Taisho-era Soy Sauce Maker

Kabe 064Have you ever heard of Kabe? It is a town in northern Hiroshima city. Old buildings still line many of the narrow streets which makes it a little hard to navigate at points. Yesterday Natsuko took me to a shop selling handmade cloth bags and crafts. Unfortunately, it was closed and no one seemed to be around. We started poking around and looking at a few antiques on display in a sort of warehouse.

Nakagawa-san of Kikko Naka Soy Sauce, Kabe

Nakagawa-san of Kikko Naka Soy Sauce, Kabe

A man looking to be in his mid-sixties came out to see what we were up to. He was Nakagawa-san and it turns out he is a third generation manufacturer of soy sauce, his grandfather having established the Kikko Naka brand ( also known as Nakagawa Shoyu Ltd.) in the 9th year of Taisho ( 1921).

Waichi Nakagawa, Long Beach, Ca, 1919

Waichi Nakagawa, Long Beach, Ca, 1919

He told us that his grandfather Waichi nakagawa,and his wife had a store in Long Beach, Calif in the early 2oth century, Togo Shoten. They returned to Japan in 1921 and began making soy sauce. I don’t know why the Nakagawas decided to return to Japan but according to Wikipedia, there was a sizable Japanese community in Long Beach in those days.

Before the war, Long Beach had a sizable Japanese-American population, who worked in the fish canneries on Terminal Island and owned small truck (produce) farms in the area. Due to exaggerated fears on the coast and racial prejudice, state officials persuaded the national government to remove Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans for internment in 1942 to inland facilities. Most did not return to the city after their release from the camps.

I love old photos and the Nakagawa were very kind to share their family albums with us and give permission to show them. Here is a photo of his grandparents and their son, probably shortly after returning to Japan.

The Nakagawa family in Japan. (note her early Showa hirdo!

The Nakagawa family in Japan. (note her early Showa hairdo!)

Kabe is known for its sake breweries and soy sauce manufacturing as well as for the iron casting. Bathtubs began to be built in individual homes from the Taisho period giving a boost to casting  industry. If you have ever seen an old-fashioned Japanese tub, you’ll know it is like a big cauldron, heated with logs from below! As a young bride, I remember taking a bath at my mother-in-law’s house and how hot the side of the tub would become! (There was a wooden lattice in the bottom to sit on.)

Cast Iron Cauldron used to boil soybeans

Cast Iron Cauldron used to boil soybeans

Here you can see the same kind of cast iron cauldron. These have been used for almost a hundred years to cook the soybeans for making the soy sauce which then has to ferment for up to two years!

Akiko in her shop

Akiko in her shop

Japanese patchwork

Japanese patchwork

Akiko Nakagawa opens her handsewn crafts shop in the afternoons. She spoke a little English to me and was very friendly and welcoming. This patchwork cosmetic bag sells for 1000 yen! One very interesting item she showed me was silk thread she had spun from the cocoon of the yama mayu moth. ( rather than from silk worms)

A kind of silk thread made from the wild Yama mayu moth

A kind of silk thread made from the wild yama mayu moth

Natsuko,our Darts taxi driver, drove a long way!

Natsuko, our Darts taxi driver, drove a long way!

For the people living in the mountains in northern Hiroshima, Kabe was an important trade center from the Edo period. Salt and dried seafood from the Inland sea was carried up the Otagawa river. On the second and the seventh of each month, market days were held.  Agricultural products, tobacco, and oil wax were sold.

Waichi Nakagawa, founder of Kikko Naka

Waichi Nakagawa, founder of Kikko Naka

I never expected to find this old shoyu factory when I started out. I was thrilled to see the old pictures of Japanese living in America! Here is one more photo of Mr. Nakagawa’s grandfather as an old man. I’m glad to see that Nakagawa’s son seems ot be carrying on the business in the fourth generation! I bought a small bottle of soy sauce for myself! I’m looking forward to tasting it with some raw fish tonight! A cup of sake anyone??

Kikko Naka Soy Sauce

Kikko Naka Soy Sauce


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Rebecca Scaglione - Love at First Book
    Feb 03, 2014 @ 13:52:33

    That is soooooo cool!!! I love visiting unique places, and have visited a few wineries and breweries because it’s just so interesting to see how things are made!

    Thank you for linking up to the Spread the Love Linky Party! Even though it’s my last week of hosting, April @ The Steadfast Reader will be taking over, which is super exciting! More info to come. . . 😀


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