At Japan’s Wara Art Festival, Rice Gets Turned Into Art

No Japanese meal is complete without rice, a staple of Japanese cuisine. Rice is traditionally harvested in autumn by hand, but today it’s mostly done with machines. After the harvest, the grains get taken out, and the leftover is known as rice straw, or wara in Japanese.

Niigata City came with a way to use it up in a creative way—they founded the annual Wara Art Festival.

Typically, rice straw is used for feeding livestock, roofing, and similar purposes. Niigata City is located in a major rice-producing region of Niigata Prefecture. In 2008, the city worked together with locals and Musashino Art University (Tokyo) students to come up with an idea for using up wara leftovers and strengthening the sense of community. 

Int he first year, the sculptures were displayed at several locations and they were an instant success. The festival has been organized every year since then at Uwasekigata Park. Everyone’s welcome to participate in creating artwork, so art students, artists, and locals often work together.

A different theme determines what the sculptures will be each year. Aside from the sculptures, the festival also consists of classes, performances, and locals selling produce. It runs from late August to late October, but in 2020 it has been canceled due to COVID-19. If you’re already planning a summer 2021 trip to Japan, be sure to put Niigata and the festival on your itinerary.