Terraced rice fields on the decline

By Satoru Yamamoto, Mainichi Shimbun, Thursday 8 July 1999

Many terraced rice fields that adorned the nation's countryside for centuries are no longer used for cultivation and have become ruined through disuse. But their benefits are being re-examined by a group of specialists in Tokyo who are calling on people to protect the narrow strips of land to make them tillable once more.

The terrace rice field society, headed by Susumu Ishii, a professor emeritus in medieval history at Tokyo University, is studying the fields from several academic points of view including, economics, ecology and folk customs.

According to Ishii, the fields were prepared in small valleys during the medieval period to ease the control of water levels.

The unique shape of the fields, which were used as dams and to prevent landslides, makes it impossible to crop-dust agricultural chemicals in large amounts and many animals such as killifish and tadpoles have been saved.

However, the rice fields have become virtual wastelands, many of them turning into thickets of bushes.

Terraced rice fields have winding grooves that follow the highest line along mountain ridges. They represent how people have coexisted with the fields for years, says Katsuhiko Ishizuka, 61, one of the specialists setting up the society.

The association intends to publish a magazine on the topic and will conduct research in the area on terraced rice fields.

In March, volunteers in Niigata Prefecture, which has 10 percent of the terraced rice fields in the nation, organized a group for people who'd like to get involved in restoring the fields.

A total of 422 people throughout the prefecture, including company employees and housewives, have volunteered to help till the land, pulling weeds and making the land more arable.

For further information contact the terrace rice support group ECHIGO at: 0402-381-6721.