Life & Leisure

Traditional soy sauce factory seeks to revive Japanese town’s fortunes

By Edurne Morillo

Nara, Japan Dec 19 (EFE).- Hiroyuki Kimura, a former clerk in Japan, decided to leave the major city where he lived and shift to the small town of Nara to take forward his family’s age-old soy factory and continue the legacy that his grandfather had to abandon after World War II.

Situated in the west of the Japanese archipelago, Nara is the former capital of the country (710-794) and is considered as the birthplace of many fundamental elements of Japanese culture.

However, in recent years it has witnessed a population exodus towards major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Kimura, 46, decided to buck the trend and move to Tawaramoto, situated in the center of the Nara prefecture, with a population of less than 30,000.

“Martuto Shoyu was founded in 1689 but in 1949, during my grandfather’s generation, we had to close after nearly 260 years of history. World War II was the region, when all soya and wheat – the raw materials for soy sauce – was used up as food,” Kimura told EFE during a press tour organized by the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Although his grandfather never opened up about having to leave the family business, Kimura found his old apron carefully preserved in a box.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandfather as a child, but never heard him talk about how to make soy sauce. Due to which I began to take an interest in what our family firm may have meant for the region,” he said.

Unable to ask his grandfather about the craft, Kimura began to learn it on his own, eventually reading more than 1,000 ancient documents found at their facility.

“It took me five years to study these papers and I had to also ask local elderly people to about what they remembered of the era,” said the businessman, who managed to produce his first batch of soy sauce in 2022 after years of effort.

One of the special features of the Maruto Shoyu sauce, produced from locally-grown soy, is that it is not pasteurized as a preservation process unlike the other sauces, which makes it ideal for raw consumption with salads or sashimi.

However, this also requires it to be stored in the fridge and consumed within six months.

In order to place value on the family recipe, Kimura decided to open a restaurant and hotel at the facility, so that diners and guests could not only know about the sauce-making process but also taste it.

Situated within the factory premise, the Kuramoto Ryori restaurant is the brainchild of 41-year-old chef Yuya Ola, who began his career in Tokyo and later decided to move to the countryside to grow his own vegetables.

At a nearby garden, Ota grows all kinds of vegetables, with special emphasis on local and rare varieties, aiming to preserve them.

“Close to 60 percent of the vegetables that we use come from our own garden, where we do not use chemicals or fertilizers. We focus on not producing waste,” Ota said, while displaying different types of Japanese radishes that he uses for his dishes.

The chef said that he had witnessed a growing interest in the rural areas among the youth in recent years, but stories like Kimura’s or his own are still rare.

Japan’s population peaked in 2008, and since then the rural areas have been witnessing a drop in the birth rate and a rapid population decline, with many young people moving to the big cities for better study and career prospects.

Since 2022, more than half of Japanese municipalities can be described as “depopulated,” according to the interior ministry.

“Due to the aging population, more and more farmland that has been carefully handed down from generation to generation is being abandoned, and I have felt a growing sense of crisis due to the loss of resources which has continued uninterrupted for years,” Kimura said. EFE

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