The ancient pilgrim paths that threaded across the peninsula and up into the mountains around Koyasan, the coastal shipping that rolled into the harbors off the Kii Channel, the overland trade routes that connected Wakayama to the ancient capitals—they came together in Yuasa, a town known first for the potent kinzanji miso that came to Wakayama from China, along with Buddhist sutras and silk, and now renowned as one of the finest preserved historical districts.
Yuasa Town has been selected for the rather anodyne classification of “Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings,” one of a little more than a hundred in the entire country. The town grew during the Edo (1603-1808), trading shoyu, soy sauce, and seafood, especially shirasu, whitebait. In a country that lost much of its architectural heritage to natural disasters, warfare and urban redevelopment over the centuries, this is a rare glimpse at life in a port town as it would have been a century earlier.
The Jin Bathhouse, built in the late Edo, once served as a communal bathing and gathering spot for locals. The baths were shuttered in 1986 but have the site has been revived as a museum to life in Yuasa during the Edo.
The kinzanji miso that was made here turned out to be an excellent source of shoyu, dark rich soy sauce. But the original product is still enjoyed on its own. Kinzanji miso is a fascinating product, produced with soybeans and rice or barley, and koji mold, like a standard miso, but spiked with salt, to cut fermentation, and then aged for over a year and sometimes studded with lacto-fermented pickled vegetables.
Probiotic fermented superfoods have seen something of a renaissance in health food circles but this is one of the originals. At miso factory Ota Kyusuke Ginsei, the product is still made in the labor-intensive traditional style—a dying art. Septuagenarian owner Ota Shosuke offers visitors a taste of tradition at the factory’s tiny retail operation.
At another factory in the district, Yuasa Shoyu Company still makes soy sauce according to traditional methods that have long since been abandoned by most commercial producers. Mineral-rich local water is used, as well as black soybeans grown near Kyoto, and fermentation and aging takes upwards of a year. The rich shoyu produced by Yuasa Shoyu is to a commercial soy sauce what a box wine is to a bottle of vintage Bordeaux: the complexity of flavors is unmatched, and great care and years of expertise go into every batch. Between 9:30am and 4pm on weekdays, the factory is open to visitors, who can also choose to take part in the mixing of the unrefined shoyu, and get a taste of the product.
In the shadow of the tower of Yuasa Castle, an onsen hotel features Japanese-style lodging, views out onto the city and the ocean beyond, as well as a hot spring bath. Apart from the stunning views of the Kii Channel, there are also views of the courtyard dry gardens. For those planning to stay nearby, this is one of the best options.
- Facility Name
- Yuasa shoyu kuyozo
- Wakayama Pref. Aridagunyuasachou Yuasa 1464
- Business hours
- Factory tour 9-16 (reservations required)
- Regular holiday
- open everday
- Information Sources:
- NAVITIME JAPAN