Kari Grohn's Home Page - Japan - Tanada





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.













Senmaida Tanada, Shiroyone, Wajima, Noto Peninsula

Along the Sea of Japan coast the land resources for farming are quite limited. Senmaida (a thousand rice paddies) shows that Japanese forefathers never wasted any potential land lot. It is made up over 1,000 terraced rice paddies, each six square metres on average. The smallest paddies are only about the size of half a tatami mat. Senmaida’s fields are planted on a hill that slopes steeply down to the coastline. With increasing height, the terraces become smaller. The large amount of sunlight provides a high quality harvest. There are tadpoles swimming in the paddies and pond snails are found too. Some people say that the name Senmaida comes from semai-ta (tiny rice paddies).
According to a story an old couple transplanted rice seedlings onto paddies at Senmaida. Finishing the work they took the straw hats from their heads and began to count the number of the paddies. Strangely enough it only came up with 998. They picked up their hats, and then two additional paddies showed them up under the hats. 

Cultivation of Senmaida requires ten times more working hours than other regions. Not so long ago during dry season, every person in the family would combine to bear the burden of carrying water up the highland paths. Every drop of water spilled was like a drop of blood. Pumps to raise water finally freed people from this labour. Nowadays hundreds of volunteers have carried out all the transplanting work and rice reaping to preserve Senmaida. The rice fields have a significant role in preserving the environment. The terraces have a large water holding capacity and they can protect from soil erosion. During the rains and typhoons, rice paddies prevent floods. Thus they are called the Green Dam.