In the craggy, coastal expanse of Japan’s Noto Peninsula, the land isn’t conducive to growing many things. So what the farmers harvest isn’t rice, but salt. And in this area, contrary to modern methods of salt cultivation, the farmers there are producing world-class salt the same way they’re forefathers have for more than 400 years.
Salt has been harvested from the sea in this area for 1,500, but it wasn’t until much later that the agehama style of salt making developed. The documentary team Great Big Story ventured to Suzu in the Ishikawa prefecture to see how this ancient craft has carried on to this day.
Ryoichi Toya is one of the last agehama-style salt farmers remaining. Each day he begins at 4:30 a.m., with two buckets dangling from a branch perched across his shoulders. He scoops about 70 liters of water from the ocean and carries them back to a terrace covered in sand. He methodically sprinkles the water across the field of sand. After around 19 trips, he rakes the ground to facilitate faster drying. When the sand is parched, he gathers it up, mixes it with more seawater then brings it inside to a 600-liter pot, which takes about a week’s worth of harvesting water from the sea to fill. Once it’s topped off, Toya boils the vat for six hours and in that time the salt crystals begin to form and he scoops them out by hand, then dries them. Not only is he continuing the tradition by making the salt this way, he’s training young people how to do it as well, so the agehama style won’t fall by the wayside.
For Toya, to enjoy the fruits of his labor, he likes to keep it simple. He believes the mild, mineral rich and slightly sweet salt is the perfect accompaniment to the steamed rice balls he likes to eat. Though, we think it would be great as part of the “salt punch” in one of Tokyo’s most famous pizzas.