Wara Art Festival
Photo: Wara Art Matsuri/Facebook

See massive sculptures made out of rice straw at Japan’s annual Wara Art Festival

Bales of rice straw become giant mythical creatures at this outdoor art festival in Niigata prefecture

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Written by
Kaila Imada
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Japan is home to some incredible art, and we just aren’t talking about the things you’ll find in museums and galleries. From the Saitama rice paddies that were temporarily turned into ukiyo-e masterpieces during the Tokyo 2020 Games to the permanent art parks around the country, nature is often used as a canvas for showcasing unique artworks you won’t find anywhere else. Now you can head to Niigata to find towering outdoor art installations made of bales of rice straw. 

These amazing installations are a part of the annual Wara Art Festival which takes place in Uwasekigata Park in Niigata prefecture. While the festival was unfortunately cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the festivities are back and bigger than ever for the 13th edition this year, with a new theme revolving around lucky charms.

In keeping with the theme, this year’s artworks feature symbols of good fortune such as a massive phoenix, the mythical amabie that’s said to ward off plagues, and a triangular daruma that’s often given as a good luck gift at weddings and to newborn babies. 

The massive creatures are made from leftover wara, or straw, which is traditionally used to create household items like baskets and zori sandals. The festival first came about in 2008 when a professor from Tokyo's Musashino Art University suggested a collaboration between the university and local farmers to use up the unused rice straw. 

Every year, students from Musashino Art University design the sculptures which are then constructed by local artisans from Nishikan ward in Niigata city. To create the oversized creatures, each installation is first constructed with a wooden skeleton before being thatched with straw. You can check out some creations from previous years here, and get a peek at this year’s designs on the official Facebook page.

This year’s Wara Art Festival is on now and runs until Sunday October 31 at Niigata city’s Uwasekigata Park. Do note that there is no direct public transportation from the city centre to the park; the closest train station is an hour’s walk away, so driving is your best bet. The Joetsu shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Niigata Station takes just over two hours. From there, the park is a 40-minute drive. 

For more information on the Wara Art Festival, visit the official website.

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