We cannot live without salt, just like water.
It’s indispensable for human beings.
Therefore, its acquisition is a matter of life and death.
When Japanese began to live in groups for agriculture, it was absolutely necessary to ensure a lot of salt and several methods were invented to acquire it.
This is its birth story.
Because of its high importance, we have considered it as a symbol of purification.
1. Fermentation and Salt
It is the oldest seasoning in human history.
Not only it is an indispensable seasoning, it can also conserve food.
Because if there is salt, bad bacteria cannot live.
Whereas good bacteria can live with it.
This fact has played quite an important role in the production of fermented seasonings.
In ancient times, they began to add it into herbs, cereals and flesh to ferment them.
It was an effective way to preserve not only the food but also the salt itself, which was extremely valuable at that time.
Natural salt can easily break down and become sodium magnesium which is almost useless.
However, if it remains in protein or starch, the air cannot touch it and decomposition is prevented.
2. Purification and salt
From ancient times, people have believed that it has special power to purify the objects.
Even now, people still sprinkle it on themselves when they return from a funeral.
At some restaurants, you can find a little pile of salt placed by the entrance to drive away evil spirits and attract good luck.
It is called Mori-shio.
If you are interested in the relationship between Shinto and purification, visit here
⇒Rice and Shinto
3. Sumo and Japanese salt
In Sumo, before each match, wrestlers throw it to purify a circle separated by the Shime–nawa called “Dohyo“.
The Sumo takes place inside this Dohyo.
The salt used for this ritual is made by traditional ways and costs quite expensive.
Surprisingly, they use 40-50 kg every day.
Throughout the tournament which lasts 15 days, they weigh 600-700 kg in total.
If you are interested in the relationship between Sumo and Shinto, visit here
⇒Sumo and Shinto
4. Production method
The production method is quite different depending on the country and region.
However it can be roughly divided into two :
1) get from sea water,
2) get from rocks containing it.
Its Production method reflects the topography, climate and culture of each country or region.
As you know, Japan is an island country surrounded by sea.
The simplest method to get it is to make use of the sea water.
Therefore let me introduce 4 methods using the sea water in Japan.
1) using pottery
The first method is to use pottery.
In this method, firstly, collect sea water in the pottery.
Then, heat the pottery to evaporate the water.
Finally, they get salt inside the pottery.
Many potteries used for this purpose have been found throughout Japan.
(although I am not sure that the potteries in the photo were actually one of them).
If you are interested in the history of Japanese pottery, visit here
2) burning algae
The second method is to use algae containing sea water.
In this method, firstly, collect algae from the sea.
Then, dry the algae to evaporate the water.
Finally, burn the algae.
Thus they get the salt remaining in the ash, because it is non-flammable.
Although this method seems to be a bit too primitive, it offers more than we expect and had been widely used until the 8th century.
3) salt field
The third method is to make a salt field by drawing sea water.
In this method, sea water is drawn in two ways:
- by hand
- using high and low tide
During the high tide, water is introduced into the field.
When the low tide comes, the gate is closed.
This method was invented in the 7th century and gradually became common.
4) Ion exchange membrane
The fourth method is to use ion exchange membranes.
Through ion exchange membranes, we can easily get salt water of high concentration from sea water.
By evaporating it, we can get salt.
Since the 1970s, ion exchange membrane method has been mainly used in Japan.
However natural salt with the abundant mineral obtained by traditional ways attracts many consumers even today.