In Northern Japan’s Niigata Prefecture, an art festival draws thousands of visitors due to the remarkable use of an unusual material: leftover straw from rice paddy harvests. While this straw traditionally serves various purposes such as roofing, fertilizer, or animal feed, Niigata has ingeniously employed it in a creative way to craft massive, awe-inspiring animal sculptures.
If you happen to visit Niigata Prefecture during the region’s annual rice harvest season, you’ll encounter colossal figures resembling storks, eagles, and even dinosaur-like creatures roaming the enchanting landscape. These towering sculptures are an integral part of the Wara Art Festival, a summer event that celebrates the artistry of crafting giant animals and mythical creatures from the straw remnants of the rice crop.
Straw is a longstanding and traditional resource hailing from Nishikan.
This popular event had its beginnings just a few years ago when the farmers of Nishikan Ward (formerly known as Iwamuro Village) were brainstorming ways to effectively utilize the surplus straw generated during the rice harvest. Their quest eventually led to a fruitful collaboration with Musashino University of the Arts, a partnership that continues to thrive to this day.
Under this collaboration, students from the university are responsible for designing each piece of art, while skilled craftsmen from the Nishikan ward bring these designs to life. They employ intricate wooden structures and copious amounts of straw to turn these imaginative creations into reality.
Straw is enveloped by wooden frames to guarantee stability and provide artisans with the means to craft large-scale creations.
The concept of rejuvenating the region through the creation of straw-based artworks was initially proposed by Shingo Miyajima, who was a professor at Musabi at that time. Straw, which is a byproduct of rice production, has been employed for various purposes such as animal feed, fertilizer, and household crafts since ancient times. However, due to evolving lifestyles and the modernization of agriculture, this tradition has found contemporary expression in our present-day context.
Toba-ami, the traditional technique employed to create rice straw for use in Wara art, is one of those age-old methods that is gradually fading away.
This technique involves a simple yet intricate process. Despite each individual straw being thin and unwieldy, the patient weaving process and the creative designs contributed by Musashino University students have transformed them into vibrant and almost lifelike works of art.
Furthermore, the straw festival offers a wide array of captivating activities, including games, folk music performances, and handicraft stalls.
The Wara festival serves as a means to utilize the byproducts of the wet rice industry while simultaneously promoting environmental conservation. Thanks to this festival, it draws numerous domestic and international tourists to Niigata City, further enhancing the vibrancy of the countryside.
Enormous representations of lions, eagles, crabs, spiders, and various other animals, along with legendary creatures like Amabie, all come to life through the creative use of straw leftover from the seasonal harvest.
The festival’s allure lies not only in the aesthetic appeal of its installations and decorations but also in its celebration of the surrounding natural life, featuring both real and mythical creatures. This unique blend has consistently drawn tourists from around the world who come to visit, immerse themselves in the festivities, enjoy a sense of humor, and capture memorable photographs.
In addition to the giant creatures, the festival also includes simulations of the insects associated with the crop.
Japan is renowned for its smart and effective education system. Therefore, it’s no surprise that even a stack of discarded straw can be ingeniously repurposed into unique visual aids for young children. It’s through such engaging experiences that Japanese children consistently have the opportunity to unleash their creativity and undergo comprehensive development from a very early age.