Rice straw, or wara, is the waste left over from rice production. It used to be used to make tatami mats, bags, and other daily goods, including shoes. But these days most things are made from plastic and other synthetic materials, so farmers are left with mountains of useless wara. In 2007, farmers along with the tourism board of Niigata City in the Niigata prefecture, asked Professor Shingo Miyajima of the Department of Science and Design at the Musashino University to come up with a creative solution to the problem. He suggested using it to make art.
So in 2008, students from the university traveled to Niigata to create sculptures with wara. Niigata's tourism board was hoping to draw more visitors to the area, and organized a festival to showcase the sculptures. It was a huge success! Mushashino art students and farmers have continued to work together every year since to recycle waste products into art.
In 2017, to celebrate the festival's 10th anniversary, the art students were asked to create sculptures twice as big as usual. The results were fantastic! Normally about 4 meters high, the 2017 sculptures reached as high as 9 meters or more! Giant wooden frames were constructed in the basic shape of the sculpture, then thousands of wara bunches were attached to flesh it out. An arduous process that results in stunning works of art.
(In 2020, the festival had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.)