Saitama: Observing traditional soy sauce production

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
Next to a 2-meter-high wooden barrel, Fueki Shoyu President Kichigoro Fueki, right, explains moromi to participants in a tour.

KAWAJIMA, Saitama — Surrounded by the Arakawa and Oppegawa rivers, the rural town of Kawajima in central Saitama Prefecture long prospered as the breadbasket of the region’s Kawagoe clan during the Edo period (1603-1867).

Blessed with a fresh water supply, there were many soy sauce breweries in the town, but only Fueki Shoyu Ltd. remains today. Founded in 1789, the company renovated its three breweries and opened Kinbue Shoyu Park in 2019, which introduces its traditional production process.

A tour of the breweries serves as a highlight of the park. The tour begins with the mae-gura, a brewery built in 1883. The building is dim and cool and serves as a storehouse for soybeans in bags.

Soybeans move through pipes to the adjacent koji-gura brewery to be boiled in a pressure cooker.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors view the 38 wooden tubs of the shikomi-gura brewery.

A mixture of steamed and softened soybeans with roasted and crushed wheat is sprinkled with bacteria to become koji (rice malt). Koji is left for three days and mixed with salt water to become a substance called moromi.

Moromi is kept in huge wooden barrels, each 2 meters in height and diameter. The moromi inside is brown and thick, like miso paste, and the brewery is filled with a savory and appetizing smell.

The tour goes on to the last brewery called shikomi-gura, which has 38 wooden tubs viewable through a glass window. Moromi is left in the tubs for about two years. The longer it sits, the darker it becomes as it shrinks due to evaporation.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
The mae-gura brewery where soybeans are stored

“We could shorten the aging process by accelerating fermentation through temperature control,” said Kichigoro Fueki, 12th-generation president, who guides the tour. “However, we give it time so the soy sauce can have a mild, rich flavor.”

After these processes, moromi is heated to adjust the taste and aroma before being filtered to become soy sauce.

There is said to have been about 6,000 soy sauce manufacturers nationwide after World War II, but that number is down to about 1,100 today. With the advent of mechanization, few makers are practicing natural brewing like Fueki.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
From right: Freshly made moromi, a tub that has sat for six months and one that has sat for two years

“We want this park to get people interested in the history and taste of soy sauce,” said Fueki, 41.

His words during the tour are filled with pride and love for the soy sauce he is making.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kinbue Shoyu Park: 660 Kamiigusa, Kawajima, Saitama Prefecture