tradition, or doing really hard stuff cuz it’s cool

This week’s post is actually vaguely related to last week’s, which is cool, but I’ll get there in a hot sec.

This past weekend the whole of Princeton in Ishikawa embarked on an awesome trip to the Noto Peninsula (scroll bottom to catch my slideshow of miscellaneous photos). Definitely the highlight was getting to stay at one of the most famous Ryokan (旅館, traditional Japanese-style inn) in all of Japan, Kagaya, and taking a dip in its Onsen (温泉,hot baths). But two stops on the second of the two days piqued my interest in particular for their adherence to tradition that seems like it’s been economically infeasible for some time.

First stop was the Noto region’s salt farms. Overlooking the sea atop steep cliffs, these farm-factories make salt using an arduous, lengthy, and traditional process. The salt is relatively famous, as far as salt brands go, but the process to make this salt feels almost over the top.

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Salt tanks overlooking the beach.

Now, considering that the explanation was in all Japanese, I didn’t understand some (read: all) of the specifics, but the process begins by dumping seawater on sand. We all participated.

After you soak the sand using those cool gourds (ok, why is it done by hand? Seems really inefficient, right? Tradition!), you presumably let the sand get nice and salty, and then move it into another field to be mixed around and eventually heaped up into wooden crates. It takes a lot of labor just to pile up the sand and put it into boxes using nothing but rakes and shovels, but that’s how the workers here do it on an every day basis. It’s not just a special tourist attraction to work on the salt farm by hand–they actually do everything by hand.

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Salty fields that need to be raked up

Now, what happens next, to be honest I’m not even sure. But there seems to be still quite a way to go before you get super salty water, and then after that you need to separate the salt from the water, which is an extraordinarily energy intensive process. The point being, these salt fields would totally not work, if not for tourism.

Same things goes for preserving the traditional Wajima rice fields. They are gorgeous, and a true treasure. Check out the following slideshow for a taste.

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The scene on the coast is stunning. Sharp cliffs descend to the ocean. They are cut into tiny, slim steps of wet rice fields, the bright green stems rustling together and singing in the sea breeze. Ragged, crooked trees loose tangled hair, and wildflowers bloom.

This is a beautiful tourist stop, but not the best rice field. Again, I’lll be the first to admit this is conjecture, but rice fields by the sea don’t seem like the greatest idea, due to the likely high salt content of the sand/soil. By the sea, only hardy plants can grow, and usually agriculture is very rare. But these carefully manicured, likely inefficient, and beautiful fields continue to bloom.

Why hasn’t the economy wiped these fields out, the salt farms out? Thank god they haven’t been wiped out by the economy. I reckon there are two main factors that save these traditions- 1) The fact that they are beautiful and valuable traditions in itself, worth saving beyond economy and 2) The economy in part helps preserve them due to tourism.

We see this all the time, especially in Kanazawa, a great city for traditional crafts, ranging from gold-leaf to dolls to sake. These things get expensive, but of course, their traditional, intensive process of manufacturing intrigues and captivates most people, making the price point worth it.

I know none of this is exactly shocking analysis, but I am so grateful that all these traditions–as time intensive and complicated as they are–have survived mechanization, capitalism, the internet, everything.

Here are some other photos from the trip:

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