Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Medieval Salt-making Villages on
Ibaraki Prefecture’s Pacific Coast


Department of Japanese History,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

Key words:

coastal village, salt production, settlement, multiple means of subsistence, grave

This paper considers from an archaeological point of view the medieval coastal villages close to the Pacific coast of Ibaraki Prefecture that produced salt as their main means of subsistence. In all likelihood, medieval Japanese coastal villages varied widely depending on their geographical location and the available resources. This paper presents an analysis of three archaeological sites—Muramatsushirane, Sawada and Nagasunanagisa—located on sand dunes on what is now the central coast of Ibaraki Prefecture.

As the salt-producing facilities at Muramatsushirane were distributed near the coast, it seems the tasks making up the salt-production process were conducted on the salt terraces themselves. At the settlements of the Muramatsushirane site, buildings were distributed inland of the salt-producing area. From the fragments of the clay saltpans used for boiling down seawater in the furnace hut found in these buildings, we can deduce that the buildings were likely inhabited by those who were engaged in salt production.

The settlement at the Muramatsushirane site lasted from the second half of the 15th century to the first half of the 17th century. At the beginning of this period, the buildings were spread out; then, from the end of 15th century to the first half of 16th century, several clusters of buildings appeared. The increase in the number of buildings implies an increasing number of salt workers, and the presence of several salt-producing groups. Throughout the entire settlement period, each Muramatsushirane house consisted of either a single building or one larger and one smaller building, both of which are thought to constitute a single household.

Also through all periods of the Muramatsushirane site, salt-making facilities were positioned in the same place near the shore, presumably to allow easy access to the seawater.

Graves for settlement inhabitants were found on the site. The lack of any great differences among the objects buried along with the bodies suggests the existence of a relatively egalitarian social system within each village.

At the Sawada and Nagasunanagisa sites, salt-producing facilities and grave pits were found, although settlements were not. As with Muramatsushirane, these sites can be classified as coastal villages that produced salt as their main form of subsistence, although it should be stated that daily life also involved fishery, agriculture, metalwork, and the making of tools out of bone and antlers. Indeed, as a coastal village could not be maintained through just one means of production alone, this reliance on multiple means of subsistence could be seen as an important characteristic of these villages. Thus the villages dealt with in this paper can be categorized as a type of medieval coastal village that produced salt as the primary, but not exclusive, means of subsistence.