Tanada (Terraced rice fields), Inabuchi, Asuka, Nara
Tanada is a stair-shaped paddy field constructed on a steep mountainous slope. Of some 2.7 million hectares of rice paddies in Japan, about 200,000 hectares are of this type. Traditional farming methods, whilst physically challenging, have made best use of difficult terrain and provided a reliable source of food in the past. Tanada have been disappearing fast in recent years due to manpower shortages in farming communities as well as the heavy workload and low productivity involved in rice production in such paddies.
Asuka’s Tanada Renaissance Committee and a volunteer group called the Asuka Preservation Corps are engaged to preserve tanada. Similar new schemes are also practiced in other prefectures. Tracts of tanada are contracted out to the general public for co-ownership, and groups of enthusiasts have formed tanada fan clubs. Under the new owner system city dwellers pay for a working holiday with a farmer, are educated in the ways of maintaining tanada and keep some of the produce. Thus young people commit to this form of agriculture and recognise the effort to maintain natural and cultural heritage. This is also the way to develop direct selling of farm produce/experience to tourists.
Wet-paddy intensive rice agriculture was introduced to Japan from the Asian continent around third century. The Japanese philosophy of harmony and peace roots in rice farming. Crucial for successful rice cultivation was the close cooperation of families. Rice is traditionally more than a food in Japan. Just until decades ago rice grains were affectionately called little Buddhas in order to encourage children to eat them. And the celebration of one’s 88th birthday is popular since the Japanese characters for 88, when written together, resemble the character for rice. Rice is so enmeshed in the culture that while we refer to the man in the moon, Japanese see a rabbit pounding rice cakes. In Japanese the word for rice is identical to the word for food. When the locals invite you for a meal, they invite you to eat rice.