Salmon salting in Japan follows 1,000-year samurai tradition

Photo at Missho Kikkawa in Murakami City, Niigata Pref., by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photo at Missho Kikkawa in Murakami City, Niigata Pref., by Takahiro Takiguchi

Salmon salting in Japan follows 1,000-year samurai tradition

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

Ever wondered why some shops around Japan have hanging fish on their ceilings or under the overhangs of the exterior of their homes?

These are a salted salmon delicacy known as “shiohiki-sake.” A specialty of Murakami City in Niigata Prefecture, the Miomote River flows through it and here is where you’ll catch thousands of salmon swimming upstream during the autumn mating season.

The unlucky ones are caught and cleaned out then salted. The salt is then washed off and fish are hung to dry for at least a month. Many hang the salmon on the eaves of their homes all throughout the wintertime, a practice dating back 1,000 years that continues today.

Murakami’s climate is the perfect mix of not too cold, nor too dry, keeping the salmon unfrozen, while moisture enables the drying and fermentation process to occur slowly. This ensures the fish keep a highly concentrated flavor.

At Missho Kikkawa, a well-known salmon shop in the city, you can see more than 1,000 large salmon hanging from ceiling of the traditional shop. It’s simply AMAZING! And the concentrated flavor, I mentioned earlier? Yeah, let’s just say it’s breathtaking on many levels!

Interestingly, when the salmon are cleaned, it is carefully done in way that does not require opening the entire belly to remove the innards. This is because it is associated with “hara-kiri,” those cleaning the fish are careful not to open the entire belly of a salmon when removing its innards.
Opening the belly can easily be associated with harakiri, or ritual suicide, so prepping and salting fish avoids this completely, following and respecting the samurai tradition.

Murakami is an impressive castle town in the central northern part of Japan, which is about a five or six-hour drive from any military base on the Kanto Plain.

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