Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Salt and Tobacco Museum

Someone, somewhere, can probably explain what the rationale was for combining the displays for salt and tobacco into one museum. But I doubt I'll live long enough to meet them.

The Salt and Tobacco Museum is about half a mile away from the JR Shibuya station, past the Parco department stores. There's a good restaurant on the first floor at the front of the building. Inside, there's a giftshop where you can buy raw salt crystals, books, cigarette lighters, postcards and cigar cutters. Admission is normally 100 yen per person, but it goes up when there's a special exhibit. I went during the Vienna pipe and cafe exhibit and the price was closer to 800 yen each. The basement has a small auditorium that runs a short movie on the history of tobacco in Japan, and of course it's aimed at promoting smoking to new potential customers.

The first and second floor is dedicated to tobacco history, production processes, tobacco companies, advertising and post-war cigarette pack collections. The third floor was for salt, and the fourth has their special exhibit. They allowed photos on the other floors, but not on the fourth (they want you to buy the exhibit book from the giftshop).

(You've heard of the "ship of tears"? Guess what's left when the teardrops evaporate.)

Normally, salt comes from two sources - rock salt from mines or desert floors, and sea salt dried from ocean water. Japan has a special problem in that there's no salt mines and the air is often too humid to allow sun drying ocean water. To make up for this, salt harvesters had come up with their own two-stage method of condensing salt water down to a sludge and then evaporating the water off with heat.

The special exhibit displayed a variety of tobacco pipes from Vienna, along with paintings of people smoking in cafes in the 1700 and 1800s. The meerschaum pipes were especially elaborate, and one seemed to have been made to resemble a full cathedral. You can see some of the pipes from the museum's archive exhibit page.

The full album is here.

(Original method for processing sea salt.)

(Modern salt processing plant.)

(Recreation of a family-owned tobacco shop.)

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