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Nearly two decades ago, Koichi Hanada, a clerk in the village hall, received an unusual request from his superior: find a way to bring tourists to this small community in rural northern Japan, which has rice paddies and apple orchards, but not much else.
Mr. Hanada, a taciturn but conscientious man, said he had spent months racking his brain. Then, one day he saw schoolchildren planting a rice paddy as a class project. They used two varieties of rice plants, one with dark purplish stalks and the other bright green ones. Then it struck him, why not plant the colored varieties in such a way as to form words and pictures?