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Field of Dreams: Inakadate Tanbo Art

“If you build it they will come…” This famous quote from the movie “Field of Dreams” could just as easily be attributed to the locals in Inakadate, a small village in northern Japan. In the Hollywood version, Kevin Costner is inspired to build a baseball diamond in the cornfields of rural Iowa.

In Japan’s version, the story unfolds among the rice fields in Aomori Prefecture where villagers have created their own dramatic scenes attracting scores of visitors each summer. 

It all started in 1993 with rice planting tours to give visitors the opportunity to experience traditional rice farming done by hand as it has been since the Yayoi Period (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.). Following those first tours, they began making a mural in the rice fields of Mt. Iwaki (岩木山), one of Tohoku’s most beautiful mountains. To do this they used three kinds of rice; a purple rice called murasakiine(紫稲), a yellow rice called kiine (黄稲) and Tsugaru Roman (つがるロマン), a local Aomori variety. 

In 2002, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tours and the tanbo (rice field) art, the villagers created an original design of Iwaki-san and the moon, which won the Impact Award from NHK, landing the art in newspapers and on TV. The following year, they tried more complicated designs, including a mural of the Mona Lisa. People began coming from all over Japan to see these unusual creations, which became known simply as Tanbo Art (田んぼアート). 

In 2004, they took their art form to another level, using designs that incorporated a perspective effect, making them more beautiful and three-dimensional when seen from viewing observatories. Inakadate attracted 30,000 visitors that year and 130,000 the following summer. 

In 2006, they added two new varieties of red rice in their design of the God of Wind and Thunder, and the next year 240,000 people came to see a design made after the famous artist Katsushika Hakusai. During the following two years, they added two new kinds of rice, yukiasobi (ゆきあそび) which has white leaves, and the red-tipped iwaiakane (祝い茜). They used five crops for their 2010 designs and chose seven varieties in 2011. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Tanbo Art in Inakadate. To celebrate, two special designs have been chosen. Earlier this year, 1,200 volunteers methodically planted the seedlings using, for the first time, nine kinds of rice.

The best time for viewing the beautiful creations is July and August. 

The ‘Tanbo Art’ Process 

  • Decide on a design.
  • Draw a sketch of the design.
  • Revise the sketch adding a three-dimensional perspective.
  • Decide which varieties of rice to use in the design.
  • Create the design plan using CAD based on the sketch.
  • Draw the design on the rice field using surveying instruments.
  • Plant seedlings (the planting experience tour each year occurs on April 29).
  • Weeding and correcting any missed plantings.
  • Harvesting (Tsugaru Roman only, the harvesting experience tour on Sept. 30).
  • Harvesting other crops.

Getting There 

The fastest way to get to Inakadate Village from Tokyo is to fly from Haneda Airport to Aomori (one hour and 15 minutes), then take a bus to Hirosaki (60 minutes). From Hirosaki, take the Kōnan Tetsudo Line to Inakadate Station (24 minutes). If you rent a car from the airport, it is about a 40-minute drive to Inakadate.

If you prefer not to fly, get on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (three hours, 37 minutes), then take the Ōu Line to Hirosaki (36 minutes) and then on to Inakadate Station. There are two Tambo Art fields, and both are about a five-minute taxi ride from Inakadate Station. The first field is on the east side of Inakadate City Hall, and the second field is located at the “Michi no Eki” at Inakadate Yayoi no Sato. 

Accommodation 

There are no places to stay in Inakadate Village. Visitors are advised to book at one of the hot spring hotels in Kuroishi or Hirakawa City (平川市) or business hotels in Hirosaki City (弘前市).

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