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Goin’ Japanesque!

Unforgettable Travel to See Maruyama Senmaida Rice Fields in Mie

Our visit to Maruyama Senmaida was in late spring when cherry blossom had long passed. It was our third do-it-yourself, self-driven trip to Japan.  This time the trip spanned 19 days, we flew into Fukuoka, picked up our rental car and started our journey northward travelling all the way to Tateyama Alpine Route snow corridor before looping back to Fukuoka. Though our timing was outside the cherry blossom season, we knew Japan still had much to offer. The sight of Maruyama Senmaida, “thousand paddy terraces” was just one of them. 

Maruyama Senmaida in late spring was very special. It was especially captivating when its paddy terraces were flooded with water.  As our car headed towards Maruyama Senmaida I kept my fingers crossed and prayed that we would not arrive too early in the planting season when the paddy terraces were in their dried muddy form.

Driving route from Kobe to Nara City to Maruyama Senmaida

It was the 4th morning of our 19-day trip when we left Kobe for Maruyama Senmaida. The entire car journey was expected to be about five hours.  We took a break at Nara City after an hour of driving and joined the thousands of visitors to explore Todaiji temple. 

Nara City was packed with visitors and cars. All the carparks near Todaiji ( 東大寺 ) were full so we had to park our car quite a distance from the temple. We entered Todaiji temple through the south gate, Nandai-mon. It was a gigantic gate and was the largest temple gate that I had seen. The path to the gate was jam-packed with visitors. 

Writer’s Photo: Path leading to Nandai-mon of Todai-ji

We bought our entrance ticket for 500 yen per person and entered into the temple compound. It was a fine day with clear blue sky and we saw the main hall Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) standing majestically in front of us. Our driving route to Maruyama Senmaida passed through Nara City so we included a 3 hour visit to Todaiji in our itinerary.

Writer’s Photo: Daibutsuden of Todaiji

On hindsight we should have allocated a whole day for Nara City. Todaiji temple itself was a complex of buildings, due to our limited time we were only able to explore the main hall, Daibutsuden. We had no time to explore the traditional shops that lined the streets leading to the Todaiji temple or the ground of the deer park surrounding the temple. 

We left Nara City at about 1 pm and continued our drive toward Maruyama Senmaida. Finally at about 5.30 pm we reached Maruyama Senmaida. We had earlier marked out four possible view points on the google map. We reached viewpoint 1 which was at a small wooden pavilion overlooking the paddy terraces. There was a small piece of land just beside the pavilion that could hold about 6 to 7 cars.  We managed to squeeze our car into the last bit of land and came out to enjoy the view. 

Viewpoints at Maruyama Senmaida

The sight at viewpoint 1 was breathtaking with thousands of silvery mirrors covering the hill below. 

At the start of the planting season after the farmers tilled the soil, the terraces were filled with water. The water surfaces reflected the sun rays on a beautiful fine day and the paddy terraces looked magnificent.

Writer’s Photo: View for view point 1 of Maruyama Senmaida

It was coming to sunset time and many photographers had decked out their equipment ready to capture the mesmerising sunset.  Soon the sun began its descend. The ever-changing colors before us were a kaleidoscope of different shades of gold, blue, green, yellow and orange.

Writer’s Photo: Sunset view at view point 1 of Maruyama Senmaida

Finally all the light was gone and the whole place turned very dark as there was no street lights on the roads curving around the terraces.  We packed up our cameras and drove slowly to Iruka Hot Spring Hotel about 6 kilometers away. Iruka Hot Spring Hotel was our second choice of accommodation, our first choice was a chalet at Senmaida Auto Camping ground which was about one kilometer from the first view point. Unfortunately our reservation was turned down after the owner realised that we did not speak Japanese. He explained that in times of emergency we would not be able to understand the Japanese instructions. Staying a night near the paddy terraces would have been great as we would be able to photograph the terrace at sunrise too, but unfortunately this was not to be. 

Iruka Hot Spring Hotel was a lovely hotel with big and comfortable rooms. We had our dinner at the hotel restaurant and was served Kumanogyu (Kumano beef). Kumanogyu was premium brand of Wagyu beef originating in the southern Kumano region of Wakayama.   Our second-choice accommodation turned out great as our day ended wonderfully with a delicious dinner, a relaxing soak in the hotel spa and a comfortable bed for the night. 

Writer’s Photo: Dinner at Iruka Hot Spring Hotel

One afternoon at Maruyama Senmaida was not enough as we had only seen paddy terraces at view point 1. We wondered what the view would look like at the other viewpoints. We had seen paddy terraces many times in the past but the timing of our visits was never when terraces were filled with water. It just did not feel right to leave just after one visit so we adjusted our itinerary of Day 5 to include a second sunset visit to Maruyama Senmaida. 

On Day 5 of our trip we spent the earlier part of the day exploring Nachi Falls and its surrounding. It was only an hour’s drive from Iruka Hot Spring Hotel which was not too far and would also allow us to return to Maruyama Senmaida in the early evening for another sunset view. 

Route to Nachi Falls

Nachi Falls was in the vicinity of Seigantoji (青岸渡寺) temple and Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) shrine. So it was visiting all three at one stop. We parked our car near the pagoda of Seigantoji and explored the surrounding on foot. The pagoda was at mid hill so there was a great deal of trekking up and down the steps to move from one temple complex to another and to the bottom of Nachi Falls and back. Though the trekking was tiring there were plentiful of shops to stop for a rest and an ice cream. 

Writer’s Photo: Pagoda of Seigantoji and Nachi Falls

We were back at Maruyama Senmaida at about 4 pm. We drove to view point 2 and 3 to have a look. The sight at both view points was not as impressive as that of view point 1 so we drove on in search of the last view point which was somewhere up in the hill. This high view point was not reachable by car. We would have to trek up to the high view point.  At 5 pm we parked our car at a road set-in near the steps leading to the high view point. From my research it should take about 15 minutes of trekking to reach the high view point.

Writer’s Photo: Wooden stairs leading up to the view point up on the hill

Soon the wooden steps and the wooden safety railing disappeared. The path became a narrow mud path going into a forest with tall trees all around. The mud path seemed not to be well used or maintained as some parts were obstructed by fallen tree trunks. Luckily the path was pretty distinct and along the way we only made one left turn at a branch.

The trek up to the high view point took longer than we expected. After about 30 minutes we reached our destination.  It was a surprise to see many people with their photographic equipment decked out at the high view point. This view point was just a narrow strip of land on the slope of the hill overlooking the paddy terrace. Wow the view was worth the trek. This view point definitely offered the best sight.

Writer’s Photo

Again we waited until the sunset and the whole place turned dark before leaving. We retraced our route back to our car. Luckily we had “touch” lights from our handphones to brighten up the path. On our way down we picked up a local who was also one of the photographers we met at the high view point. He was waiting at the route branch as he was unsure which path to continue his trek downhill. We guided him to the road before we parted. 

Writer’s Photo: View from the high view point of Maruyama Senmaida

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