The Beautiful Oyama Senmaida Rice Terraces
Rice has been a staple of Asian cuisine for thousands of years. The image of a terraced paddy field is likely to bring to mind places like Bali, the Philippines or Vietnam. Japan, despite being one of the biggest rice producers in the world and having cultivated the plant since 300 BCE, is not internationally famous for its lush rice terraces. Which is why learning that such a place exists less than two hours away from central Tokyo can be very surprising.
The Oyama Senmaida, located in city of Kamogawa in Chiba Prefecture, are beautiful rice terraces created between heavily forested hills. The hundreds of rice paddies are preserved through the hard work of local farmers as well as urban dwellers who have decided to take up farming in recent years. Considering the difficulties farming communities all over Japan are faced with (aging population, urbanization, the younger generations' growing preference for white collar jobs), the Senmaida terraces have been extremely well maintained.
The easiest way to get to Kamogawa from Tokyo is by car via the Tokyo Bay Aqualine, one of the longest underwater tunnels in the world (other routes are also available if you are claustrophobic).
The best season to visit depends on what you would like to see. The fields are usually flooded in late spring or early summer during which time the plants are barely visible but nicely arranged in long rows. The water in the fields also creates beautiful reflections. By late summer the crop has grown to about one meter and so this is the time the landscape is at its greener. And if your favourite colour is yellow, perhaps you can visit right before harvest, by which time the plants have taken a beautiful, golden tone. The terrace is also beautiful covered in snow but not everyone is fond of last-minute trips and driving in those conditions. As for my preferences, I simply have none when it comes to nature. Visiting the same, amazing place over and over again? One could do much worse than that!
Visitors can enjoy the landscape, walk through the fields, and have a cold drink or grab a bite at Cafe En, a reasonably priced eatery that offers high-quality organic food. There is a swing in the garden, so make the best of it!
If you start the day early, you might also want to consider a visit to Nihon-ji, a Buddhist temple in the nearby town of Kyonan, famous for its 18th century Daibutsu (giant Buddha sculpture). Nihon-ji has been destroyed several times over the course of its 1300-year history but every time it has managed to rise again.
Alternatively, you could stay in the area and visit Kamogawa Seaworld, known for its killer whale show.
If you live in Tokyo and would like to try your hand at rice cultivation, there is a local program offering people the opportunity to rent a field in the area. Local farmers will guide you through the cultivating process (or do it for you if you don't have the time) and at the end of the year you will have your very own rice. Similar programs involving apple or olive trees exist elsewhere.
Check Cafe En's website (in Japanese) before planning your visit.