Making Shoyu(Soy Sauce) The Traditional Way in Yanai (Yamaguchi)

How is Soy Sauce made? Let’s find out!

Kanro soy sauce factory in Yanai

Have you ever wondered how exactly shoyu (AKA soy sauce) is made? Nowadays the most common way would be in large factories where bottle after bottle are thrown on the machines. But there are traditional shoyu-making factories that are still in business in Japan. Sagawa Soy Sauce Factory in Yanai, Yamaguchi prefecture is one of them. Since its founding in 1830, the factory has been operating to make delicious shoyu. Even today, it still maintains the traditional methods of making shoyu.

Sagawa Shoyu Factory

Inside the soy sauce factory

The soy sauce factory is actually just one large wooden warehouse room. The entire place is blanketed in a sharp aroma of fermented soy beans – a very distinct smell that I’ve never experienced so strongly in my life. The men who run the factory will kindly give visitors a free tour and lesson in the soy sauce making process. If you’d like to do a tour, no reservations are necessary but they are only done in Japanese (more information at the bottom).

Inside the Wooden warehouse


Soy sauce factory

Traditional Japanese Soy Sauce: How it’s made.

I learned that the traditional soy sauce making method takes much patience. The traditional process for regular soy sauce can take up to two years, but at Sagawa factory, its famous Kanro soy sauce takes an additional year to ferment. To make soy sauce, steamed soy beans are mixed with wheat, mold spores, and salt water solution. This mixture sits in the large traditional vests as seen below in the factory. The mixtures are stirred up throughout its two-year long fermentation process to allow oxygen into the fermenting mix evenly. At the two year mark where regular bottled soy sauce would then be strained from this mixture, Kanro soy sauce starts the fermentation process over again by adding more of the mold spore mixture called koji.

Inside the Kanro Shoyu Factory

Unique soy sauce : it comes in a spray bottle!

Within another year, the Kanro soy sauce is born. Different forms of this famous soy sauce of Yanai are sold in the factory. Sagawa soy sauce is especially famous for the spray bottle soy sauce. Who else would have every thought of making soy sauce sprayable? I took a ¥600 bottle home (and few as gifts) and couldn’t be happier with the convenience of the bottle, and of course the taste. The deep dark aromatic taste of Kanro soy sauce is much different than regular bottles you can buy at supermarkets. The spray allows soy sauce to be evenly spread on fish, rice bowls, vegetables…basically any time you’re cooking or eating with soy sauce. The factory also sells dressings, oils, sesame products, and other shoyu-infused liquids, too. If the historic goldfish town of Yanai as gotten you inspired and in love with the cute fishy creatures, Sagawa factory also sells adorable ceramic soy sauce bottles with goldfish designs on them.

Sprayed Soy sauce

The famous Kanro spray bottle soy sauce.

The shop


Kanro shoyu display

Soy sauce sitting in old ceramic vases, where the condiment once used to traditionally be kept.

Sagawa syoyu factory


The beautiful grounds of the factory are covered in traditional Japanese bonsai trees.

Sagawa soy sauce factory


Address: 3708-1 Yanai, Yanai-shi, Yamaguchi, 742-0021, Japan

Phone: 0820-22-1830

Hours: Monday thru Friday 9AM – 5PM

Tours: 30 minute tours available; Japanese only, arrange your own interpreter if needed; no reservations necessary

Cost: Free

Syoyu factory scenery



BONUS: Pet the lucky golden goldfish!

Yanai's golden fish

The Sagawa soy sauce factory and goldfish lantern making experiences are great in Yanai, but don’t forget to carve out time to pay a visit to the Yanai visitor’s center and archive hall. I stumbled into the Yanai City Townscape Archive Hall when I was looking for the Visitor Center right across from it. A walk through the historical white-walled street of Yanai brings you out to a busier road, with a very particular old Western-style building. Inside is a hall full of old archives and historical milestones the city has gone through.

In Yanai town

A kind lady and man explained artifacts to me and showed me a small mobile of the city layout. The tall ceilings also feature the famed goldfish lanterns. Aside from learning about the city’s history, the real reason to pay a visit is for the golden goldfish who greets visitors. Okay, so he’s not real, but he sure is there for good luck.

Golden goldfish!

People in Yanai believe that petting the head of this goldfish while praying will help bring luck or help into your life in the form you wish. You then insert a coin into its head and have it come out the bottom of the goldfish where you then wrap the coin in special paper provided by the hall for safe keepsake in your wallet. Some people have traveled from other ends of Japan just to pray to this goldfish, and come back for more when their wishes came true. Whether it’s true or not, it can’t hurt to try! And the friendly guides at the hall were fun and knowledgeable to talk to.


Yanai City Townscape Archive Hall


Address: 442 Yanai, Yanai 742-0022, Yamaguchi Prefecture (〒742-0022 山口県柳井市大字柳井津442)

Phone: 0820-23-2137

Hours: 10AM – 5PM (except Mon/Wed and New Year holiday)

Cost: Free

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Written by

Nina Cataldo

Nina Cataldo

Nina is a professional and recreational writer currently exploring her motherland of Japan. When she's not busy working on her upcoming conversational English book, she can be spotted biking around Tokyo to indulge in delicious food and attempting to snuggle with kitties at cat cafés. She's an odd collector of free brochures from travel counters, always looking for the next exciting destination. Nina often likes to escape the Tokyo city life to go discover new trails on the outbacks of Japan, where she enjoys connecting with locals and wanderers alike.


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