Salt is used as a preservative, a seasoning in cooking, and as a religious item in certain ceremonies and rituals in Japan. For the most part, salt is used in much the same way it is used elsewhere, but there are some discrepancies that you might find interesting as well.
People in Japan definitely eat more salt than people in the USA. So many of their dishes rely on salt, especially fish based dishes. Salt consumption in Japan varies by region, with people in the south consuming less than people in the north according to a study done in the 1960s. Average consumption by Japanese people has dropped slightly as consciousness of healthy eating has increased. Today most adults consume about 10g of salt per day. The recommended upper limit is about 3g.
You will find sodium in soy sauce and miso paste, 2 very common items eaten with almost every meal and every food. Pickled side dishes are also very popular and contain a lot of salt in them. If you open a Japanese person’s refrigerator you will always find at least 6 different bottles of salt in liquid form, all with slightly different tastes, all with different purposes. Japan has created hundreds of different varieties of soy sauces and noodle dips, and people feel compelled to buy different flavors to eat with different dishes.
You might be surprised to find that Japanese people also consume salt with some fruits such as watermelon, because they believe that the salt will bring out more of the melon’s sweetness. I was incredibly shocked the first time I witnessed this act, and I honestly thought it was a joke.
Salt is not only used in cooking. It is also believed to be a purging substance that keeps away evil. Japanese people believe salt is cleansing, and that it preserves purity. Some people will carry a small amount in a plastic bag with them wherever they go to protect themselves from ill events. At funerals, salt can be found on either side of the house entrance. Once the coffin has been removed, the house is then purified of spirits by scattering salt around the floors. Those attending the funeral will also scatter salt at their own front doors, believing this will stop the spirits from following them home.
You will even witness salt being used in sports such as summo, where it is sprinkled around the ring to purify it and show that people are at the mercy of mystical spirits that can control the outcome of the match.
There are many more uses of salt, and it is interesting to watch your surroundings and see where it is used.