Reproducing Shogun-Era Shoyu in Kozaki Fermentation Town
CHIBA – In recent years, fermentation has been drawing the attention of health-conscious people in Japan. Accordingly, regional towns and villages are turning to indigenous fermentation in a bid to revitalize their local economy. Among many such municipalities, Kozakimachi is one of several striking examples. This town, located in the north of Chiba Prefecture, is a rural place with a population of about 6,000.
It is here that one shoyu brewhouse, Fujihan Shoyu, recently celebrated its 141st anniversary. However, the brewery suspended its operations about 40 years ago. The Fujihan’s 6th successor, Hanji Takahashi, has been pursuing for two years an inspirational attempt to reproduce Edo-shogunate-era shoyu soy sauce. The Edo period was a peaceful time, from 1603 to 1868.
To achieve Hanji’s goal, a special chamber to make koji malt was built at Fujihan in November. Why does Hanji want to reproduce the old-time, visionary shoyu now? What is the attraction of this type of shoyu?
Shoyu has been enriching washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, for centuries. Washoku was designated as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage item in 2013. The trend has been putting the spotlight on fermented food during the past 10 years or so. The markets of natto, yogurt, cheese salt koji and amazake have expanded as health-conscious people are choosing fermented food. The market for amazake, a sweet fermented rice drink, has doubled or quadrupled compared to several years ago.*1-2
Until a while ago, fermented food meant shiokara salted fish guts, nukazuke rice-bran pickles, natto and miso. Today, Japan has various types of fermented food including western items like yogurt, natural cheese and lactobacillus-based functional drinks, etc. On the other hand, the fact that traditional condiments such as shoyu, vinegar and mirin rice wine are also fermented foods may not be that well-known. Accordingly, shoyu’s popularity in Japan has been waning.
As these charts*3 show, the per capita consumption, expressed in orange, has been decreasing since the 1980s along with the total consumption, expressed in purple.
However, the export of shoyu has been steadily increasing. While Japanese are shunning their proud traditional seasoning, foreigners are loving it more!
One reason for the declining popularity of shoyu is westernized food culture and the importing of various condiments to Japan. You can easily find ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, Tabasco and many others from foreign countries at any supermarket. Shoyu producers are diversifying to survive by productizing traditional items like dashi (broth) shoyu or shoyu dressing. Still, this long-lasting condiment is facing a difficult situation in its native country.