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

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.