In the northern region of Japan lies Niigata Prefecture, known for its unique art festival that attracts thousands of visitors. What makes this festival special is the use of leftover straw from the rice harvest to create giant animal sculptures that astonish viewers with their size. While straw is typically used for practical purposes like roofing or fertilizer, Niigata has found a creative way to repurpose it into awe-inspiring works of art. During the annual rice harvest, visitors can witness towering sculptures of creatures like bears, eagles, and even dinosaurs in the beautiful landscape. The Wara Art Festival is a summer event that showcases these mythical works made entirely from the straw leftovers of the harvest season.
The use of straw is a long-standing tradition in Nishikan, which came to prominence a few years ago when local farmers were looking for ways to dispose of unused straw from their rice harvest. This led to a successful partnership with Musashino University of the Arts, which is still thriving today. The university’s students are responsible for designing each piece of art, while skilled craftsmen from the Nishikan ward bring it to life using intricate wooden structures and copious amounts of straw.
To guarantee durability and enable artisans to craft enormous items, wooden frames encase the straw.
Shingo Miyajima, who was a professor at Musabi at the time, came up with the concept of rejuvenating the area by utilizing straw to create works of art. For centuries, straw has been used as a by-product of rice production and also for animal feed, household crafts, and fertilizer. However, due to changing lifestyles and modernization in agriculture, this tradition is now expressed in a contemporary way.
Toba-ami is a traditional technique that is gradually dying out, and it involves using rice straw in the art of Wara.
This method may seem straightforward, but it requires finesse. Despite dealing with bulky and thin straws, Musabi students create living masterpieces through their patient weaving techniques and designs. These works of art almost seem as though they have a life of their own.
Additionally, the celebration of straw involves numerous captivating events, including games, traditional music shows, and booths featuring handmade crafts.
The Wara festival is a celebration that makes use of the leftover materials from the wet rice industry and promotes environmental conservation. This event has become a popular attraction for both locals and tourists in Niigata City, adding to the lively atmosphere of the countryside.
Large lions, majestic eagles, scuttling crabs, creepy crawly spiders, and various other critters – even mythical beasts like Amabie – have been crafted from leftover straw after the harvest season.
The festival is known for its stunning installation and decoration art, inspired by both real and fictional animals from the surrounding environment. It has become a popular destination for tourists worldwide who come to enjoy the unique beauty and playful atmosphere, taking pictures and having a good laugh.
Besides the large animals, the bugs that were linked to the harvest were also replicated.
Japan is widely known for its exceptional and efficient education system. This is not surprising, as even materials that may seem useless, such as discarded straw, can be transformed into unique visual aids for young children. Through such interesting activities, Japanese children are encouraged to explore their creativity and develop comprehensively from an early age.