Japan's Terraced Rice Fields Will Take Your Breath Away

Japan’s terraced rice fields are a beautiful and ingenious use of the country’s rural landscape. Called “tanada” in Japanese, terraced rice fields have been used for centuries to overcome difficult terrain and hostile growing conditions to cultivate one of the most important ingredients in the nation’s diet - rice. Along with supplying food, Japan’s terraced rice fields are also spectacularly beautiful, adding an extra element of sumptuous scenery to the breathtaking countryside. This article will explain everything you need to know about Japan’s terraced rice fields - plus where you can find some of the best!


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How Are Japanese Terraced Rice Fields Made?

Terraced rice fields are formed by creating a series of segmented layers of land into steep or sloping mountains and hillsides. The result is a patterned landscape of paddy fields that resemble a series of shallow, wide steps that climb up the hillside. The process of creating terraced rice fields is incredibly laborious, with repeated sections of a sloped surface having to be manually reshaped so that it can be used to plant and grow rice. They also act as natural dams, retaining the necessary amount of water that the area might otherwise lack year-round, and protecting the ecosystem by hosting various critters and insects.

The technique of creating terraced fields is common in farming throughout Asia, where it allows crops to grow on available arable land that might otherwise be impossible to use for agriculture. In Japan, it is believed that such terracing has been used to grow rice for around 1,400 years. Before the invention of modern-day farming equipment, Japan’s terraced rice fields were carved into hillsides by farmers by hand and were subsequently cultivated and cared for by several successive generations of rice growers.

Besides being an innovative and highly productive use of the land, Japan’s terraced rice fields are also much loved for their natural beauty. Terraced rice fields are often found in idyllic rural settings, carved into a sloping landscape, usually nestled deep within gorgeous valleys or facing breathtaking sea views.

In an attempt to boost interest, in 1999 the Japanese government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries created a list of the 100 Terraced Rice Fields of Japan. Chosen from 134 terraces that were nominated by people from around Japan, the list is intended to draw attention to and help preserve 100 of Japan’s most picturesque terraced rice fields.

How Do Japanese Terraced Rice Fields Work?

Japan’s terraced rice fields are not only beautiful but also incredibly efficient at what they’re designed for. In the spring, typically between April and May, the soil in the terraced fields is prepared by being turned and cleared of weeds, a process known as tilling. At the same time, the paddy fields are dried and treated with fertilizer. Meanwhile, rice seedlings are prepared for planting in spring/summer.

In late spring/summer, the terraced fields are flooded with water, into which the budding seedlings are planted. Due to their size, shape, and location, it’s very difficult to use any kind of modern machinery in terraced rice fields. This means that most of the work involved, including the planting of the rice seedlings, is still mostly done by hand. Once the seedlings have taken root in the soil, the rice will grow over the course of the summer. During this time farmers will tend to their crops day and night to ensure that they’re protected from weeds and insects and have plenty of water.

The design of Japan’s terraced fields means that water flows steadily from the top fields through to those below. As rice plants need to be constantly irrigated, the staggered structure of terraced rice fields makes them the ideal environment for growing rice. Reusing the soil water in this way also helps to keep the soil pure and the water full of nutrients for strong and healthy rice. The heavy rainy season that comes during the summer also helps to keep the rice well-watered. By autumn, the rice will be ripe and ready for harvest. Usually, around October, the terrace fields are drained and the rice is finally collected.

When Is the Best Time to See Japan’s Terraced Rice Fields?

As the planting of rice seedlings takes place in late spring and are grown through to the end of summer, the best time to see Japan’s terraced rice fields is usually between May and October. In May, the terraced rice fields will be filled with water and the early shoots of the green seedlings. On sunny days the deep water of the paddy fields often reflects the beautiful blue sky and white clouds, and the colors of the sunset shimmer atop the pools.

Later in the summer, the plants become much thicker as the rice grows, and the terraces transform into dense fields of gorgeous green. After October, once the rice has been harvested, whilst the natural landscape is still quite impressive, the fields will be empty of rice.

Where to Find Some of the Most Beautiful Terraced Rice Fields in Japan

As well as producing Japan’s most essential food, terraced rice fields are also loved for their scenic beauty.  Here are seven of Japan’s most beautiful rice fields.

1. Oyama Senmaida (Kamogawa, Chiba)

A two-hour drive from Tokyo, Oyama Senmaida’s terraced rice fields are spread across a series of valleys in Kamogawa in Chiba Prefecture. As well as its beautiful scenery, Oyama Senmaida is also famous as a place to see incredible sunsets, whilst in winter the rice terraces are illuminated with lights that are planted all around the paddy fields.

Oyama Senmaida even hosts rice planting, farming, and harvesting activities for anyone who is interested in this integral part of Japanese culture. There are English-speaking staff who are able to assist anyone who isn’t comfortable with Japanese.

2. Maruyama Senmaida (Kumano, Mie)

Maruyama Senmaida is a collection of terraced rice fields that are located along the sacred Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. Not only is it up there as one of the most scenic landscapes featuring terraced rice fields, but it is also one of the largest, with 1,340 paddies carved into the mountainsides. The terraces are built so that they catch lots of sunlight, which not only benefits rice farming but also contributes to some stunning views of the paddies and the surrounding mountains. Maruyama Senmaida is beautiful all year round, filling up with water in spring, featuring swaying ears of rice in summer, turning gold in autumn, and covered in snow in winter. 

3. Terraced Rice Fields of Warabino (Karatsu, Saga)

The Terraced Rice Fields of Warabino is home to over 1,000 paddy fields spread out almost as far as the eye can see across over 40 hectares. Located around a 35-minute drive from Imari, a city famous for its pottery, the best views of the Terraced Rice Fields of Warabino can be seen from an observation point that looks out across the huge valley, offering a stunning, sweeping, panoramic view.

4. Murodani Terraced Rice Fields (Hamada, Shimane)

Murodani in Shimane Prefecture is one of the largest rice terraces in Japan with over 4,000 paddy fields. A half-hour drive from the nearest city of Hamada, these terraced rice fields have been cultivated since the Heian period (794-1185). The rice grown at Murodani’s rice terraces is “sakamai,” a type of rice grown specifically for use in making sake. The best views of Murodani’s rice fields can be enjoyed from the observation deck to the north of the fields on the road leading to the summit of nearby Mount Osayama.

5. Ishibu Rice Terraces (Matsuzaki, Shizuoka)

Located close to the beaches along the west coast of the Izu Peninsula, Ishibu’s rice terraces face out onto gorgeous views of Suruga Bay with stunning scenery in all directions. Each May, the  370 terraces that slope sharply from 250 to 120 meters above sea level are dotted with lights, adding a fantastic element to the already spectacular landscape. On clear days, look to the north from the observation deck that sits at the top of the terraces for a glimpse of Mount Fuji.

6. Teshima Terraced Rice Paddies (Teshimakarato, Kagawa)

If you’re ever heading to Kagawa Prefecture’s art island of Naoshima, be sure to include a trip to the neighboring island of Teshima too. Here you’ll find Teshima’s terraced rice fields, a beautiful spot that comes with breathtaking views overlooking the deep blue waters of the Seto Inland Sea. Located opposite the iconic architecture of the Teshima Art Museum, the terraced rice fields almost appear to slope straight into the ocean.

7. Hoshitoge Rice Terraces (Toge, Niigata)

The Hoshitoge Rice Terraces in Niigata are another year-round attraction thanks to their incredible beauty in all four seasons. During the rice-growing season, the water in the paddy fields is famous for its stunning reflections of the sky, particularly at sunrise and sunset. Visitors also flock to see the incredibly rich greens of the rice fields of late summer, whilst the terraces are usually blanketed in snow throughout the winter months, offering a different kind of mystical scene.

Japan’s Terraced Rice Fields – Stunning Landscapes Providing Japan With Their Staple Food

Not only are terraced rice fields an essential and inventive way of keeping Japan well stocked with rice, they’re also a gorgeous part of much of the country’s rural landscape. The terraces are particularly resplendent from spring through to summer, when they are prepared and then planted with rice. However, many of these unique landscapes can be admired at any time of year, particularly those located in colder climates that are covered with snow come wintertime. Terraced rice fields are an amazing way to enjoy traditional Japanese landscapes, so try adding one to your next Japan itinerary!

Title image: PIXTA

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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James Davies

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