Folk Art

A Tourist Destination Made of Rice Straw

At the end of every harvest season, farming communities around the world celebrate with festivals, parades, and the crowning of harvest queens. (e.g., in 1948, an unknown actress named Marilyn Monroe won the title of Artichoke Queen in Castroville, Ca.) These festivals are usually the most exciting local events to happen all year. Except for folks from neighboring farm communities, they don’t draw many out-of-towners, much less real tourists. But in the rice-growing region of Northern Japan, tourists flock in for the Wara Art Matsuri.

Since 2008, students from Musashino Art University in Niigata City have collaborated with rice farmers to turn the residue rice straw (meaning of “wara”) into gigantic animal sculptures. Made from bundles of rice straw lashed to wooden frames, the whimsical creatures “roam” the barren rice fields to the delight of all who see them. And for a very short-time each autumn, the rice fields of Niigata become a wildly popular tourist attraction.