Noda, Japan isn’t a place that many people know much about. To Bujinkan practitioners we recognize this city as home to Hatsumi Sensei and his hombu. But Noda holds global notoriety for something else as well. The Kikkoman Soy sauce company also calls Noda home. Actually Noda is the birthplace of this company.
Discovered in China more than 2,500 years ago, soy sauce is one of the world’s oldest condiments. To prepare for the coming winter, people of prehistoric Asia preserved meat and fish by packing them in salt. The liquid that came from the preserved meat was subsequently used as a base for seasonings and soups. In the sixth century Buddhism flourished in both Japan and China. Many Buddhists were vegetarians, which created the need for a meatless seasoning. One such seasoning consisted of a salty paste of fermented grains including soybeans, the first known product to resemble modern soy sauce.
While studying in China, a Japanese Zen priest came across this new seasoning. When he returned to Japan, the priest began making his own version. Over the years, the Japanese modified the ingredients and brewing techniques. One change was the addition of wheat in equal proportion to the soybeans.
During the 17th century, legend has it that the original recipe for Kikkoman Soy Sauce was developed and brewed by a resourceful widow in Noda, Japan. Noda became well-known for its soy sauce production starting in the Edo period (1603-1867).
The city of Noda was originally chosen as Kikkoman’s main base because of its ideal location near the Edo River. This river which has served as a transportation route to and from Tokyo for centuries.
Kikkoman began exporting soy sauce to the U.S. in the 1800s. Today, Kikkoman Soy Sauce is the best-selling and most widely recognized brand name of soy sauce in the United States.
There is even a book written that traces the history of Japanese soy sauce from a village north of Tokyo in the 1600s to the kitchens and tables of the world. “The Kikkoman Chronicles: A Global Company with a Japanese Soul” was written by by Ronald E. Yates, a prize-winning Chicago Tribune journalist.
Yates reveals how Kikkoman President Yuzaburo Mogi’s ancestors moved north, away from the fighting around Osaka Castle in the 17th century, to the village of Noda in Chiba Prefecture, where one of Japan’s oldest continuously operated enterprises still resides. As well as being the first Japanese company to establish a production plant in the United States, the Kikkoman Corporation is also the first Asian company to successfully introduce a wholly foreign product into the American market. Kikkoman’s current CEO, Yuzaburo Mogi, is also the first Japanese to receive an MBA from Columbia University.
So the next time you are eating Sushi, you can smile at the knowledge that not only does Noda hold a special place in your heart for training, but it is also most likely supplied the soy sauce you are enjoying.
(Originally published in Muzosa Journal 2/24/06. Author retains all copyrights.)
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