NIHONMONODiscovering Japan [Nihon] through authentic craftsmanship [Honmono]

Hidetoshi Nakata travels around Fukushima <#02> Arriving in Fukushima “fermented foods”

Hidetoshi Nakata travels around Fukushima
<#02>Arriving in Fukushima “fermented foods”

Yamagataya Syouten Co., Ltd. is a small soy sauce and miso maker in Soma city of Fukushima that was founded more than 150 years ago in 1863. Kazuo Watanabe is the fifth generation owner of the store which originally operated under the name “Yamabun”. Following the family tradition that the “owner should be involved in the process”, Watanabe earned the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries award at the nationwide soy sauce content 4 times in the first 6 years, after taking over the business. Yamagataya is now known around the nation.

Soy sauce born in Fukushima and recognized all around Japan

The wooden structure has an ambience that speaks of its history, and the various products like soy sauce, miso, koji, amazake and “sagohachi” (pickles made from malt) are proudly displayed throughout the shop. Nakata gazes into the depth of the shop, following the aroma of miso.
“You sell miso by weight” he commented.

Watanabe gives Nakata a taste. First Nakata tastes the top selling product “Yamabun Honjozo Tokusen Soy Sauce” which has a mild yet deep flavor that spreads throughout his mouth, stimulating his appetite.

Soy sauce production begins with making malt from soybeans and wheat. Mash is then made from the malt and is allowed to ferment for 6 months, then pressed to create “kiage” which is the concentrate for soy sauce. It is a long, arduous and expensive process.
Fukushima prefecture developed a system to take over the “kiage” manufacturing process at a single factory in order to alleviate the burden of each individual brewery. This single factory production was the first in the nation and became known as the “Fukushima method”, quickly spreading nationwide. Half of the soy sauce that is sold in Japan uses this method.
There are several varieties of “kiage” such as “marudaizu” (whole bean) and “koikuchi” (thick flavor), and Fukushima prepares different varieties. Each brewery is able to make their own distinct soy sauce by combining the various “kiage”.

Traditional techniques add to the flavor

The next important process in bringing out the attractive features of soy sauce is the heating that takes place at each brewery. Watanabe guided us through the factory as he explained that each brewery has their own special process.
At Yamagataya, the tradition has been to add “kaeshi” a special blend of “mirin” boiled with sugar and soy sauce. The “kaeshi” is allowed to set over 10 days, and added to the “kiage” just before it reaches 80 degrees celsius. “Other breweries tell me they’ve never heard of such a technique, but it adds a depth and aroma to the soy sauce.”
The temperature is gradually raised to bring out a wonderful “higa” or firey aroma that is lasting.
“What kind of dishes goes well with this soy sauce?”
Watanabe gave some thought to Nakata’s question and answered that since it is made in a town by the ocean, it goes quite well with fish. The top recommendation is boiled flounder he said.
“The color, the shine and flavor turn our just right, and the fish will not fall apart. Many professional chefs from restaurants and Japanese style inns tell me that they can’t use any other soy sauce.”
Having performed well at the contest, orders are coming in from around Japan. Watanabe is especially pleased that the locals are happy.
“In the olden days, every castle town had a soy sauce brewery, including Soma, but now we are the only one. I hope to be able to pass on the history of Soma to the next generation through soy sauce and miso, both of which are flavors and part of the food culture of the homeland.”


Yamagataya Syouten Co., Ltd.
31 Kamimachi, Nakamura, Souma-shi, Fukushima