Visit Yuasa in Wakayama Prefecture to taste soy sauce with a depth of flavor you’ve never before encountered.
There’s a raw and rustic charm in the sleepy little town of Yuasa that feels very precious. It’s in the dusty diminutive buildings that seem to have slipped straight though the archives of a history book. It’s in the people, who sit calm in open doorways having unhurried conversations with passersby. It’s in the atmosphere, with unmanned bundles of fruit lying for sale on street corners, with the trusted surety that sales will be collected in “honesty boxes” lying near the fruit. And, most importantly for all epicureans out there, it’s in the ancient traditional method of making the most artisanal soy sauce your palate will ever encounter.
It’s funny that one of the most integral ingredients of Japanese cuisine, the virtual backbone of this amazing odyssey of gastronomy that we call Japanese cuisine, had such an incidental invention.
Original methods of production, first established 750 years ago, are still vigilantly adhered. In Yuasa, soy sauce undergoes a patient one to two years of fermentation, the ingredients are carefully sourced from within Japan and artificial preservatives are strictly avoided. As fate would have it, the waters of Yuasa have a mineral content ideally suited for the creation of a superior product. Cedar barrels used for fermentation are another key factor.
A visit to Yuasa Soy Sauce Company, one of the largest remaining producers in the city, is highly recommended. Visitors can tour the factory and see these massive 6-ton barrels, some 130 years in age, still used in production. After the tour, sign up for a unique souvenir: make your very own bottle of soy sauce to take home. A true test in patience, you have to mature your concoction for a year to taste the final product.
Ancient industrial town
In the “Preservation District of Traditional Buildings” or judenken, a small area of conserved wooden buildings that were once part of a thriving industrial town, you get a feel of the simple hard-working lives of workers in the Edo period. Once bustling with traders and workers, the area housed 92 soy sauce breweries at its prime.
Only four of these breweries now remain. The history of this old townscape of low wooden structures built with latticework and tiled roofs, is poignantly enhanced with small displays of personal objects used by its Edo era residents. Some of these ‘Street Museum’ exhibits, displayed in seiro or bamboo trays used for soybean fermentation, hold rusted timepieces, carved hip flasks and metal framed spectacles once held precious by people who lived there.