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Francisco Bellissimo Meets Yukinori Yamamoto Plant Manager, Shimajo Co., Ltd.

  Yukinori Yamamoto,
Plant Manager, Soy Sauce Expert

Shimajo Co., Ltd.
Address: 250-2 Nishimura-ko, Shodoshima-cho, Shodoshima-gun, Kagawa
Tel: 0879-82-3737
(from overseas: 81-879-82-3737)
Fax: 0879-82-3739
(from overseas: 81-879-82-3739)
Everything in the plant is automated including the pressure cookers for steaming the beans and the line that mixes the cooked beans with roasted wheat. Each step of production occurs here: the malting process which produces a leavening base called koji, the fermenting process in which koji is mixed with salt water to produce moromi and allowed to mature, and finally the pressing process.   This is where they make koji, a dry mash of steamed soybeans and crushed roasted wheat, and the entire process takes more than 40 hours. The result has a huge impact on the quality of the soy sauce.   Here I am tasting ki-age soy sauce, which is basically raw soy sauce. Wow! Talk about salty! “It doesn’t taste at all like the regular stuff at this stage,” Mr. Yamamoto said with a grin. I wish he’d warned me!

Shimajo takes pride in its ki-age, which determines the quality of the soy sauce.

Soy sauce ranks on par with olive oil and somen as a product of Shodoshima. Local production dates back several centuries. During the industry’s heyday from the late 19th century to the mid 1920s, the island had 400 soy sauce factories. Now, however, only about 20 remain. Shimajo Co., Ltd. was established in 1972. “But we don’t make soy sauce,” the plant manager Mr. Yamamoto told me. “We make raw soy sauce that becomes the finished product.” Raw soy sauce? What’s that?   Out in the factory grounds, enormous tanks soar into the sky while inside the plant is filled with automated machinery. “This is a joint brewing plant,” Mr. Yamamoto explained as he led me on a tour. Small soy sauce brewers couldn’t keep up with rapid mechanization after the Second World War so several companies joined together and invested in building a plant with modern equipment. That’s Shimajo Co., Ltd. “We only make ki-age, the raw soy sauce pressed from moromi mash. It’s the main ingredient of soy sauce.”   In other words, ki-age is basically undiluted soy sauce. Shimajo produces ki-age for six island manufacturers. Each one then completes the manufacturing process, adding their own distinctive flavors to create soy sauce, ponzu (soy sauce with vinegar) and other products. “Because ki-age determines soy sauce quality, it’s really the core ingredient,” Mr. Yamamoto continued. “That’s why we approach our jobs with a strong sense of responsibility.” It was clear from his words and the sweat on the young workers’ brows that this work is a labor of love.
The factory grounds are lined with 12m tanks filled with a mixture of salt water and koji produced in the plant. Fermentation takes place in the tanks and once matured, the mixture becomes a thick mash called moromi.
This is the cedar vat warehouse. The vats are too high for me to peak inside and I’m not short! The vat in the foreground was re-assembled a few years ago but due to a shortage of bamboo artisans, more recent vats use stainless steel binding.
  The warehouse and wooden vats have their own “personality” that must be fully understood to make good moromi. The soy sauce made here is of even higher quality than that fermented in the tanks outside. From early to mid summer, the warehouse is filled with the sound of moromi popping.

A truly delicious soy sauce?our gift to the future.

Shimajo’s plant has a warehouse full of 2-meter cedar vats used for traditional natural brewing. Wandering among the vats is a bit like walking through a maze. The bacteria living in the warehouse and the natural air temperature causes the koji made from soybeans and wheat to ferment and mature. “This was originally a sake brewery and some of these wooden vats are more than 150 years old. We take good care of them, dismantling damaged vats and re-assembling them.”   “In total, we have about 200 wooden vats. From June to July the contents must be stirred almost everyday to encourage fermentation. Working in the sweltering heat is hard labor! But the soy sauce we make here is really and truly delicious. Today some soy sauces are even cheaper than water. But I believe that’s exactly why we must keep making the real thing.” Being a food connoisseur myself, I couldn’t help but applaud his attitude.
Shimajo is the place to learn about the past and present of soy sauce manufacturing. Guided tours are offered if you reserve in advance.
Mr. Yamamoto is certified by the Japan Soy Sauce Association as a “Soy Sauce Expert.” There are only five such experts on the island. His dream is to become involved in food health through soy sauce manufacturing.