Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Soy Sauce

Back before Usagi Yojimbo went on hiatus in 2012, there was a nifty two-parter featuring Usagi coming to the rescue of a man who brewed soy sauce. Thanks to issue #143, I learned a whole lot about how soy sauce is made and some of the "secrets" to its brewing, including the fact that the cultures of mold and bacteria that help the sauce ferment are unique to each company and have developed for a long time, sometimes over centuries.

Usagi gets a lesson in making soy sauce in Usagi Yojimbo #143 (January 2012)

That's why I was very impressed when I read this story about a soy sauce company wiped out by the 2011 tsunami.
RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan -- When the tsunami warning sounded, workers at the two-centuries-old soy sauce maker in northeastern Japan ran up a nearby hill to a shrine for safety, and watched in disbelief as towering waters swallowed their factory.

They all believed the business, started in 1807, and its precious fungal cultures that give soy sauce its unique taste were lost forever. Everyone except for Michihiro Kono, the ninth-generation son of the founding family.
Turns out Kono had taken the cultures of Yagisawa Shoten Co. and given some to medical research. The cultures survived by what could be called an amazing fluke.
The lab was destroyed by the tsunami, but the containers with the cultures were found nearby by its researchers, intact.
The trick with soy sauce, as I learned from Usagi Yojimbo, is that it must sit for two years before it can be sold. Somehow Kono managed to keep the company intact for four years before the first product could ship. He paid the employees while they volunteered in disaster recovery, with help from crowdfunding efforts. And while they aren't a screaming success at the moment, they are coming back.