In some regions of Japan, this time of year marks the peak of the annual rice harvest season. Traditionally, Japanese farmers have reused leftover rice straw (“wara” in Japanese), a byproduct of the harvest, as livestock feed, for compost that revitalizes the soil. And skillful crafters also use them for making tatami mats and other household objects. However, with the agricultural technology and culture changes, farmers found they are left with enormous amounts of dry rice straw with no use.
In the coastal region of Niigata Prefecture, a major rice-growing area, the Wara Art Festival brings a creative solution to this problem: enchanting, oversized sculptures of animals and mythical creatures made exclusively of rice straw. The straw sculptures are designed by students from Tokyo’s Musashino Art University and installed in collaboration with local residents in Niigata.
The first Wara Art Festival started in 2008. Although the festival paused in 2020 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s back for its 13th edition at Uwasekigata Park. This year’s motley cast includes insects, animals, and even legendary monsters like the Amabie, all on view through October 31.
Although most of us won’t be able to see these enormous straw sculptures in person, but you can see previous year’s creations in this gallery. And I am sure this year’s display will be added later as well.