Web Japan > NIPPONIA No.36 > Special Feature*
NIPPONIA No.36 March 15, 2006

Below left: Koi-kuchi, the most popular type of soy sauce. Has a dark color.
Below middle: Usu-kuchi soy sauce. Has a lighter color and taste. Does not discolor foods.
Below right: Tamari. Has a richer taste and less salt than regular soy sauce.
It would be hard to imagine Japanese cuisine without shoyu (soy sauce). It is such an easy-to-use seasoning, ideal for soups and broths, simmered foods and a full range of other dishes. It sits on the table until someone grabs it to sprinkle directly on food.
To make it, first of all soybeans, wheat and salt are added to water. Brine and a fermenting agent (a koji mold cultivated on soybeans and wheat) are then mixed in. After the resulting mash, known as moromi, ferments for several months, it is squeezed through a cloth to obtain as much of the liquid as possible. The liquid is heated to kill bacteria, and the final result is soy sauce.
There are three main types of soy sauce:
·koi-kuchi, with a dark color and a rich taste
·usu-kuchi, with a lighter color and taste
·tamari, with a higher concentration of soybean and less salt.
Most people buy the first type, so that today the word koi-kuchi is practically synonymous with soy sauce. Usu-kuchi sauce is given a lighter color so that it will not discolor simmered foods and other ingredients.
Tradition says that a Zen priest went to China in the 13th century and brought back the technique for making kinzanji miso. A liquid seeping out of vegetables pickled in this miso was a kind of soy sauce, and this, it is said, was the beginning of tamari, the third variety of soy sauce. Beginning in the 1500s, it was produced mainly in the Kyoto and Osaka region, but after the mid-1600s the population of Edo (present-day Tokyo) mushroomed and the main center of production shifted to an area just east of Edo, in what is now Chiba Prefecture. The older tamari manufacturing process, which produces a milder sauce, evolved to yield koi-kuchi, the dark-colored, salty sauce preferred by the people of Edo.
Chiba Prefecture remains Japan's most important production center for soy sauce, even today. Miya Shoyu-ten is the only maker in Chiba that follows the old brewing process. Its soy sauce is sold under the trade name, Tamasa.
Miya Keiichiro dips his hand in the vat to monitor the fermentation process. He smiles, “Once everything is in the vat, nature takes over.”
Miya Keiichiro, the company's managing director, says, “When we make soy sauce, we aim for an excellent balance of fine fragrance and mild taste. When it comes out just right I feel glad I'm continuing my family's manufacturing traditions. I still have years to go before I can be proud of my record, though.” He has been managing his ancestors' business, which goes back 170 years, for 12 years so far.
Miya's goal is to achieve the best possible taste, so he uses traditional brewing methods that take advantage of natural changes in temperature. His company could change over to mass production, but that is not his ambition—he is after a superior taste. That means, of course, starting with the best ingredients.
“Our soybeans and wheat come from this prefecture. The water is ideal, from our own spring-fed well. We get the salt from Mexico, because of its higher amino acid content.”
Miya is on to something, because many chefs prefer his variety of soy sauce.
Miya Shoyu-ten's Japanese-language website:

Above left: Miya Shoyu-ten manufactures and sells soy sauce the traditional way. The building in Futtsu, Chiba Prefecture, is from another era, too.
Above right: Moromi is a mash containing soybeans, salt, water and a fermenting agent. After it has aged it is stuffed in a cotton bag and squeezed a lot to obtain the liquid. The liquid is heated, and when the fermentation process stops, the result is soy sauce.


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