Miya Shoyu 「宮醤油」 was founded in 1834 and makes premium grade, naturally brewed soy sauce. As with modernisation, most soy sauce these days are mass-produced and are not naturally brewed but Miya Shoyu is one of the few remaining factories in Japan which still uses the traditional brewing methods, thus it is considered to be a cultural heritage in Japan.
Today, Chiba Prefecture remains Japan’s most important production centre for soy sauce and Miya Shoyu is the only maker in Chiba that follows the old brewing process. Its soy sauce is sold under the trade name, Tamasa.
We had the opportunity to meet Keiichiro Miya (官敬一郎), who is the Managing Director and also the 7th generation owner of this family business.
Soy sauce, or shoyu 「醤油」 in the Japanese language, is considered one of Japan’s most indispensable and versatile seasonings and is used at the dining table as well as in cooking and food preparation. The term shoyu actually encompasses five different types of soy sauce, each of which is differentiated by flavour: koikuchi-shoyu (dark brown color with a rich flavour, half wheat and half soybeans), usukuchi-shoyu (lighter color and taste), tamari-shoyu (higher concentration of soybean with no wheat addition), saishikomi-shoyu (rebrewed soy sauce, i.e. instead of using salt, they using soy sauce as an ingredient) and shiro-shoyu (mostly made from wheat, with some soybeans).
Over 80 percent of all soy sauce consumed in Japan is koikuchi, thus this particular type is commonly referred to as shoyu 「醤油」.
How is soy sauce made?
The main ingredients of soy sauce are soybeans, wheat, salt and microbes. The soy sauce production process begins with the making of koji, a dry mash. Soybeans, wheat and salt are first added to water, then mixed with brine and a fermenting agent (a koji mold cultivated on soybeans and wheat). The resulting mash, known as moromi, is left to ferment for approximately six months, after which it is squeezed through a cloth to obtain as much of the liquid as possible. This liquid is nama-shoyu, which is raw unpasteurized soy sauce and once it is heated to kill the bacteria, the final result is soy sauce and the production process is complete.
Miya-san took us on a tour of the factory and one of the interesting stops was this room where we could see the moromi being fermented using traditional methods. This batch of moromi was made in March.
The round discs that sit on the moromi have straws attached to them and as bubbles raise to the surface with the fermentation process, these straws will help to disperse the bubbles. In the past, bamboo sticks were used to stir the moromi and it was rather labour-intensive and taxing on one’s muscles, thus they started using these discs instead.
Modern technology uses temperature control but here at Miya Shoyu, as traditional methods are used, moromi is typically made in the winter when the weather is cold, and this is timed so that fermentation will take place in summer when it’s warm, then temperatures will cool again in autumn towards the end of the production phase and the entire process takes about one year to complete!
How often is the moromi stirred?
It is dependent on the season as two different types of bacteria (lactic acid and yeast) are needed to make soy sauce. During the cold season, more stirring is required as lactic acid requires more oxygen. However, we were told that stirring cannot be done during the summer due to the chemical reactions on the yeast. Temperature control is basically an important factor in the soy sauce production process!
After moromi has aged, it is stuffed in a cotton bag and squeezed to obtain the liquid.
This press helps to extract the soy sauce and we were told that the dregs leftover after squeezing are sent off to be used as horse feed!
Wandering around the compound, we saw several vats which store the soy sauce.
Through the efforts of Miya Shoyu’s six workers, about 200,000 1.8-litre bottles of soy sauce are produced annually and these are being sold nationwide as there is a high demand from heath-conscious people who prefer traditionally made soy sauce.
Built in 1892, Miya Shoyuten is the home and shop of the head of the Tamasa-brand of soy sauce makers. This building was hand-made by traditional carpenters using prime hardwoods and it stands beside the firm’s factory which was built in 1871.
The shop’s walls are decorated with awards and autographs from celebrities who have visited.
There are just too many types of soy sauces available and you’ll be spoilt for choice!!
Thanks for the tour, Miya-san!
Miya Shoyu Factory 「宮醤油店」
Chiba Futtsu Sanuki 247
Please contact Miya Shoyu for their up-to-date hours of operation but as a rough guide, these are their operating hours:
Monday-Friday 8:30 to 18:00
Closed on Saturday, Sunday and New Year holidays.
Getting There by train:
JR東日本 内房線 「佐貫町」駅より、正面に伸びる道(国道465号線)を鹿野山方面へ向かって徒歩10分ほどです。
JR East Uchibo line, Sanukimachi 「佐貫町」 station. It is about a 10-minute walk from the station towards the direction of Kanozan road which extends in front of the National Highway Route 465.