Why Does Japan Have to Import Salt?

Salt July 22, 2015
Blog Blog  /  Mining  /  Salt
Author: Olga Minchina
Account Manager

Over the centuries and across the globe, salt has not only been consumed as a condiment, but also as part of sacred rituals. Its production was and has remained to be one of the key elements in worldwide social and economic development. At present, salt is available and relatively inexpensively sold in most countries and regions.

Unlike countries with salt-lakes as well as rock-salt deposits, Japan has virtually no land sources of salt. What's more, it cannot be produced in Japan by evaporating seawater in the sun, as the climate there is too humid and rainy for this production method. These inhospitable climate conditions eventually led to the unique Japanese tradition of boiling down salt concentrate for crystallization.

In 1971, however, the implementation of the Act on Special Measures Concerning Modernization of Salt Production in Japan brought this traditional boiling down manufacturing method to a screeching halt. The only technique permitted by the Salt Monopoly Corporation was the ion exchange membrane method, using raw salt imported from Mexico and Australia.

In 1997, the Government Salt Monopoly Law was abolished, and from April 2002, the liberalization of salt production oversight enabled companies to select, for themselves, raw salt suppliers. Nevertheless, many companies continued to use imported solar salt for sustainability reasons. The process of boiling seawater requires vast amounts of fuel, while salt manufactured by solar evaporation in salt pans only requires harnessing the natural energy of the wind and the sun.

Japan is a country steeped in deep-rooted traditions. In addition to using salt for seasoning, it is also an essential part of rituals. For instance, one of their purification rituals consists of sumo wrestlers scattering salt into the ring before a match. Another purification ritual involves placing a small dish of salt called teshio (hand salt) on the table while serving a meal.

Because of traditional rituals such as these on top of everyday needs, and the difficulty of self-production, Japan remains among the main importers of salt in the world.

In 2014, Mexico (44%), Australia (37%), India (12%) and China (7%) were the leading suppliers of salt and pure sodium chloride to Japan, together making up 99.8% of Japan's imports in physical terms. And while the share of China increased significantly, the share of Mexico illustrated negative dynamics. The shares of the other countries remained relatively stable throughout the analyzed period.

In 2014, the Republic of Korea and China were the main destinations of salt and pure sodium chloride with a combined share of 42.5% of Japan's exports. However, the fastest growing country from 2007 to 2014 was the U.S. (+48% per year).

One of the traditional types of Japanese salt is Aguni no Shio. Chemical-free, Aguni no Shio is highly valued for its impeccable mineral balance. This salt is produced in Okinawa from the crystal clear waters there rich in minerals.

The abolition of the Government Salt Monopoly Law in 1997 opened up new opportunities for salt producers. Still, while there are now many producers across Japan manufacturing natural and well-balanced salt, most Japanese companies continue to import raw salt for the ion exchange membrane method, considering it more energy efficient.

Source: Japan: Salt And Pure Sodium Chloride - Market Report. Analysis And Forecast To 2020