing of Mona Lisa' and Lakeside returned to normal from that had been modified according to the perspective law (Fig.10) using “the far and near correction function” of Corel Paintshop. (by the present writer).



Figure 12 shows a photograph of rice field taken from the rooftop deck of the village hall. Unlike in the case of 2003, the Mona Lisa appeared undistorted as had been expected. Nowadays although it has become easier to take a picture from the air with the proliferation of drones, the village continues to plant rice in the perspective manner, with the aim of offering visitors a view the filed from the rooftop deck of the village hall.




Fig.12 The 2022 rice field art of Mona Lisa and Lakeside photographed from the rooftop deck of the village hall[19].



2.4 Nature’s show

In rice planting in Japan, it is common to plant bundles of three or four pieces of seedlings at coordinate points spaced 25 to 30 cm apart , if a paddy field is assumed as a graph paper. This method is the same when rice-planting tractors are employed as today. In the case of rice field art, seedlings of different colours are planted by hand in each segment (small area) divided by sticking reed stems according to the design drawing, as if a map is coloured. Since the actual planting is carried out by hundreds of unskilled young and old participants, including visitors from abroad, the seedlings do not seem to be arrayed regularly, as photographed in Fig. 13.




Fig.13 A scene of rice planting at Inakadate Venue 1, 2019[20].



The change of rice field art at Venue 1, 2023 from the planting until after the reaping is shown in Figure 14 borrowing the excerpts of daily images taken by the live camera [21] devised at the rooftop of the village hall. In the paddy field in which nothing was seen at the beginning, the outline of pictures appeared in the early June about ten days after the planting, and the picture became completed in the late July to the early August. After then, the picture gradually became rougher and rougher. The nature’s show ended when the rice was reaped.



20230521, Ploughing finished

20230525. Reed stems sticked 20230528, Planting

230607 20230617, Picture appeared 220230627

20230706 20230717 20230727, Picture almost completed 

20230806, Picture completed 20230816, Weeds grew 20230826, Picture roughened

202308905 20230915, Weeds removed 20230930

20231010, Periphery reaped    

Fig.14 The change of 2023 rice field art (excerpts from live camera).



This change has reminded me of darkroom work sixty years ago, long before digital photography was invented and before colour photography became common. The development of film is carried out manually in a sealed developing tank turning off all lights in the darkroom. The enlargement/printing processing is performed under a red safe light. The developed film is placed in the enlarging machine and light is cast for a few seconds through the lens on the photographic paper placed on the baseboard. When the exposed photographic paper is immersed in the developing solution, a faint image appears on the white photographic paper and gradually becomes darker. Then, after an appropriate time the photographic paper is transferred to the stopper solution and then to the fixing solution. The time to soak in the developing solution is about 20 to 40 seconds, depending upon the light-casting time. If the soaking time is longer, the image will become darker than necessary.


The rice field art is an “art of nature” which does not allow human intervention. The entire process after the planting is left to the will of nature, except for the water management and weeding. I would like to pay respect to the contrivance and efforts of the villager people who have given birth to and brought up the rice field art.



2.5 Rice field art in the past years

Several works at Venue 1 have been selected from Table 1 and shown along with the original paintings in Figures 15 to 19.




Fig.15 2004 Rice field art[22]. Shikō Munakata's woodcuts The gates of Ragora (or The Ten Great Disciples of Shakyamuni) [23] and The gates of Yamanokamihi (or the Goddess of mountains) [24] .




Fig.16 2007 Rice field art[25]. Hokusai Katsushika’s prints, The Great Wave off Kanagawa [26] and South Wind, Clear Sky[27].




Fig.17 2009 Rice field art. A warring time warlord and Napoleon[28]. The original picture of Napoleon must be the Jacques-Louis David’s Bonaparte Crossing the Alps [29]. The warring time warlord is supposed to be Kanetsugu Naoe, judged from the placket of his helmet but the original is unknown.




Fig.18 2015 Rice field art[30]. Gone with the Wind, by Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Shown on the right is the DVD case cover of the film[31]. Excellent!




Fig.19 2018 Rice field art[32]. Roman Holiday of Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and Princess Anne (Audrey Hepburn). Shown on the right is the DVD case cover of the film[33]. This field art is clearly drawn to be identified at first glance.



2.6 Rice field art at Venue 2

As aforementioned, the Venue 2 was established in 2012 at the Yayoi Village and a special observation tower with a lift was devised.




Fig.20 Kōnan Railway’s “Tambo Art Station''[34]. The observation tower is seen in the background.



This year's theme at Venue 2 was the popular animation, One Piece. A photograph taken is shown in Fig. 21.




Fig.21 2023 Rice field art at Venue 2, One Piece (2023/09/28, Nikon Z6).



For reference, three works in the past years are shown in Figures 22 to 24.




Fig.22 2015 Rice field art at Venue 2, Star Wars: The Force Awakens[35].




Fig.23 2018 Rice field art at Venue 2, Osamu Tezuka Characters[36].




Fig.24 2022 Rice field art at Venue 2, FromtheJomon to Yayoi Period. In the foreground on the right-hand side, a modern farmer couple is depicted. This theme is based on the historical fact that rice was cultivated in the village during the prehistorical Yayoi period (as mentioned above) and that people have lived in this area since prehistoric times. The photograph is a composite of two left and right photographs published in the Hirosaki Keizai Newspaper [37] (The composition was performed by the present writer).


From my viewpoint, the best work is 2022's From Jomon to Yayoi Period which loudly celebrated the long history of the region.


Information of the rice field art in other years can be available from the Kahoku Shimpō Newspaper [38] article and YouTube videos[39].



2.7 Stone art

I have learnt when visited the site the existence of so called “Stone Art” made of stone pebbles of different colours. It was located at the foot of the observation tower, on the west side opposite the Rice Field Art Venue 2 on the east side, covering the ground of 1.5 hectares. This year's theme was Shikō Munakata, and his smiling portrait, taken when he was alive, was displayed like a grayscale image (see Fig. 25).




Fig.25 Stone art portrait of Shikō Munakata. Mt. Iwaki is seen in the distance (2023/09/28, Nikon Z6). On the right is the original portrait picture taken by Mr. Tadasgige Harada (Year unknown).


The stone art was started in 2015 and renewed every year. The theme was chosen from well-known figures, such as listed below.

2015: Ken Takakura, 2016: Yujiro Ishihara, 2017: Princess Diana, 2018: Hibari Misora, 2019: Kiyoshi Atsumi (No stone art produced in 1920 to 1922 due to the pandemic of Covid-19).




3. Rice Field Art of Various Places in Japan Other Than Inakadate Village


Since 2010, when Inakadate Village's rice field art became famous, many municipalities that imitated the rice field art appeared one after another outside of Aomori Prefecture, amounting more than 20. On July 31, 2023, Inakadate Village has invited those municipalities to hold “The 2023 National Rice Paddy Art Summit in Inakadate” at the Hirakawa City Cultural Centre in Aomori Prefecture[40]. The participated organizations and a map of their sites are shown in Fig.26.




Fig.26 Participating organizations in “The 2023 National Rice Paddy Art Summit in Inakadate” [41].



The themes of rice field art from various places were various, such as local natural monuments and occasional events. In this section, some of them have been collected from the Internet as below.




Fig.27 Stork at Tantō-town, Toyooka City, Hyōgo Prefecture. Left: 2017[42], right: 2019[43]. The city has been making efforts to protect and nurture the endangered stork.




Fig.28 Toki in Niiho-Aoki, Sado Island, 2019[44]. In Sado, Toki, or a red ibis that was extinct in Japan was revived, acquiring couples of the same bird from China.




Fig.29 Ajimano Cherry Blossom (Edo-higanzakura), a city-designated natural monument in Yokawa-town, Echizen City, 2019[45].




Fig.30 Nocturnal Animals, 2017 at JA Taisetsu Rice Paddy Art, Asahikawa City, Hokkaido. Five nocturnal animals drawn included: an Ezo owl, a Snow leopard, a Wolf, an Ezo deer, and a Lesser panda[46].




Fig.31 Wild Boar at Kyōraki, Kamiamakusa City, Kumamoto Prefecture, 2019[47]. A wild boar is jumping out from the “Bush clover and Wild Boar”, a card of Fumidzuki (Lunar July) in Hanafuda playing card (Flower card). The zodiac sign for 2019 (The first year of Reiwa Era) was wild boar.




Fig.32 Japan Rugby National Team, at Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture, 2019[48].




Fig.33 Tokugawa Ieyasu at Koshigaya City, Saitama Prefecture, 2023[49]. The hero of an NHK’s TV drama.




4. Rice Field Art in Asian clountries

According to the Internet, rice field art has also been imitated in Asian countries, namely China, Taiwan, South Korea, and far away India.


4.1 China

Rice field art is practiced in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, Fujin, Heilongjiang Province, and Lishui, Zhejiang Province. The artistry seems to be quite high for all, as rice plant of various colours are used and perspective design is applied as they call it 3D-Rice Field Painting.




Fig.34 “A Lady and Palace” in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China[50], 2016. The figure is supposed to be Yang Guifei.




Fig.35 “One Thousand-armed Kannon” [51] and “Confucius” [52] in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China. The year is 2018 for both.




Fig.36 “Modern Agriculture advanced in Longjiang” in Fujin City, Heilongjiang Province, China[53], 2023?




Fig.37 A work in Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, China[54], 2019. A scene of Chinese animation film “Havoc in Heaven”, Original title:  ‟大鬧天宮”. The characters on the right and left are the “Monkey king” and the “Jade emperor of heaven”, respectively (According to Prof. Kouji Tashiro).



4.2 Taiwan

In 2019, rice field art was drawn in the southern Pingtung City to celebrate the opening of Pingtung Agricultural Products Tourism Centre. The picture depicts local landmarks, wild animals and fish, the words "Confident Pingtung" added.




Fig.38 A work in Pingtung County, southern Taiwan, 2019[55]. The words “Confidence Pingtung” are shown on the picture.



4.3 South Korea

The picture was found in Jeollanam District. The title seems to be related to some farming but the present writer is unable to read the letter.




Fig.39 A work in Suncheon, southern Korea[56], 2020. The title seems to be related to some farming but the present writer is unable to read the letter.



4.4 India

The rice field art is carried out in in Pune, Maharashtra State in western India by the efforts of Mr. Shrikant Ingalhalikar, who had started it in 2016 inspired by Japanese examples. The first theme was Lying Hindu god Ganesha and in subsequent years local animals and birds have been featured. The pictures look charming, although they are rather simple with only two different colour rice plants. An observation deck has been devised for viewing.



Fig.40 "Lying Hindu God Ganesha" in Pune, Maharashtra State, western India, 2017[57].




Fig.40 "Black Leopard" in 2018 (left) [58] and "Snow-crowned Flycatcher" in 2023 (right) [59] in Pune, Maharashtra State, western India.




5. Conclusion


The rice field art in Inakadate Village is a project run by the Inakadate Village Revitalization Promotion Council, organised by the village authority. I do not know of any other example in which a national or local government project is carried out with such great pride and enthusiasm by the involved members.


With regard to the selection of theme, I would like to offer an idea. The themes of the first venue for the past two years have been the Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Kiyoteru Kuroda's Lakeside in 2022, and the Munakata Shikō's Gates of Monze and Johannes Vermeer's Girl with an Pearl Earring in 2023. I wish such a combination of famous works from the world and inside Japan will be established as the theme of Venue 1. Now that rice field art has spread not only all over Japan but also to China, Taiwan, and South Korea, high level of artistry ought to be maintained at Inakadate, the originator and leader of rice field art. For choosing the yearly theme, I hope the committee will collect candidates from the public in advance on the internet and make selectin from the candidates. Regarding the theme of Venue 2, I hope that topics related to the region will be chosen as much as possible.


On the occasion of the next "Rice Paddy Art Summit", how is it to invite organisers/individuals also from foreign countries?




6. References





[5] Duplicated form one of the "Goddess Postcard" (5-piece set), Benrido, Kyoto (“棟方志功 妃神” 絵葉書5枚組, 京都・便利堂).









One of the representative Nazca Lines, called a Spider.


Made of crushed chalk. 1380 - 550 BC (The Iron to Bronze Age).


Assumed as a work in the period of English Civil War (1642~1651). A theory says that this figue is a parody of Oliver Cromwell.

[16] Rise for food (1) Tsugaru roman (Green);Ancient time rice, (2) Single stem purple rice (purple), (3) Yellow rice (yellow); (4) Decorative rice: (5) Yukiasobi (white), (6) Beniasobi (red), (7) Akaneasobi (orange), (8)Murasakihonami (purple), (9) Akahon (red), (10) Shirohonami (white). Source: Brochure of Inakadate Village Rice field Art (2023).

[17] Prepared form the data in the Inakadate VillageHomepage,, revised at the Rice Field Art Centre.







[24] Fig.104: in “All Munakata Shikō’s Works”, Vol. 8 Gates of Women, Kodansha Publishing 1977-79 (棟方志功全集 第8巻 女人の柵 2, 講談社 1977-79)