According to a July 25 New York Times article, a local clerk named Koichi Hanada came up with the idea 20 years ago to "paint" massive, sprawling pictures using thousands and thousands of rice plants, after his boss begged him to find a way to draw tourists to their sleepy community. He's been quite successful, too. Last year in September, when the rice grows long enough to perfectly render the images, over 170,000 visitors passed through the town of less than 9,000 mostly older residents, causing traffic snares and other difficulties.
Writer Martin Fackler deems the project a distinct cultural creation:
Indeed the images may be possible only in Japan, as the product of an amalgam of high technology, painstaking perfectionism and an ancient attachment to rice. To create this year's football field-size picture of a samurai battling a warrior monk, villagers used a computer model to place more than 8,000 stakes to guide them in planting rice plants genetically engineered to produce three more colors: dark red, yellow and white.While Inakadate has gained renown across Japan and beyond for its paddy art, the long-running project hasn't resulted in a financial windfall. The Chamber of Commerce hopes more souvenirs might do the trick ― namely, a mascot: rather predictably, "a smiling grain of rice named Little Mr. Rice-Rice."