For the past 13 years, Japan’s Niigata Prefecture has been capping off the fall rice harvest with a festival that features some creatures unlike you’ve ever seen. Towering creatures made of straw dot the landscape, capturing the imagination of all who visit the Wara Art Festival.
The straw is a byproduct of the rice harvest and in the past, it was used in weaving everything from sandals to various tools. The rice straw not only provided items that farmers would need in everyday life, but provided income during winter months when farmers could sell the various woven goods. These days though, before it ends up in a stable for livestock, artists in a collaborative partnership with local farmers create the giant creatures that can sometimes be over 30 feet in height.
According to the festival’s website, “Every year, students are invited to form Wara Art creation teams at Musabi. The students brainstorm motifs and designs for the artwork, and Nishikan Ward craftspeople construct the artwork frames based on that. In addition, Nishikan Ward farmers harvest the rice straw needed for the art and give it to the students. While the students create the artwork, they stay in Nishikan Ward and receive advice from the craftspeople and farmers. They eat local cuisine prepared by the farmers. In this way, the artwork is completed while the students deepen their exchange with the locals.”
Once the sculptures, which can range from fantastical creatures like dragons to more common animals such as goats, are finished, the public is invited to come and check them out at the annual festival. As you might expect, the sculptures are a pretty big hit with families and make for a seriously cool selfie.
Before any giant bears or towering dinosaurs are created, thousands of pounds of rice must first be harvest from the fields and the straw must be laid out to dry.
While this is happening though, art students at Tokyo’s Musashino Art University are busying dreaming up their straw creations and sketching out blueprints of what they’ll look like. It won’t be long before the art students head to the Nishikan Ward and the collective Musabi gets to work on the creations.
The first step to bringing these blueprints to life is constructing the creature’s form. This involves building a wooden frame that the thatches of straw can be tied onto.
Hundreds and sometimes thousands of thatches of straw are tied around the wooden framework. Depending on the particular detail the artist is working on, the thatch of straw may be woven incredibly tight, or kept rather loose.
And finally, the finished product!
Photos via Wara Art Festival