Soy sauce is a way of life here.
Day in and day out, they make it and sell it,
chanting “heave ho, heave ho, one, two, three!” as they wring it out little by little.
They squeeze the fermenting mash out of the sauce with a device called a “fune”, paddling it like rowers on a boat.
It’s heavy work, as the fune doesn’t like to move.
But they put their backs into it, moving it slowly, until the mash trickled forth.
The mash is mixed by hand and fermented during the winter, from the end of November to the beginning of March.
Afterwards, it is stored in a cellar old enough to have survived the Great Meiji Fire, and left to percolate.
The Torii Soy Sauce storefront faces the street, but look further in and you’ll find living quarters and the production area.
After experiencing the wringing process, I understood why the sweet fragrance of the soy sauce hit me the moment I entered the shop.
Torii’s proprietress, who worked the fune together with me, beamed.
She said, “I want to help those who want to try it out after watching others have a go at the fune, and I also want them to know more about soy sauce.”
In her brilliant smile, I felt a deep affection for the soy sauce I’d just produced.
I wondered how many soy sauce shops remain in Japan that preserve this old-fashioned method of production.
From yeast starter to koji malt, then koji to mash, and finally the mash becomes soy sauce --
Torii has perfected this painstakingly long method of vigorously mixing and heating. It’s all done by hand.
Women have inherited ownership of Torii Soy Sauce for generations. The current owner’s husband is a public servant.
After getting married, she walked throughout the prefecture, meeting many different people along the way. Since she already knew she’d inherit the Torii business someday, the possibilities for her future shop naturally bloomed in her mind.
Back then, Torii sold its product by weight. As the times changed, the current owner suggested bottling it at 500 milliliters, as well as labeling it. The bottled soy sauce was a hit, and it remains highly popular with customers to this day.
The innovative proprietress of Torii Soy Sauce strongly wanted to inherit a hanayome noren herself.
She never crossed one on her wedding day, and her father, who wasn’t aware of the custom, scolded her when she mentioned it, saying he’d have made her one if she’d only told him.
Her own daughter, on the other hand, knew all about the noren exhibitions.
She was clear with her mother: “Hanayome noren are expensive, so instead of buying one, I want you to make me one that’s filled with your memories.”
Upon hearing this, the proprietress considered turning a handmade kimono of her mother-in-law’s that her daughter had loved as a child into a noren. Its pattern was of abalone strings.
She cut out the abalone-string portions of her daughter’s kimono and fixed them onto fabric she received from her own mother. She’ll use what’s left of the kimono to create a baby kimono for the grandchild she may one day have. Though she fretted over whether it was good enough, journalist and noren exhibition originator Kazuko Sasaki vigorously nodded her approval.
“This is the best,” she’d said. “It’s one-of-a-kind.”
Her daughter eventually married in Osaka, where there is no hanayome noren custom. She greeted her ancestors not at her new family’s home, but at her family’s own altar. The day before the wedding, prior to leaving her home in Nanao, she joyfully crossed under her noren clad in her bridal robe. It was joyful not because the noren was beautiful, but because of her mother’s love, which coursed deep through every thread. Torii’s owner looked upon her daughter that day and felt happy to have raised such a good daughter.
But that’s not the end of this noren’s tale. Since her marriage, she hangs it as a tapestry at her Kyoto apartment on her wedding anniversary, where she and her husband can bask in its presence. Her life has gotten busier since having her own child, and so the noren now rests with Torii Soy Sauce’s owner.