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Exploring the Ancient Salt Road, Shiogama shrine (where resides the Salt God...

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  • FlyingRat
    Another excellent article from Heritage of Japan, this time about salt-making, its long history and its connection with certain shrines in the Tohoku reason.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 21, 2012
      Another excellent article from Heritage of Japan, this time about
      salt-making, its long history and its connection with certain shrines
      in the Tohoku reason.

      Ii-dono and I have been to Matsumoto, which is lovely, but now we may
      have to visit again in order to see Shiojiri.

      - Abe

      Sent to you by FlyingRat via Google Reader: Exploring the Ancient Salt
      Road, Shiogama shrine (where resides the Salt God) and the ancient
      tradition of salt-making in Japan via Heritage of Japan by
      heritageofjapan on 6/21/12

      What is the Salt Road?

      Salt bearers Photo courtesy: JTB

      The Salt Road (Shionomichi) was an ancient highway that connected that
      interior regions of Honshu Island in Japan with the coastal regions.
      Part of it was called the Chikuni-kaido that connected the castle city
      of Matsumoto with Itoigawa on the Japan Sea coast. The route involved
      the transportation of various kinds of goods, the most important of
      which was salt, along treacherous mountain roads. In landlocked Shinshu
      (today’s Nagano), salt was the most-prized among these commodities. For
      this reason the route was named the ‘Salt Road’.

      Below are excepts from “The Salt Road” (Go Nagano! Blog):

      “At the beginning of May, the Golden week holidays herald the arrival
      of cherry blossom season in Hakuba. Every year the Salt Road Festival
      celebrates the ancient salt road that passes through Otari, Hakuba and

      The Salt road runs from Itoigawa on the Japan sea all the way inland to
      Shiojiri near Matsumoto. Until roads were developed salt was ferried by
      oxen and human from the sea to the interior and sold at markets. The
      biggest market was in Shiojiri near Matsumoto. …

      The old road winds through beautiful countryside and clusters of
      thatched farmhouses. Along the way local people sing folk songs, play
      taiko (Japanese drumming) and hand out free refreshments of tea and
      local sukemono (pickles). The old village of Chikuni at the half way
      point houses the salt road museum where you can see the history of the
      salt road and “Pay a toll” to the tollbooth staff for passage by
      getting your map stamped.”


      Ancient legacies of the Old Salt Road travelers

      Ancient steles dedicated to ancient traveler guardian and protector
      deities, including a number of stone Buddhist statues, may also still
      be found all along the Salt Road from Sano via Lake Aoki to Sanosaka
      and the stretch between Hakuba and Otari. Particularly numerous are the
      ancient Jizo, Kannon and Batou-kannon statues.

      Kazakiri Jizo: With the winds that blow down from Hakuba’s peaks,
      Kazakiri Jizo, a guardian deity of travellers, is said to protect crops
      from pests and drive away evil spirits that bring about sickness and

      Kannon-bara: With 33 statues from western Japan, 33 from the Kanto
      area, and 34 from the Chichibu area, Kannon-bara field contains 100
      stone Buddhist statues. An additional 87 Batou Kannon make the total
      number 187, all arranged in a quad around the field.


      The city of Shiogama ( Miyagi Prefecture) owes its name to the
      salt-making tradition for Shiogama’s name means “salt cauldron”. This
      refers to an ancient Shinto ritual involving the making of salt from
      sea water that is still performed every July at the Okama Jinja Shrine.
      The Shiogama Jinja (or Shrine) is the leading Shinto shrine in Tohoku
      and according to the shrine history of Shiogama-jinja, enshrined here
      are the triad and three pillars of Great Deities known as
      Shiotsuchinooji (the god who taught them how to make salt),
      Takemikazuchi(who had” descended to the land of Izumo” source) and
      Futsunushi (the martial tutelary of the warrior clan Mononobe(source)–
      the latter two deities are said to have come to Shiogama after they had
      conquered various provinces with the guidance of Shiotsuchinooji.
      Rebuilt in the 17C, this shrine with asymmetric roofs (Nagare-zukuri
      style) is composed of three buildings (Ugu, Sagu, Betsugu), each
      dedicated to one of the three local deities responsible for Tohoku’s
      prosperity: Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami in the betsugu (detached sanctuary),
      Takemikazuchi-no-Kami in the sagu (left sanctuary), and
      Futsunushi-no-Kami in the ugu (right sanctuary). Shiotsuchi-Oji no kami
      is the most important of the three.

      Shiotsuchi-Oji no kami is also a tide god who protects fishermen and
      pregnant women, there being considered a link between salt and
      pregnancy – shio means salt but it also signifies the tide. As a
      Japanese folklore saying goes, babies are always born during an
      incoming tide, when the moon is high in the sky.

      Shiotsuchi-Oji no kami is also the offspring of Izanagi and the “old
      man of the sea” and a kami of the sea belonging to another mythical
      cycle, “the Luck of the Mountains” where — the Luck of the Mountains
      (a.k.a. Hohodemi) was sitting on a beach balefully weeping, when
      Shiotsuchi-no-oji(ja) came to his aid. The tide god built Hohodemi a
      small ship described as being manashikatsuma, and guided him on a
      journey (see Encyclopedia of Shinto) to the fish-scaled palace of the
      Watatsumi (Undersea God) where Hohodemi married the Sea God’s daughter
      Princess Toyotama. (Hohodemi is venerated in shrines mainly in the
      southern parts of Kyushu Island, and according to recorded myth,
      Hoderi’s descendants are the Hayoto who guard the palace). Following
      the mythical cycles, Shiotsuchi-no-Oji kami likely emerged from south,
      before arriving in the Kanto plain.

      Shiogama jinja is thought to be one of the oldest shrines in Tohoku,
      and there are a variety of different rituals carried out throughout the
      year. Primary among these are the Salt-Making ritual held on 6 July.
      The ancient salt making ritual is performed at the Okama (or Okamasya)
      Shrine in Shiogama, the smaller shrine that is subordinate to Shiogama
      shrine. According to shrine tradition, the Okama shrine is located in a
      place that used to be a beach called Hodenohama in ancient times, where
      salt was made for the first time in the nation. The Okama shrine that
      deifies Shiotsuchi-no-Oji-kami, who allegedly taught them salt making,
      as well as Yonkono Kamigama and Ushiishi fujimuchi-sha, both of whom
      were also related to the process of salt making…is thus probably the
      oldest location of the Shiogama shrine structures.

      The shrine is now merged with Shiwahiko Jinja which is dedicated to
      another deity, Shiwahiko-no-Kami, guardian god of agriculture, national
      development, higher productivity and industry.

      Okama Jinja, subordinate shrine to Shiogama Shrine Photo: Bachstelze

      History of Shiogama Jinja (as excerpted from Shigama Guide Map)

      “The exact year in which the jinja was built is unknown.

      However, it is reported that when the Japanese race moved to this area
      over 2,000 years ago, jinjas were established and according to ancient
      records, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami, specifically commanded two
      of the deities who reside here, Takemikazuchi-no-Kami and
      Futsunushi-no-Kami, to develop the Tohoku District (in which the jinja
      stands) and its culture. The third deity, Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami, is
      said ti have guided the other two to their domain. After their arrival
      in tohoku, the area was guided to a state of peace, and
      Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami is said to have taught the local people how to
      obtain salt from sea water. In gratitude, the people enshrined the
      three deities at what is now called the Shiogama Jinja. It is certainly
      of very ancient origin.

      Further evidence of the jinja’s history is found in a record called the
      “Koninshiki”, compiled c.820 A.D. This states that successive Emperors
      offered 10,000 bales of rice to Shiogama Jinja and exempted it from
      state taxes. In such ways, from that period onwards, the Imperial Court
      showed its respect for this, the most important jinja in the showed its
      respect for this, the most important jinja in the Tohoku District. The
      jinja was also revered and protected by military leaders and powerful
      clans who saw it as a source of profound spiritual support. A notable
      example was Lord Date, who lived during the Edo Period (1603-1867).
      Having deep faith in the jinja, he personally served as chief priest
      and made generous offerings of land, swords, sacred horses and valuable
      gifts. The present jinja structure was also built by command of Lord

      Shiogama Jinja Buildings

      Zuishinshinmon gate

      The first buildings that can be seen after climbings the 202 steps
      approaching the jinja is the graceful, vermilion-lacquered gate called
      Zuishinmon. It takes its name from the Zuishin images that stand on the
      left and right of the gate. Beyond the Zuishinmon is a gate flanked on
      either side by corridors. Passing though this gate it is possible to
      see the three buildings that are the sanctuaries of the three deities,
      the detached sanctuary dedicated to Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami being on the
      right side. At the center is the honden, or main sanctuary, which
      consists of three halls built of plain wood in a style of shinto
      architecture called nagare-zukuri. The three sanctuaries, on the other
      hand, are lacquered in vermilion, in the Irimoya style ; their
      construction was started in 1704 at the order of the fifth Lord of Date
      and they are preserved as cultural properties of Miyagi Prefecture.
      Before leaving the precincts of the main jinja, the dedicated to the
      jinja in 1185, a stone sundial dedicated in 1792 and a 14-foot high
      lantern of iron and copper that was donated in 1807. All are evidence
      of the importance of this jinja throughout is long history.

      Belief and Festivals

      The deities of the jinja have long been worshipped as guardian deities
      of seafarers, notably fisherman, and also expectant mothers. They are
      also considered to offer their guardianship to land developers and
      students of the martial arts, also those seeking longevity, success in
      school entrance examinations and road safety. Expectant mothers come
      from overseas as well as from all over Japan to offer prayers for a
      rich catch are offered before departure; prayers of gratitude are
      offered on the fisherman’s return, together with some of the catch.
      A large number of festivals and observances are held throughout the

      Reisai, July 10th: This is the most important observance in the jinja
      calendar…preparations begin on July 4th with a three-day rite held at a
      subordinate jinja, Okamasya. In this rite, salt is made from sea water
      in accordance with the ancient method, for presentation to Shiogama
      Jinja on July 10th. On that day, various religious and cultural events
      draw a very large number of visitors; for example, the distribution of
      talismans in the form of folded paper strips, and a performance of
      yabusame, mounted archery.”

      – The above information was excerpted from the Shiogama Guide Map


      How far back does salt production and trade go in Japan?

      Archaeologists know that coastal people of the Jomon Period evaporated
      saltwater in pots to obtain salt. For example, salt produced by people
      on the Kanto lowlands was exchanged with people in the Chubu highlands
      for other goods of value. Kanto and Tohoku had known salt production
      centres. Salt pottery was widely distributed throughout the Kanto
      plain. Salt pottery shards recovered from 100 inland sites outside of
      the salt production centres and faraway from the coast, indicate
      exchange networks were in place during those times.

      According to Junko Habu, Late and Final Jomon layers have revealed
      repeatedly heated, thin-walled “evaporation pots” for salt that had
      salt residue on them. At several of the excavated sites, evaporation
      pots represented actually the majority of the artefacts recovered,
      leading them to be labelled as salt production sites. There were also
      associated pits and ash layers believed to be hearths used for salt
      production. Small quantities of evaporation pots were found as far
      inland as 100km away from coast and are believed to have been traded to
      those areas.

      According to Goto, the disappearance of large shell mounds along Tokyo
      Bay is related to the emergence of salt production. Gotō (writing in
      1973) supposes that large shell mounds, which developed in the Middle
      and the Late Jōmon periods, were made from the refuse of dried
      shellfish production, which was used in exchange. His theory explains
      that the demand for salt existed before salt production started, and
      that salt production replaced dried shellfish as the exchange item.

      A new paper (Kawashima), reconsiders the reasons why salt production
      centres and trade networks developed, identifying major Jomon salt
      production centres in the Jomon Period as located around Tokyo Bay’s
      shellmounds, Mutsu Bay, Sendai Bay, Lake Kasumigaura, Sanriku Coast,
      and the Tokai region, the most important among them being those on the
      shores of Lake Kasumigaura. The salt centres are deemed to have been
      geographically separate, and their technologies to have been separate
      developments. Excavated salt-making pottery, salt hearths and workshops
      are evidence. Methods used including heating brine or seawalter as well
      as production of salt from marine plants (i.e. seaweed), and different
      methods were used at different sites.

      An important conclusion of the Kawashima paper is that the Jomon salt
      production and trade exchange centres developed and flourished not out
      of the need for preservation of maritime food products, but that” Jomon
      salt was supplied for exchange and use in ritualized contexts”.

      The shrines and the enshrined salt deity Shiogama and other associated
      deities of the Shiogama Jinja, of the ancient Salt Road
      (Chikuni-kaido), however can be traced with certainty to written
      records date-able to at least the 7th century(Kojiki was presented to
      Empress Genmei at court in 712 but the compilations began with Emperor
      Kinmei in the middle of the 6th century: source: Encyclopedia of
      Shinto), however, the deities are regarded to be part of the
      Land-Pulling Myths cycle belonging to the much earlier Yayoi Period
      substantiated by archaeology.

      The medieval old shio no michi (Salt Road) or kaidō (highway)
      transported salted from the ocean to the inland portions of central
      Honshū — salt was brought both from the Sea of Japan and the Pacific
      Ocean to Shinano Province for processing.

      The road leading from the Pacific Ocean was called the Sanshū Kaidō (三
      州街道). Salt was initially carried from Mikawa Bay(south of Aichi
      Prefecture) by boats traveling up the Yahagi River and its tributary,
      the Tomoe River. From Toyota, the salt was carried by horse, marking
      the start of the Sanshū Kaidō

      On the Echigo Province side of the route, the highway was called the
      Itoigawa Kaidō.

      On the Shinano Province side, i.e. the road leading from the Sea of
      Japan to Shinano Province was called the Chikuni Kaidō (千国街道).

      Salt production on the continent

      For comparison, the oldest known saltworks on the Asian continent are:

      - The salt produced from the surface of Xiechi Lake near Yuncheng in
      Shanxi, China dates back to at least 6000 BC, making the Xiechi Lake
      saltworks one of the oldest verifiable saltworks.
      - The Poiana Slatinei archaeological site next to a salt spring in
      Lunca, Neamt County, Romania, is evidence indicating that Neolithic
      people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring
      water through the process of briquetage to extract the salt as far back
      as 6050 BC. The salt extracted from this operation is thought to have a
      direct correlation to the rapid growth of the population of the
      Precucuteni Culture that occurred soon after its initial production

      This next section focuses on the process of salt-making as detailed in
      a Japan Times news article “SO, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?|Seaweed Salt“ by
      Alice Gordenker, relevant excerpts provided below:

      “There’s a lot we don’t know about salt-making in ancient Japan,
      according to Hiroki Takanashi, curator at the Tobacco and Salt Museum
      in Tokyo, but the very earliest method was probably burning seaweed and
      using the resulting ashes for their salt content. Another method seems
      to have involved collecting seaweed and allowing it to dry in the sun
      until salt crystals formed. The crystals were then washed off into vats
      of sea water, creating a concentrated brine that could be boiled down
      to yield salt.

      If that sounds laborious, consider that the ancients didn’t have a
      choice. Unlike countries with salt lakes or rock-salt deposits, Japan
      has virtually no land sources of salt. It was — and still is —
      dependent on sea water for salt production. And unlike countries with
      dry climates where salt can be obtained by simply letting sea water
      evaporate in the sun, Japan is too wet and rainy for solar-evaporation
      production methods.

      “The first challenge in salt-making in Japan has always been to find a
      way to concentrate sea water, which contains only 3 percent salt,”
      Takanashi explained. “It would simply require too much fuel to make
      salt by boiling down seawater, so through the ages Japanese people used
      various methods to make concentrates with as much as 15 percent salt.”

      According to Shinto tradition, it was the god Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami
      who taught people how to obtain salt from sea water. In gratitude, they
      built a shrine at what is now called Shiogama Jinja in the town of
      Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture. Every year, starting on July 4, priests
      conduct a three-day ritual called moshioyaki shinji in which salt is
      made from seaweed according to what is believed to be the traditional

      By the eighth century, the use of seaweed was largely abandoned in
      favor of a new method of concentrating sea water through the use of
      sand terraces built near the seashore. This process involved throwing
      seawater over sand and letting it dry in the sun to create sand with a
      high salt content. The sand was collected and seawater poured through
      it to make salt concentrate. This remained the dominant method of salt
      making for thousands of years, until 1972 when a modern method using
      ion-exchange was adopted. …

      I went hunting for moshio and found products from four different
      locations around Japan: Awajishima in Hyogo Prefecture; Shiogama in
      Miyagi Prefecture; Kami-Kamagari in Hiroshima Prefecture; and Tsushima
      in Nagasaki Prefecture….

      For more on this topic, including photos of moshio in the making in
      Shiogama, as well as a link to an English-language video on the
      salt-terrace method, please visit my blog at
      www.alicegordenker.wordpress.com. The Tobacco and Salt Museum has
      permanent exhibits on traditional salt production. There isn’t much
      English signage, but you can buy an English guide to the exhibitions in
      the gift shop for ¥1,000. The shop sells moshio too. The museum is a
      10-minute walk from Shibuya Station, at 1-16-8 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku,
      Tokyo. It’s open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., last entry 5:30 p.m., and closed
      Mondays except on national holidays. Admission is ¥100 for adults and
      ¥50 for school-age children.”


      Sources, references and further readings:

      The Way and the History of the Salt of Hakuba (a website of Tourism
      Commission of Hakuba)

      Seaweed Salt from Alice Gordeneker’s What the Heck is That series
      (Japan Times, June 19, 2012)

      Shiogama, History (Wikipedia)

      Shiogama Guide Map (Shiogama Tourism and Industry Association)

      Encyclopedia of Shinto (Kokugakuin University website) Takemikazuchi
      page; Futsunushi page; the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki page; and the
      Kotokatsu kunikatsunagasa no mikoto page where Shiotsuchi no Oji kami
      is mentioned as guiding Hohodemi to the Palace of the Sea.

      Habu Jinko, “Ancient Jomon of Japan”, Cambridge Press, 2004, Chap. 6

      Boom of the barter trade (Heritage of Japan – this site)

      GOTŌ Kazutami 後藤和民 (1973). Jōmon jidai ni okeru Tōkyōwan engan no
      kaizuka bunka ni tsuite 縄文時代における東京湾沿岸の貝塚文化について
      [Shell Mound Culture along Tokyo Bay of the Jōmon]. In: Chihōshi kenkyū
      kyōgikai 地方史研究協議会 (ed.). Jōsōchihōshi no kenkyū 常総地方史の研
      究. Tokyo: Yūzankaku

      Nazuna Sea Salt

      KAWASHIMA, Takamune, ”Reconsideration of the Use of Salt in the Jōmon
      Period“ Interfaculty, Vol. 3 (2012) (Graduate School of Humanities and
      Social Sciences, University of Tsukuba)

      古道 塩の道―松本‐糸魚川三十里トレイルマップ 謙信が信玄へ塩を送った道, 府
      川 公広 Japanese book “Old Salt Road” and its associated website:

      古道 塩の道 This website provides many detailed maps and routes of the
      ancient Salt Road in Japan

      小谷村 塩の道 Otari Village-Old Salt Road website

      The Way of the History and Salt of Hakuba (Hakuba Official website)

      The Old Salt Road Museum an official website of Itogawa city

      Shio no Michi (Wikipedia)/ The Salt Road

      Salt Traders Nazuna Sea Salt: An ancient tradition of salt-making
      evidenced by “numerous earthenware vessels for Japanese salt-making
      date back as far as the Jomon period (8,000 B.C. – 200 B.C.].”

      Shiogama Jinja / Shrine

      1-1, Ichi Moriyama, Shiogama City
      (15 min. walk from Hon Shiogama Station of JR Sengoku Line)
      Tel; 022-367-1611

      Okama Shrine

      7-1 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi

      The Salt Museum (Shinshu Omachi, Nagano) website

      Japanese Mythology (Wikipedia)

      Sea Salt

      Shiogama Jinja (Michelin Guide) on the connection between salt and

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