Village to Table Stories

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

Village Life





Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Visit small-scale fermented food manufacturers in Mikawa Aichi prefecture

Fermentation in Mikawa, Aichi prefecture

Aichi is now famous for a major producer of cars, Toyota company, and also steels, but actually, it is also cluster area of food producers. Mikawa, Aichi prefecture is one of the best places to produce koji rice mold. There are many breweries of fermented seasonings such as soy sauce, miso, vinegar sake and mirin. Indeed, Mikawa can be said to be a fermentation district.

The reasons why there are so many fermented food manufacturers in Mikawa are:
- good climate
- blessed with nature (mountain, water sources and ocean)
- development of shipping industry in Edo period 17th century
- 5th biggest sake production site

Traditionally, sake was transported and sold in Edo (current Tokyo). Sake residues are recycled to make kasu-zuke (sake lee pickle), vinegar, and amazake (milky sweet sake).

It was really suitable for shipping companies to transport food products from Mikawa to Edo and to Osaka, since it is conveniently located in the middle of Japan in-between Edo(east) and Osaka(west), and compared to Osaka port, the tide flow is stable in Mikawa.

Mizkan vinegar factory along the canal

Hacho miso

Hatchō Miso has been made in Okazaki area for a long time since 1645. It's made from just soy bean and salt without using rice or wheat mold, which is very unique to Aichi Prefecture.

Steamed soybeans are mixed with bean koji (fermented soy) and formed into miso balls. The miso ball koji are mixed with salted water and put into a big wooden barrel to be fermented for 2 years.

The unique point of Hacho miso is to use around 500 river stones with a weight of 3 tons are put on top in conical shaped mounds, after sealing the miso ball into the wooden barrels.

There are two company in Okazaki to produce Hacho miso until now, and there is factory tours to learn about this unique miso ball fermentation culture in Aichi.

You can taste Hacho miso in the restaurant. The flavor is very thick and dense, and it goes well with tonkatsu miso and also oden.

Mikawa mirin

Mirin (sweet sake) is an essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine. The alcohol content is approximately 14%, it's sweet but no sugar added, and the sweetness comes purely from the process of fermentation (saccharification by koji rice mold). The ingredients are just simply three: mochi rice, koji and shochu (diluted sake).

The history dates back to 600 years ago.  Mirin became popular among especially women, since mirin is sweeter and with less alcohol than sake. It's used for teriyaki sauce (sweet sauce for stewed chicken, yakitori), for boiled fish, and sometimes small amount of mirin can be also used instead of sugar. 

I have visited Sumiya Bunjo Shoten and Sugiura Mirin. Both are family-run small-scale mirin producers, which produce

Sumiya Bunjo Shoten

Sugiura Mirin


Japanese vinegar, called "su" is made from rice. Can you imagine how rice will be vinegar? In Mikawa, there is a great vinegar museum, where you can learn the activities of microbes, which convert sugar into alcohol, and alcohol into vinegar.

Mitsukan, a large scale vinegar manufacturer was once a sake brewery.

Miyamoto koji mold producer

Koji (fermentation starters, comprising aspergillus or other microorganisms cultured on the surface of soybeans, rice, or barley grains) plays an essential role in the fermentation process.

Miyamoto koji ten produces multiple types of koji all year around (rice koji, mugi wheat koji, bean koji). It also produces miso during winter season from December to March.

Fermentation learning

Aichi is the perfect place to learn about fermentation culture and Japanese seasonings. There are many family-run traditional producers of miso, tamari shoyu, mirin, sake and vinegar, which keep their traditional way of brewing.

Please visit Aichi and learn Japanese knowledge of fermentation.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Walking the Sreets of Fushimi Sake Town

by Yuka Tsukahara

When you hear the name Fushimi town in Kyoto, what comes to mind? To mention a few, it is a town well known for the thousands of vermillion “Torii” of Fushimi Inari Shrine, a destination for Japanese saké connoisseurs and lovers, and noted for its street names taken after famous warlords in Japanese history. For centuries, locals and visitors alike would gather during the New Year holidays at Fushimi Inari Shrine to pray for peace and prosperity.

Mornings begin early in Fushimi. Even before sunrise, white smoke can be seen rising from saké breweries. That's when we know that saké production is in progress and as the aroma fills the air. For the residents of Fushimi , "Saké" is a part of life as well as livelihood. Many of the parents whom we befriended during our children's kindergarten and primary school years worked for saké companies. Every early winter these parents would share “Saké Kasu” 酒粕 (lees from saké production) made by the different nearby breweries. At a glance, “Saké Kasu” may look similar. The truth is each has its own unique flavor crafted by the brewery that produces it.

 Generally speaking, it takes a few years of tasting experience before one can tell by which brewery a saké kasu is made. Additionally, we have been very fortunate over the years to receive the gift of fresh chestnuts in the fall from "Toji 杜氏" brew master in Tamba area (丹波、Hyogo Prefecture). "Saké Kasu" is a so -called the “left over”, but it is nutritious and and delicious and is indispensable part of our cooking and making desserts such as “Saké Kasu” jelly. Children in the neighborhood would play in the streets of saké warehouses. Such streets were their playground for hopscotch and rubber band jump rope after school. Today, this is no longer possible because there are more cars on the streets.

Geographically, the city of Kyoto is surrounded by mountains which makes it possible to collect water from the mountains. Fushimi is located in the sourthern part of the city and enjoys abundant underground water. In fact the original name "Fushimi (伏水)" is derived from Chinese characters meaning running underground water. Given the resource, it was inevitable for the locals to become producers of Japanese saké.

The production of saké began in the 8th century, but the long history did not always guarantee the stability of the town and business. Fushimi experienced turbulent times and by mid 19th century, Fushimi had only two saké brewery houses. Today we have 24 brewers including both small and large scale brewers registered to Fushimi Saké Brewers Association. Coupled with the growth of popularity of Japanese cuisine, large scale brewery houses such as Gekkeikan and Kizakura have gained popularity around the globe and have adopted modern technology to produce saké.

On the other hand, Fushimi is a home to much smaller scale saké house such as Fujioka Shuzo. Its owner not only produces saké by using saké rice(less sticky, less protein and fat, more water absorbency than table rice) but ventures to use table rice for producing his original saké. He grows his own table rice in his own rice field in Ohara, located in the northern part of the city known for producing local vegetables.

In Fushimi, we live in the mixture of touristy and local life. There are shops focusing on tourists but there are many family owned shops specializing in all kinds of things where the locals frequent. To name a few, we have shops for fish, eel, pickled vegetable, lantern, traditional betrothal gift, tatami mat, traditional sweets and tea.

During cherry blossom season in the spring, nearby bamboo shoot farmers would bring their freshly harvested bamboo shoots and boil the shoots in a giant pot on the street to sell. We also have one of the largest Kyoto CO-OP store, which provides fresh seafood, meats and produce from the local farmers. 

What makes this town vibrant and authentic is the energy of the women working in these shops. The proprietresses of these family-owned shops are candid and have no trouble laughing out loud. They would engage in a small chat whenever they see each other on the street and exchange thoughts. 

The proprietors also form strong bonds and annual autumn festival of the local shrine is the occasion when they will prove their leadership. It is also a happy occasion for children to carry flower decorated umbrella and dance in the street in groups. 

Fushimi is a free spirited but well balanced town and I hope you will visit us!

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