Getting salt from the sea the old-fashioned way

Salt is an essential nutritional element for humans.  It is also a widely used preservative and, in some cultures–like Japan–, it’s regarded as a purification element for religious purposes.

Over millenia we’ve learned many ways to extract this mineral from the world around us.  In the Japanese archipelago, where one is never more than 90 miles/150 kilometers from the sea, sea water is the most obvious and plentiful source of salt.

Ishikawa’s Noto Peninsula is one place where the traditional “agehama” method of extracting salt from sea water can still be seen.

“Agehama” involves a seaside “salt field”–an area approximately 25 meters by 13 meters that has a clay base and has been rendered flat, with raised edges. In the spring, when the weather is fine, the field is covered with sand and then sprinkled with sea water regularly for several days.  The salt from the water is caught on the sand, which is regularly raked to facilitate drying.

Eventually the salt-saturated sand is piled into a wooden frame and rinsed with more sea water, which is caught in buckets beneath the frame.

The rinsing water, containing the concentrated salt, is then slowly boiled away over a period of about two days, leaving only the sea salt.

This process continues throughout the fine weather of spring and summer, although it is halted whenever there is rain.

The people of Noto used this method of salt production, hauling the water from the sea in wooden buckets, for over 500 years.  In the Meiji Period (1868-1912) government tax policies put a halt to their salt production and it has only recently been resuscitated by aficionados such as the group operating the Okunoto Salt Farm, who want to preserve historical practices for future generations.  (They’re even campaigning for World Heritage status.)

At the Okunoto Salt Farm, about 30 minutes north of Wajima, visitors reach the salt field by walking through a museum with displays on the significance and impact of salt throughout history, the various sources of salt, and the tools and methodology of agehama salt production.

Upon reaching the salt field, one can watch the workers spreading and soaking the sand, putting up the concentration frame and filling it with sand and then giving it a rinse.  Just beyond the salt field is the cook house where the rinsing water is boiled down.

With advance reservations, it is even possible to participate in a two hour afternoon salt-making session during the summer months (May 1-September 30; JPY2,000).

In the inevitable souvenir shop, in addition to salt for seasoning, one can buy various items made with salt, including edibles as well as skin care and other products.

Address: 1-58-1 Shimizu-machi, Suzu-shi, Ishikawa

Phone:  +81-768-87-2040

Hours: 9:00 – 17:00

Admission:  JPY300

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