Japan’s Beautiful Landscapes with Terraced Paddy Fields: Tanada

   On the slopes of mountains, you can see a view of many rice fields arranged like a staircase. This style of terraced paddy fields is called Tanada in Japanese, and can be seen in Japan, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries. The sight of Tanada is one part of Japan characteristic landscape, as the country has many mountainous areas. These Tanada look like an abstract painting right in the middle of magnificent natural scenery. These fields not only provide food for people in Japan; they are also popular as photogenic tourist attractions. This article looks into the world of Tanada in Japan.

Japan’s Tanada Offer Both Beauty and Practicality

   Paddy fields are used to cultivate rice, the staple food in Japan. These fields are generally made by plowing the earth in a wide-open lowland area. However, about 70% of the land in Japan is covered with mountains or hills. Japan has few lowland areas, and this is one of the characteristics of the country. These circumstances gave birth to a style of paddy field called Tanada. Tanada are rice fields that are created to look like steps on the slopes of mountains or valley regions. Each paddy field has a small area, but this style spread across Japan because it allowed people to effectively use a limited amount of land. It is said that in the present day about 8% of paddy fields in Japan are made in the Tanada style. If you count the small fields as well, Tanada can have as many as a thousand rice fields. For this reason, these terraced paddy fields are also known as Senmaida (literally “one thousand rice fields”).

Tanada look like an abstract painting, with many paddy fields of different sizes arranged like a mosaic.

Tanada look like an abstract painting, with many paddy fields of different sizes arranged like a mosaic.

   Tanada have a distinct appearance, with paddy fields arranged in an irregular way. This arrangement creates a view that looks like a geometric pattern. Spring is the season for planting rice, with sunlight shining down on the surface of the water in the paddy fields. Fall is harvest season, where many rice plants turn a ripe golden color. Tanada change their appearance through the seasons, giving them a beautiful look like an abstract painting. This beauty makes them more than just paddy fields—they have gained popularity as a tourist attraction that helps people relax.

Tanada Have Hidden Powers that Make Them Even More Amazing than They Appear!

   Tanada create beautiful landscapes, and they also have the wonderful power of producing food. However, Tanada have more powers beside these.

   One of these strengths is the ability to retain water. Japan has a lot of rainfall, but the country has a small area of land and many mountains. This means that if the landscape is left as it is, the rain will flow straight into the sea once it falls, and people would not be able to store the water they need to live. However, the distinct shape of Tanada prevents rainwater from flowing directly into the sea. In a way, Tanada act like natural dams that harness the forces of nature. Through this, they play a part in keeping an abundant amount of water on Japan’s land.

   Tanada are made by using the natural environment as it is, meaning that these paddy fields are also home to many animals, bugs, and plants. The progress of urbanization across the world is causing many animals and plants to lose their homes, and a large number of species are close to extinction. However, areas with Tanada help protect the ecosystem, so you may come to meet many different animals and plants that you would not normally see in the city.

The Japanese brown frog is an endangered species, and it breeds in Tanada

Sympetrum eroticum is a type of dragonfly commonly called Aka Tombo (literally, “red dragonfly”) in Japan and it features in a Japanese children’s song. It is also commonly seen in Tanada.

The History of Japan’s Tanada Is Said to Go Back More than 1000 Years

   Japan’s Tanada have a long history. According to one theory, Tanada are said to have existed in the country in around 600 to 700 A.D. It is surprising to think that these Tanada have been in Japan for so long, and that they still demonstrate their powers to protect our lives in the present day after 1400 years.

   One uniquely Japanese type of Tanada has distinct characteristics and is known as “Ishizumi no Tanada” (literally, “terraced paddy fields made with stones stacked up”). This type of Tanada is made by stacking stones on top of each other to create steps. The techniques used in building Japanese castles are also used here to make the stone steps.

   Magnificent Ishigaki (stone walls) support Japan’s huge castles. The techniques used to build these Ishigaki have connections with Tanada that help preserve and nurture beautiful scenery and many living things. When you put it this way, there is a certain romantic aura about it. When you look at Tanada, aim to not just enjoy the surprise of the overwhelming sights, but to think about the history behind them as well. Doing this may help you feel one with the long, long flow of time that Japan has moved through.

The Sakaori Terraced Rice Fields are made with the same techniques found in the Ishigaki (stone walls) of Japanese castles. (Image provided by Masayuki Ota)

You can see here that the terraced rice fields have a very similar structure to the Ishigaki in Japanese castles.

Beautiful Tanada Are an Iconic Part of Japan

   To pass on Japan’s iconic Tanada landscapes to future generations, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has selected the “Nihon no Tanada Hyaku-sen” (100 Great Terraced Rice Fields of Japan). Let’s take a few examples from this selection, looking at Tanada that have particularly beautiful scenery and that are representative of Japan.

Maruyama Senmaida (Mie Prefecture)

   Maruyama Senmaida in Mie Prefecture is so beautiful that it is said to offer the best view of Tanada in Japan. It is large in scale, and has some 1340 small-sized paddy fields. Every June, there is an agricultural event called Mushi-okuri (literally, “sending the bugs away”). In Mushi-okuri, children from the local area carry torches, drums, or bells as they walk around the rice fields, using the fire of the torches and the sound of the instruments to send away insect pests and pray for a good harvest. This event was carried out since the ages when there were no pesticides and people were not able to exterminate pest insects, and it continued up to 1953. In 2004, Mushi-okuri came back again. In June, candles are lit across the paddy fields, letting you enjoy romantic scenery in a different style to the nighttime views of the city.

Maruyama Senmaida illuminated by candles. You are sure to be captivated by the beautiful scenery where magnificent nature and history meet.

Hoshitoge no Tanada (Niigata Prefecture)

   Hoshitoge no Tanada in Niigata Prefecture is a Tanada that is emblematic of Japan, with some 200 paddy fields stretching out on a mountainous slope. The relaxing sight of these rice fields filled with water is known as “Mizu-kagami” in Japanese (literally, “water mirror”). The Mizu-kagami shining among a sea of clouds makes for a highly fantastical view. Once you see this landscape, you are unlikely to forget it.

Hoshitoge no Tanada is also called “Mizu-kagami” (literally, “water mirror”) because the water in the rice fields reflects light like a mirror.

Shiroyone Senmaida (Ishikawa Prefecture)

   Shiroyone Senmaida in Ishikawa Prefecture has a real sight to see, with Tanada stretching out across a mountain facing the sea. There is a beautiful contrast between the blue, sparkling sea and the lush Tanada in a deep green. This location allows you to feel the magnificence of nature in Japan.

With paddy fields right near to the sea, this is a uniquely Japanese landscape. You are sure to be overwhelmed by the sights at Shiroyone Senmaida.

Enjoy the Changing Faces of Tanada

   Tanada can be said to be a part of Japan’s characteristic landscape. They offer different sights through the seasons, so you will never get tired of looking at them whenever you visit. Tanada are sure to continue supporting Japan’s food supply while helping people relax with their scenery.