Village to Table Stories

Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

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Thursday, 12 December 2019

Fermentation experience at a farmer's kitchen and soy sauce brewery in the Yamanobe ancient trail

BY Robin Hoshino

Nature’s Way - When it comes to food 

Convenience is often king, but in the land of an legendary queen in Nara, two amazing women are going back to basics.

The Yamanobe Trail which runs through the countryside of Nara, is thought to be one of the oldest roads in Japan. Part of this road winds its way through the eastern edge of the Nara Basin, an area dotted with kofun - ancient burial places of Japanese royalty. Among these is said to be the final resting place of Queen Himiko, who ruled these lands more than a thousand years ago.

Soy sauce brewery Daimon Shoyu

Today, this region is home to a new generation of strong and inspiring women who are making waves in the local food scene for their incredible work. The first of these is Maki, a third generation brewer of Daimon Soy Sauce. We visited her family brewery one clear Autumn morning to find out more about what makes Daimon Soy Sauce unique.

Daimon Soy Sauce Brewery has been passed down through the women in Maki’s family, along with a passion for natural brewing methods. While much modern soy sauce is made in sterile factories, and has many additives to keep the flavor stable for a long period at room temperature, Daimon Soy Sauce is made using traditional techniques in enormous wooden barrels using koji bacteria that is cultivated in-house. As a daughter and mother, Maki is proud to use high quality ingredients and traditional techniques to produce a safe and healthy products for her family and people everywhere.

As soon as we entered the brewery we were hit by an earthy salt caramel-like smell. The entire space was a soy sauce ecosystem - life was in the air. 
Maki explained that they are very careful that the brewery does not get infected by other bacteria - the soy sauce bacteria are surprisingly delicate, and succumb easily to more aggressive strains such as those to make natto - fermented soy beans. Using the same barrels year on year gives the soy sauce bacteria a stable environment to thrive. This comes with real challenges - as well as taking a lot of time and labor, as this kind of traditional brewing becomes rarer and rarer, the craftspeople that support this industry are also vanishing - there is only one person in Japan currently making the kind of barrel necessary to brew soy sauce. For this reason too Maki is keen to get more people using this traditionally-made products.

We saw the soy sauce being brewed, and even got a chance to mix the moromi - the fermented mash in the casks, after which Maki invited us to taste the final product. She poured a drop into a sake cup. The colour was deep red, and the aroma fruity and earthy. The taste was deep and complex and satisfying.

Organic Farmer's Kitchen "Himiko's Garden"

After Daimon Soy Sauce, we took a short trip to Himiko’s Garden, a community kitchen and cafe, where we met Kaori - an organic farmer who grows ancient varieties of rice using natural farming methods.

As we arrived she was busy preparing lunch in the open-air kitchen that overlooks her rice fields and a lake, right at the foot of one of the ancient burial mounds. Back in the kitchen all eyes quickly travelled to the Kamado - a traditional wood fired oven- in the middle of the floor. This is a clay mound-like oven with hollows on the surface for pots to sit into over the flames. 

While we waited for the rice to cook, Kaori explained each of her homemade condiments to us. There were several kinds of miso with different bases such as barley and black beans instead of rice and soy beans. We sampled salt-koji and she explained that the koji boosts the salt flavor so you don’t need as much salt if you use salt-koji instead.

Originally from Osaka, Kaori was inspired to move to Nara and study natural farming under an expert as she was concerned about the amount of additives and sugar in modern food. When she started growing her own fields of rice, she out-produced all her neighbours and even her teacher came to find out how she did it. After the tasting Kaori also took us down to the fields to look at the rice. In spite of the recent storms, the plants were looking healthy. She showed us the ancient black and red varieties as well as rice famous in sake-making.

When the rice was ready we sat down to a delicious macrobiotic lunch of vegetables, tofu, chicken, rice and miso soup. The food certainly packed a more nutritious punch that your average meal. After lunch we were brimming with energy.

Soy sauce and rice are perhaps two of the most basic components of Japanese food, and these days are often taken for granted - mass produced and sometimes even imported. Here in Nara, we could experience the quiet dignity that comes with valuing and protecting these essential parts of Japanese culture so that they can be passed on to the next generation.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Mushroom farmer's lunch in Nara

Yoshino is famous for its Yoshino cedar tree but also it is blessed with good forest resources. Kinokono yakata is a restaurant located in Higashi Yoshino in Nara, 1.5 hours away from Nara city, providing locally harvested forest products, mushrooms and wild meats.

Hashimoto family is a small-scale mushroom farmer, cultivating various kinds of organic mushrooms for 30 years in Higashi Yoshino. In the restaurant, you can taste their homegrown shiitake, shimeji, lion’s mane mushroom, nameko, and maitake mushrooms. They also provide wild boar meats, if you wish to.

Full course meal of mushrooms includes roasted mushrooms (you can roast mushroom by yourself over a charcoal fire), nameko mushroom miso soup, daikon radish mochi, shiitake tsukudani, mushroom rice and dessert.

Their mushroom factory is located just next to the restaurant, and it is also possible to see around the factory freely after lunch.

All dishes use locally harvested fresh mushrooms grown adjacent room to the restaurant. It is very nice to see where and how it's grown.

Very friendly Hashimoto family will welcome you, if you wish to visit them.

"Kinoko no Yakata"
Higashi yoshino village, Nara Prefecture
Closed on Thursdays
Contact: 0746-42-0991(In Japanese)

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Self-sufficient life in hidden mountain village in Noto peninsula

2 hours from Kanazawa by car, in an isolated village called "Noto's Tibet",  5 families live together. There is a zen temple, which is known to those in the know.

It is natural to live with neighbors and visitors like one big family members, according to the villagers ,sharing one big bath with 5 families, having meals, raising village children, and building houses together.

Visitors can experience zen meditation, yoga, cooking, indigo dye, and so on...

Zen meditation starts 6:30 in every morning. Some went to beach to catch fishes, some enjoyed drawing, everyone could do different things, but shared meals and life stories.

I wanted to learn about indigo dye more, and kept dyeing whole day.
A village mother and an artist, Keiko taught me indigo dye and sewing. She is growing indigo plants by seeds, making sukumo (fermented indigo plants) by herself and design her original textile.

handmade sukumo
tie-dye, shibori

Sewing khadi

hanging scroll by Keiko san

There are chickens in the farm. Fishes and shells can be caught in the ocean. Life is almost self-sufficient.

Many children are playing around together all the time in the fields, I had no idea whose children they are. Cats and dogs are also living together.

Grown up together with children from 5 families, they are still very friendly as if real brothers and sisters. Even after they got married and had children, they often come back to the village.

Nowadays, nuclearization of the family increases in Japan, and traditional community is disappearing. This style of co-existent life, something different from "ecovillage" or sharehouse, reminds us old and nostalgic way of living, which was standard before the WW2.

While meditation, so many ideas and future hopes came to my mind...


Nakatani House, 400 years traditional house and Soba noodle cafe

Noto Ningyo washi : paper atelier

Saturday, 26 January 2019

[24-26 Sep 2019] 3 Day Fermentation workshop to learn how to make authentic koji (rice malt) from a professional koji starter manufacturer

This class offers a rare opportunity to learn making authentic koji malts by a president of Hishiroku Moyashi. “Hishiroku Moyashi”, the only one koji starter manufacturer established at least 360 years ago in Kyoto, where koji culture was started in the end of Heian period (12th century).

The venue “Moyashi machiya” was once used as a koji starter manufacturer, and the actual koji starter cultivation room, called “koji-muro” is used for making koji for this workshop.

What you can learn from this class

You can learn basic knowledge of koji malt (aspergillus oryzae) and fermentation by microorganisms as well as how to make koji rice malts from a professional koji starter manufacturer.


Kyoto Moyashi Machiya (268 Nishiwakamatsu-cho Shimogyo, Kyoto city)


  1. Learn how to make koji at home by steaming 2kg of rice 
  2. Experience professional koji manufacturing process of “mori” (transfer of koji into wooden trays) by using rice malts fermented by Hishiroku Moyashi. 
You can learn two methods and compare the final products of the two, and bring the koji back to your home.


Day1 24th September 10:00-17:00
Process of “Drainage (mizukiri)”, “Steaming (mushi)”, “Cooling (horei)”, “Inoculation (tanekiri)” and “Wrapping (toko)”

Lecture 1: History of fermented foods in Japan, Classification of microorganisms, Aspergillus oryzae

Day2 25th September 10:00-17:00

Process of “Cut and turn (kirikaeshi)”, “Serve (mori)”, “Mid-duty (naka-shigoto)”, “Piling (bozumi)”, “Final-duty (shimai)”, “bricks-laying (renga-zumi)”

Lecture2 : Koji malt starter (tane-koji)

Lecture3: Enzyme, tasting fermented soymilk by using rice malt powder

Day3 26th September 10:00-13:00
Process of finalizing (dekoji)
Lecture on the koji starter produced by Hishiroku, Q&A

* Special gathering will be held at night on 24th September. Please feel free to join (extra charge needed).

For further information:
Moyashi machiya FB

Sunday, 13 January 2019

How to make shoyu (soy sauce) at home

Soy sauce, called shoyu is one of the 5 key seasonings of washoku cuisine, along with sugar, salt, vinegar, and miso.

Please see the link below more about the production of soy sauce in Japan.
"Hishio no sato" a home of soy sauce, Shodo shima island

How to make soy sauce

They key to make shoyu (soy sauce) successfully is depending on koji malt (fermented soy beans and wheats).


wheat : soy bean = 1:1
water : soy bean = 1.1 : 1
salt 18% of total amount

To make sweeter shoyu (called usukuchi), increase the ratio of wheat more than soy, then, the taste and the color will be lighter. If you reduce wheat, the taste will be thicker and color will be darker (called koikuchi).

1. soak soy beans for one night

2. boil or steam halfway till the beans get soften

3. roast wheats

4. mill wheat after roasted

5. mix crushed wheat with tane koji (starter) and boiled soy beans

6. put in muro (temperature controlled room) for 3 days with the room temperature 36-38 Celsius degree.

after 3 days...

7. mix with salted water and leave it for one year. It needs to stir everyday for the first 1 week, and once a week in winter season, and everyday in summer time.

If you use soy sauce instead of water, it becomes saishikomi shoyu (second brewed shoyu).

8. filter by linen or cotton 

 After filtered soy sauce, the leftover also can be used for making "jiang" mixed with chili powder and rice koji.

Monday, 19 November 2018

How to make Natto, fermented soy bean

Fermentation is a basis of Japanese cuisine. The key seasonings, such as miso, soy sauce, venegar, sake, mirin (sweet sake) are all fermented products. Furthermore, tsukemono pickles, nukazuke,  natto, also add flavor on daily meals.

Some people do not like natto, because of its strong flavor and stinky smell, it is Japanese food culture to have natto on top of rice, typically served with miso soup.

History of natto in Japan

Formally, the first historical record of natto dates back to 11th century, but it is said that natto already existed in Yayoi period (300 BC–300 AD), when beans started to cultivate in Japan.

The ingredients are simple; only boild bean and straw, or even any kinds of wild grasses are possible to ferment soy beans. It is said that natto became popular among worrier, since it is handy to bring soy beans to battle field, wrapped by straw, then soy beans got naturally fermented.

Natto became commercial products in Edo period (1603 – 1868), and spread all over Japan.  Especially, natto produced in Mito in Ibaragi prefecture is popular. People in the eastern part of Japan more often eat natto, compared to the west.

Merit of natto

Why fermented foods became widespread in Japan? One of the advantage of fermentation is that harvested crops can be preservable for longer term, especially in rural area, crops can be harvested a lot at one time, and less in winter season. It is required to stock food and prepare for off-season. Also, fermentation adds much more nutrition value as well.

The other advantages of fermented soy beans are; 
  • It contains Nattokinase
  • It is rich in protein, Vitamin K, B2, B6 and E, mineral, and fiber
Especially, in Japanese cuisine, soy bean products such as tofu, miso, natto are major protein sources. 

How to make natto

It is fermented with Bacillus subtilis, which grows under the aerobic condition.
It is very interesting to make various types of natto in combination of diverse beans and plants, from which natural bacteria can be harvested. It should not be always "soy", but it is possible to make natto by using kidney beans, peas, black beans, azuki beans, and even rice, or other grains as well!

In Japan, we use rice straw to harvest natto bacteria, however, in other asian countries, various plants are used, for instance, banana leaves are used in Thailand, and in Myammer, it is believed that a certain kind of fern can make the best natto.

Here is a report on the combination of plants and beans:
Table of fermentation: Natto from the world


  1. Soak beans for 6-24 hours depending on variety and temperature 
  2. Steam soy beans or other types of beans and peas 
  3. Inoculation: Wrapped with straw or other leaves 
  4. Keep it warm for 24-48 hours 
  5. Keep it in fridge for 24 hours (the taste will be better after leaving one more day)

How to use natto

If you do not like the strong smell of natto, you can also use it as a seasoning.

Natto shoyu

blend following ingredients;
natto, salted koji, amazake, soy sauce, chili, seaweeds

Natto dressing for salad

blend with; 
natto, leek, radish, ginger, lemon, vinegar