Revisiting world of Edo style nori manufacturing

[Japan] Back in the Edo period (1603-1867), the cultivation of Asakusa nori seaweed used to be widespread in a district called Omori in Tokyo’s Ota Ward.

Production was halted in 1963 because of the reclamation of Tokyo Bay, but curious minds can still learn about the history and technology behind seaweed cultivation thanks to the Omori Nori Museum in Ota Ward’s Heiwa-no-Mori Park, which faces the Keihin Canal.

A man hangs up nori sheets, which are usually sun-dried for half a day.
A man hangs up nori sheets, which are usually sun-dried for half a day.

The museum’s most popular attraction is a hands-on event that offers visitors a chance to mold dried seaweed the traditional way. Harvested seaweed can measure as long as 20 centimeters, so a shredding machine chops it down into pieces several millimeters long.

The cut seaweed is then soaked in water, scooped up using a box and then poured into a square frame sitting on a screen similar to a bamboo mat. The frame is then removed, leaving a block of seaweed measuring about 20 centimeters on each side.

Singing nori

At a hands-on event in late February, former nori producer Kunio Shimada, 74, demonstrated the spreading of raw seaweed harvested in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to about 80 visitors, including parents with children.

“The trick is to spread it all at once,” Shimada said, because seaweed is hard to flatten if poured little by little. He quickly flipped a box containing seaweed to reveal an evenly spread result.

Next, the shaped seaweed was dried in the sun. Nori sheets make a crackling sound as they dry, which is apparently referred to as the nori “singing.” Visitors can pay to have the nori sheets delivered by mail, or they can pick it up themselves if they return at noon the following day or later.

 By Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun A nori boat that was used to harvest seaweed is on display. It has been designated a national important tangible folk cultural asset.
By Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
A nori boat that was used to harvest seaweed is on display. It has been designated a national important tangible folk cultural asset.

 

“I’m going to savor it with my son,” said Midori Ibuka, 47, a company employee who was taking part in the event with her 4-year-old son.

The three-story, 1,350-square-meter museum also offers exhibitions explaining just how active seaweed cultivation was from the Edo period to the middle of the Showa era (1926-1989). Displays include a 13-meter-long nori boat built in the Showa 30s, nori geta wooden clogs made in the early Showa era for work in the sea, and a section re-creating a nori production space.

“We hope visitors will grasp the depth of nori by experiencing and learning about the old ways of making nori,” said museum attendant Shuhei Miyoshi, 31.

Nori cultivation spread from the Omori district to various areas across Japan, and Asakusa nori dried seaweed made in the district was highly valued. The nori museum is preserving for posterity the memories of a place said to be the home of dried seaweed.

Memo

Omori Nori Museum was opened by the Ota Ward government in 2008. Management is entrusted to the nonprofit organization Nori no Furusato Kai (Hometown of seaweed association). It contains about 1,000 exhibits, including nori-making tools collected by a local preservation group and the Folk Museum of Ota City. Among them, 881 items are designated as national important tangible folk cultural assets.

Location map: The Yomiuri Shimbun
Location map: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Address: 2-2 Heiwa-no-mori-koen, Ota Ward, Tokyo

Open: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Until 7 p.m. in June-August

Closed: Usually every third Monday

Admission: Free

 

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