From the ground, there is not much to distinguish the rice stalks in a Gyoda field in Japan. It is only seen from above that a massive work of art marking the Olympics emerges.
The huge, living installation features iconic Japanese imagery: the famous wave and Mount Fuji from Katsushika Hokusai’s woodcut and a Kabuki actor with a striking face painting, similar to the one featured at the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
The images are part of an annual tradition started by the town of Gyoda in Saitama, north of Tokyo, in 2008 with the aim of attracting tourists.
In 2015, they even won a Guinness World Record for creating the largest rice field artwork in the world: 28,000 square meters.
Each year a committee comes up with a new design and hundreds of volunteers plant varieties of rice in different colors to produce spectacular images that can be seen from a nearby observatory.
A design is selected at the start of the year, with planting taking place around May. In 2019, the theme put the spotlight on the Rugby World Cup, hosted by Japan.
This year’s image was intended to showcase Japan’s cultural heritage, assuming crowds of foreign visitors would be in the country for the Games.
“We wanted to show the Japanese arts of ukiyoe (woodcuts) and kabuki (theater) in a paddy field, which itself is also an important part of Japanese culture,” an official told AFP. the city of Gyoda, Shuhei Tagashira.
“We wanted to introduce Japan to the world.”
It didn’t work that way, with foreign spectators being banned and most Games events happening without even domestic fans being allowed into the stands.
But on Friday, there were still people admiring the view from a 50-meter-high observatory that offers a bird’s eye view of the room.
“It’s a lot more dynamic than I expected,” Kiyo Hoshino, a 23-year-old visitor, told AFP.
“I expected something simpler. But it’s more complicated in design and on a very large scale. I was impressed that the art was so panoramic.”
Maintaining the room takes work, and on Friday, nearly a dozen officials from the town’s agricultural department were weeding the field, surveying the vast area in rubber boots and armed with sickles.
Work is important to prevent the different colors from bleeding into each other or being scrambled by other plants.
“Can you see the tall, green plants? They are not rice, weed them,” shouted Shuhei Tagashira, a city official, as his colleagues struggled in the muddy field.
The project is also designed to bring the community together and promote interest in agriculture.
In a typical year, around 1,000 people get involved in the complex task of planting the right varieties of rice in the right place to produce the work of art.
These are volunteers with some farming experience and others with no farming experience, including local children.
But the pandemic has forced organizers to cut the numbers in half, though people have yet another chance to get involved when the rice is harvested in October.
And everyone gets a thank you gift at the end: two kilograms of rice at the end of November.