Museum entrance (Photo: Dmitry Rakin)

Tobacco & Salt Museum

Theme museum on a rather obscure, but intriguing topic.

Museum entrance (Photo: Dmitry Rakin)
Dmitry Rakin   - 4 min read

The Tobacco & Salt Museum is a theme museum conveniently located near Tokyo Skytree. It can make a pleasant bonus to a shopping trip around town when you are already too tired for a full-scale museum but still want to see something special. The museum stays open until 18:00 and the admission price is just 100 yen for adults, which is less than you would pay for your average green tea from a vending machine.

In my case, I did not even plan to visit. I was passing by and it caught my attention with the statue of a Native American smoking a long pipe – probably a sight you do not see that often on Tokyo streets. I used to smoke and even now after I have successfully quit this habit, I still share some passion for tobacco aesthetics, so I decided to visit.

Japan remains one of the few developed countries where smoking tobacco has not yet turned into a social stigma. A pack of cigarettes costs around $5-6, you are usually allowed to smoke in bars or pubs, and the percentage of smokers is one of the highest in the world. But all this is not so surprising if you consider the history and culture of tobacco smoking in Japan which accounts for more than 400 years. And it is an amusing history, which you can fully explore at the museum.

Of course, the collection is interesting not only to smokers or big fans of everything salty (I am thinking Vegemite). On the first floor, you can get the main idea about how tobacco is grown and manufactured, when it was transferred to Europe and why it became popular worldwide. Go the second floor then, and it will give you an ethnological perspective as it is devoted to the history of tobacco in Japan. You can see a nice collection of famous Japanese-style pipes (kiseru) and also find out why they are shaped so strangely. Ukiyo-e pictures depict the widespread use of tobacco in society despite all the prohibitions, and a full-scale reproduction of the Edo-period tobacco shop shows you how the tobacco was processed and sold three hundred years ago. Smokers and collectors will also love the gallery of cigarette packet designs from Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods.

The salty part of the museum is less impressive, although it is still worth checking out. If you are able to read Japanese, it would be especially interesting, since extensive information on the salt industry is provided. The subject may seem a bit dull, but I am pretty sure you have not heard about the underground salt cathedral in Poland, have never seen a giant block of salt (it weighs about one tonne!), and never knew that traditionally, Japanese made salt out of seaweed.

The special exhibitions are held on the 4th floor and if there is one when you visit, I recommend you see it after exploring the main collection from the 1st floor to the 3rd. When I was there, they held an exhibition about snuff-culture in Europe, Japan, and China – a rather obscure topic, but are not those usually the most exciting ones?

After you are done with watching the collection, see the museum shop – as you know, in Japanese museums they usually have a great choice of souvenirs connected to the venue's theme. A nice addition is the cafe, "C'est Bone Plage", where you definitely should have a crepe or a gallet with a glass of cider.

Getting there

A 12-minute walk from Tokyo Skytree.

Dmitry Rakin

Dmitry Rakin @dmitry.rakin

I am a MEXT-scholarship graduate student from Moscow, Russia. Here in Japan I do a research in Meiji University. I also have a passion for writing and work as a free-lance journalist. As of now I am planning to stay in Japan for a year, but there is a possibilty that I will stay longer.I love to ...