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Takihama Salt Museum

Offers a fascinating look at the salt industry that sustained Niihama for centuries.

Takihama Salt Museum

The Takihama Salt Museum stands by a little river that marks the edge of what was once the biggest accumulation of salt pans in Shikoku.

About 300 years ago, the area now called Takihama was a shallow bay surrounded by several villages. Salt was a crucial commodity and in 1703 Fukao Gondayū began developing salt pans in the area, without success. In 1723, Amano Kishirō was called from Hiroshima as a consultant, and he identified the bay as a promising area. He established the first successful facility here.

Salt pans are flat areas of sand located just below sea level so that they can be flooded at high tide. The sand needs to be constantly raked to allow moisture to evaporate, then the salty sand is shovelled into cisterns where the salt is washed off with seawater. This highly concentrated water is then heated in vats to drive off the remaining moisture. Raking and moving the sand around is highly labour intensive.

In 1732, a plague of planthoppers affected the rice crop in various parts of Japan. When Kishirō told the Saijō domain magistrate that it would result in a great famine, the magistrate asked him if he had a solution, so Kishirō devised a plan to buy and store grain. The following year, an unprecedented famine unfolded, and many people died of starvation in other domains. However, the Saijō domain had sufficient grain reserves and had no concern for the famine.

Nevertheless, Kishirō was concerned that people wouldn’t accept the stockpiled grain as charity, so he proposed that the salt pans be expanded to provide work for farmers who lost their livelihood. It seems that no one in the Saijō domain starved to death thanks to this relief project, and the newly formed area was named Takihama – the beach of much joy – representing the happiness of the people who were saved from the famine. The Takihama salt pans were the largest in Iyo Province, and over 160 years, their extent was gradually increased under the direction of five generations of the Amano family. In the 1950s, over one thousand people were involved in producing salt, and the local people were so busy that even young children had to help with the work.

In 1954, a new method was introduced involving trays of black stones and racks of bamboo twigs. This reduced the need for intensive labour. But in 1959, the national government decided to purchase cheaper salt from abroad, and the salt pans, which were the centre of local industry, were abandoned. In 1968, Niihama City bought the site of the former salt pans and started to develop it as an industrial complex.

The museum has a collection of evocative photos, models, and authentic tools from the heyday of the salt pans. Salt is still produced at the museum using the method introduced in 1954 to concentrate brine. Visitors can have a go at completing the last step in making salt, taking some of the brine and heating it in a pan to produce pure white salt crystals. The transformation is rather remarkable, and the sea salt is delicious.

Information

Name in Japanese: 塩の学習館

Pronunciation: shio no gakushukan

Address: 5 Chome-7-34 Takihama, Niihama, Ehime 792-0893

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