Thursday, August 4, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Yama Roku Shoyu Factory ヤマロク醤油

Visited 15.11.2014 (Sat)

Preserve food heritage. Shodoshima is an island where miracle is created - apart from being the first place in Japan to cultivate olive successfully, it is also a place where food heritage is faithfully preserved to produce the highest quality soy sauce. Though technology has become increasingly accessible and enhances work efficiency, some manufacturing processes remains time consuming and labour intensive, in order to produce highest quality products. Yama Roku is one of the few left in Japan which retained the traditional method of soy sauce production. In the early days, soy beans are fermented in large wooden containers called kioke (木桶) over a long period of time to harvest this essential seasoning ingredient in food. The number of people employing this method decreases as technology progresses, resulting in a decline in kioke demand and the disappearance of kioke construction skills is impended. The owner of Yama Roku decided to made his way to Sakai in Osaka to master the skill of kioke making; to ensure that future generation can enjoy "genuine" soy sauce brewed in the best method upheld by Japanese since the old days. A noble ambition indeed. Now, with its perseverance, Yama Roku has an impressive possession of 61 kioke, handmade from cedar wood tied together by bamboo found on this island and renowned for its excellent soy sauce quality.

Plant tour. Before we embarked on the plant tour, we were each handed a brush to swipe off the dust on our clothings; as the dust could be "poisons" to the micro-organisms which are crucial to the fermentation process. Glad to be assigned a guide was able to explain the manufacturing process of soy sauce in decently good English. As he pulled open the huge gates to the warehouse where wooden containers of fermented black soy beans are kept, an overpowering, savoury odour of soy sauce hit us right away. The wooden containers looked rotten on the outside, well in fact, they have been in use for several decades and are fully covered by bacteria. Was allowed to climb up the wooden stairs to get a peek of the brown viscous liquid brewing in kioke.

Do note! Please refrain from eating natto beans prior to the visit as the microbes are weaker than natto bacteria. You will be warned not to touch the exterior of the containers as you may disturb/kill the thriving microbes in the damp environment.

The entire tour lasted about 15 - 20 minutes and at the end of the tour, we got to taste their creations too.
- Tsuru Bishio (鶴醤): This soy sauce is naturally brewed in cedar barrels. Such method only accounts for less than 1% of overall soy sauce production in Japan. It takes about 4 years to produce this sauce which is characterised by its rich mellow flavour.
- Kiku Bishio (菊醤): This brand of soy sauce takes about 2 years to complete production and is characterised by a light flavour. Used in sushi, sashimi, tofu, grilled fish and many other Japanese cuisine.
- Ponzu Sauce (ポン酢): Stock cooked from bonito flakes and kelp, sudachi juice (a type of Japanese citrus fruit) and yuzu juice are added to the soy sauce. Good as a salad dressing, for grilled meat and shabu-shabu.
- Kiku Tsuyu (菊つゆ): Stock cooked from bonito flakes and kelp are added to the soy sauce. Used as the soup base for somen, udon and soba.

Unexpected flavours. Dessert with soy sauce has never crossed my mind until I saw the light snacks menu offered by Yama Roku. Here, ice cream are actually served with their signature Tsuru Bishio! Carefully poured a few drops of soy sauce onto the vanilla ice cream and the outcome was unexpected. The sauce created this aromatic and sweet caramel flavour taste in the mouth, completely different from I imagined it to be. Also tried out the rest of the food items on its menu - soy sauce flavoured pudding and roasted rice cakes (mochi) brushed with the lighter soy sauce, Kiku Bishio. All tasted good but the taste is not as mind blowing as ice cream with soy sauce. The soy sauce was so rich and delicious that I did contemplate to lug a few bottles back; but decided to give it a miss as we had to travel light. Nevertheless, the brand "Yama Roku" has already been locked in my mind from this short visit. Apart from the high quality soy sauce, their spirit of preserving heritage is something I will relate their name to.


Yama Roku Shoyu Factory ヤマロク醤油
〒761-4411 香川県小豆郡小豆島町安田甲1607
Opening hours: 0900 - 1700 hrs
Free admission

How to get there? 

(1) By bus + walk
Directions from the nearest bus stop is provided on their website:
- From Tonosho Port (土庄港), take Nishiura line (East loop) heading for Fukuda Port (福田港) and alight at Yasudakami (安田上) bus stop. Walk for another 20 minutes to reach Yama Roku.
Nishiura line (西浦線):


Video: Yama Roku featured in Go Go Japan.

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