"Traditional" is a fitting title for this brewery

For a soy sauce or miso brewer, the word “old−fashioned” is perfect. And although Yuko Ishikawa, owner of Ishimago, still continues using age−old brewing methods, it doesn’t mean her employees are just as old: “There are two staff members in their 20s!” jokes Ishikawa. However, she is persistent in how she runs her soy sauce brewery, “Even to this day, I still make soy sauce the same way.” But what I find to be most impressive is how she deals with changing times.




Kojibuta for Soy Sauce Making

Making koji, a naturally occurring mold in soy, is said to be one of the most important elements for soy sauce production. Nowadays, it is common to utilize a machine for quality control, but Ishimago uses kojibuta, or a koji tray. Using the container as a tray, they stack hundreds of koji sheets at one time.

It takes time and effort to load, transfer and pour the high quantities of koji by hand. There is a funny story where a soy sauce brewer from Ishimago went to a museum and saw the kojibuta being exhibited. They exclaimed, “Isn’t this the same thing that we use at work?!”

仕込みを前に準備された麹蓋。これだけの量が使われます。/Preparing the kojibuta for use. The amount shown in the photo will be used.
麹蓋は室(むろ)とよばれる部屋に運ばれて麹を成長させます。床の穴に木炭がセットされ、天井の窓の開閉で温度を調節します。夜中でも人が見守りながら調整をするので、「麹の世話をする」なんて呼ばれていたりもします。/The kojibuta is then transferred to the mukuro room, where they grow the koji. Charcoal is placed in the hole of the floor, and the temperature is adjusted by opening and closing the ceiling window. When someone needs to watch and adjust the temperature, even in the middle of the night, they always have to say, “I will go and take care of koji!”
初めて訪問した時に驚いたのが、小麦を炒るのに「石炭」を使っていたことです。今や入手することさえ困難な石炭。当然、近くで調達することができないため北海道から取り寄せているそうです。ただ、少量での購入はできないために「一貨車単位」で取り寄せているとか。/During my first visit, I was quite surprised that they used coal for roasting the wheat. It is quite difficult to obtain coal nowadays. Naturally, the company orders coal from Hokkaido, but they are required to order it by the truckloads.
醤油が仕込まれる桶。/Kioke-large wooden barrels made with Japanese cedar-for brewing.
桶がいっぱいになるまで人力で運ばれます。/The koji is poured until the kioke are full.




(研) 「これが他メーカーの優秀なやつね!」
(蔵) 「あっ!いい香り!」
(研) 「そして、これがおたくのやつ。」
(蔵) 「あっ!蔵の香りだ!」


Endless walking to and from the wooden barrel

The koji is taken out of the mukuro room, and is transported to the 30 stone kioke (about 5,000 liters or 1,100 gallons). The soy sauce brewers, using two-meter high (6.5 feet) wooden pails, walk back and forth transporting the koji until the barrels are filled.

In the kioke, the koji undergoes fermentation and maturation. During this process, a special microorganism develops, which proves to be extremely valuable for the brewer. A nearby research facility sampled the koji, and found that 95% of the microorganisms were unique and different from each other. This number surprised many of the brewery workers.

Researcher: “These microorganisms from other breweries are excellent!”
Brewer: “Ah, this soy sauce has a good aroma.”
Researcher: “And these are the microorganisms from your brewery!”
Brewer: “Ah! This is the aroma of the warehouse!”

In Ishimago’s long history, the microorganism’s ecological system is unique, which explains the special taste.

醤油を搾るにはとても大きな力が必要です。ただ、石孫本店の圧搾機はこれまた旧式。/A great deal of physical strength is needed to press and refine the soy sauce. Ishimago uses a traditional stone press machine.
諸味はこの袋に入れられて搾られます。/Moromi, or the main fermenting mash (unrefined soy sauce), is added into this bag, and squeezed.
強力な力を加えると水分がなくなるギリギリのところまで搾ることもできるのですが、石孫本店の場合はそうもいきません。「搾りかすもこんな分厚くなってしまうんですよ。」と差し出されたものは指先にしっとり湿り気を感じるほど。/With enough strength, it is possible to squeeze all the moisture out, but Ishikawa does not recommend it: “It should only be squeezed until it has this thickness and consistency. It should be moist, and not dried out.”





Setbacks due to snowy conditions…

I think it is easy to impress those who see the process of producing soy sauce the traditional way. But in the past, it was associated with inferiority and hardship.

Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture is an area that receives heavy snow, and it usually accumulates on the second floor of the brewing area. It happens so often that half a day’s work has to stop because of the heavy snow. Ishikawa thought, “It would be nice to move the koji by machine, rather than by carrying it.” So Ishikawa proposed the idea of using machines to her team.

But one day, a magazine writer and photographer came to visit Ishimago, and told Ishikawa, “We have traveled all over the country, and this traditional brewery is truly valuable. You must leave it as it is!”





The turning point

“In the beginning, all the snow and traditional methods was exhausting for us. I eventually learned that my brewery was good enough as is. And so, instead of switching to the latest technologies, I set about repairing the old ones.”

“We only make a few improvements and repairs each year, but preserving tradition is one of our biggest priorities.” Now, Ishimago only uses traditional tools for making soy sauce.

After hearing this story, I was struck with a deep understanding. When I see the tools at Ishimago, I had this feeling that there seemed to be something more important than replacing the equipment and tools. Perhaps this feeling stems from the few brewers who unfailingly continued to use the traditional tools for making soy sauce. A nostalgic atmosphere for traditional brewing methods.



Surprising visitors with the brewery's beauty

One of the most surprising impressions you will receive at Ishimago’s brewery is how beautiful it is. Of course the building and tools are worn, but there is no unpleasant odor that tends to be found in old warehouses, and cleaning is done so thoroughly, that even the edges of floor are spotless.




Pride in the work Yuko Ishikawa does

Owner Yuko Ishikawa oftentimes does not offer specific instructions to the brewers. Rather, they need to ask her, “When should we start?” And in regards to raw materials, the brewers say, “Ishikawa! Because there are few raw materials left, please order some more!”

“And THAT is my job,” says Ishikawa joyfully.

休憩時間には蔵人がそら豆で味噌を仕込んでいたり、畑から野菜を収穫してきていたり、ストーブに鍋がかかっていて何かがつくられていたり・・・「今度は、何をつくっているの?」と、聞くのが楽しみなんです。/During break time, the brewers will prepare some miso soup, harvest the vegetables, and cook a small meal for everyone to share. Ishikawa looks forward to and asks the cook, “What are you planning on making this time?”






Their involvement becomes clearer

With a large scale of production, the division of labor will be higher.

However, at Ishimago where there are no machines, the brewers’ involvement with the soy products directly affects the quality. This causes everyone to take direct responsibility for their own work (including their own mistakes).

Through these attitudes and feelings towards soy products, Ishikawa thinks, “What is the motive, and how is it good to be involved in soy sauce and miso manufacturing?” One motive, she believes, is keeping the brewery in good shape, which has naturally become one of their priorities.

The brewery does not use any sort of “strict cleaning procedure.” Instead, workers simply clean here and there while they have discussions. There is no high pressure to clean.

スコップにも蔵人の名前が。いつも同じものでないと感覚が違うらしく・・・/Each shovel bears the name of the brewer. The feeling would be different if a brewer used a shovel that was not their own.
蔵人全員で手をあわせます。/All the brewers will work together.
小麦の炒り機に小麦を送る時に使う箱。これも相当使われ続けています。/When it is time to roast the wheat, they will be transferred into this box.
「34.56石(一石=約180リットル)入る桶」という表記。小数点以下まで書かれていて、全ての桶の大きさが微妙に違います。/“34.56 stones (one stone = about 180 liters or 40 gallons) in this kioke.” It is written down to the hundredths decimal place for accuracy. All the kioke have varying sizes.






Ishikawa’s character

Ishikawa said, “Working will give you food to eat, but you must have a joyful heart! Or else you will feel lonely.” Her words left a deep impression on me.

While we were in standing in front of the mukuro room, she said, “The heat and light from the charcoal are so soft and nice! For the fire, I start it here, and cover it with straw.” And then she explained the process with animated gestures.

However, the craftsman who manages the charcoal is getting older, and recently, so they haven’t been able to get orders in on time. But Ishikawa says, “We are so grateful to them for doing all of that hard work for us. So, as long as they are able, I will ask them to continue with their good work.”

I wondered if there would be any other charcoal that would be cheaper, or more reliable to procure. But I could tell that there was, of course, no need to ask her, because it is in her character to have already thought about such things.



百 寿

価格 : 381円+税
原材料 : 大豆、小麦、食塩



価格 : 476円+税
原材料 : 米、大豆、食塩
〒012-0801 秋田県湯沢市岩崎字岩崎162
TEL:0183-73-2901  FAX:0183-73-8131