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Gigantic Creatures Have Taken Over Japan's Countryside, Here's Why

Gigantic Creatures Have Taken Over Japan's Countryside, Here's Why
The theme for this year is ‘lucky charms that give vitality to the person who sees it’., Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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Students and volunteers have created straw sculptures of dinosaurs, gorillas, crabs, and abstract figures for the very unique Wara Art Festival. The building material comes from discarded rice straw.

Uttara Gangopadhyay
September 16 , 2021
05 Min Read

If you happen to be in Niigata prefecture of Japan between late August and October and travelling through the countryside, you are likely to come across huge sculptures of animals and abstract forms strewn across parks. It is not uncommon to find visitors crowding around some of the spectacular installations, taking photographs or posing with the giant figures, which can be as tall as 30 feet. Unless constrained by time, you might also join the fun.

 
 
 
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Known as the Wara Art Festival, it is a unique event born out of people’s interest in creatively using the discarded rice straw after the paddy is harvested. Beginning in 2008, the art festival was conceptualised by the local authorities and the Department of Science of Design in Tokyo’s Musashino Art University. As the popularity of the festival grew, live performances and pop up stalls gave it a carnival look.

 
 
 
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Like any other paddy growing country, Japan too used the leftover rice straw as fodder, to thatch roofs, use it to make bags, hats, etc. But the collaborative project between the villagers of Nishikan ward (earlier Iwamuro village) and art students added a new dimension to the use of the ‘wara’ or the rice straw.

 
 
 
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As artists give free rein to their imagination, towering sculptures of animals ranging from mythical dragons to dinosaurs, from gorillas, rhinos, birds to crabs and spiders to abstract installations dot the landscape. Local artisans build the wooden frame based on the installation designed by the art students. The straw is fixed on the frame in layers according to the design. It may take up to two weeks to build an installation. To see the installations being made, you can visit towards the beginning of the festival.

 
 
 
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Read: Did You Know About Nagoro, Japan’s Village of Dolls?

According to local people, the art festival has also given a fresh lease of life to an indigenous craft called ‘Toba’ or weaving the straw. The straw cannot be used in its original shape for making the artworks. Because of the collaborative nature of the project, art students receive training from the local weavers in the technique of Toba weaving.

Although the festival could not be held last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, it is being organised at the Uwasekigata Park in the Nishikan Ward of Niigata prefecture until October 31. The theme for this year’s festival is ‘lucky charms that give vitality to the person who sees it’.


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