Mr Okamoto, owner of Toyokuniya
We first introduced Toyokuniya when we featured their delicious and unique natto koji paste in our 2020 November "Kanagawa" Care Package. The company, located in Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, produces, processes, and sells "tsukui" soybeans - a rare, native Japanese soybean that has been cultivated and protected in the region since ancient times.
Toyokuniya is one of the remaining soybean farmers in Japan. Sadly, there are very few domestic producers left as 90% of soybeans are imported.
Mr. Okamoto, the owner of Toyokuniya, worked in various industries, including selling apparel for surfers in Enoshima. He now grows his own native tsukui soybeans while also organizing other local contract farmers. He also creates and sells various unique tsukui soybean products.
Each of the fields comes in various sizes and is managed by a different farmer using their own growing methods, including those with no or reduced pesticides. Local elementary school students come every year to experience the soybean harvest, which helps to create an opportunity for the children to get involved in agriculture and develop a close relationship with the community.
Toyokuniya also sponsors local sports teams, plans to research and commercialize the nutritional value of local kikuimo (Jerusalem artichokes) in collaboration with a local women's university, and to continue growing indigenous soybeans that can propagate future generations. Although Mr Okamoto doesn't speak much about his missions or passions, he is proactive in doing whatever he can to contribute to the community. His smiling and happy demeanor is infectious, naturally drawing people in.
We came back to visit Toyokuniya just in time to harvest edamame (soybeans that are not yet fully ripe). This year's rainy season had been longer than usual, but with the long summer heat, the edamame had grown larger than we had expected by the middle of October.
If grown for much longer, soybeans become hard and inedible as edamame
After all the weeding, we finally harvested the edamame. We were surprised by how sweet and rich they were!
Toyokuniya’s Specialty Store
Exterior of the store
Inside the store where you can find both tsukui soybean products and other specialty products from all over Japan
Toyokuniya’s store looks like a local roadside stop, or michi-no-eki. What is most unique are the natural foods they create and select from around Japan, all made without additives. From soy sauce to miso, sweets to beverages, you can find rare and delicious products that aren’t available in ordinary supermarkets. Having this type of curator in your hometown allows you to trust their taste and preferences, making it easy to find specialty products that will enhance your daily meals.
Domestic tsukui soybeans are only grown in small quantities in Japan and are therefore rather expensive. Tofu made using indigenous tsukui soybeans can cost a whopping 400 yen! This tofu also has a short shelf life, which means that even if it could be commercialized, it would come at a premium price given the need to maintain its quality and freshness.
However, once you try native tsukui soybeans, you will notice how remarkable the taste is and understand why people love this magical soybean. Toyokuniya creatively includes it in everything from natto (fermented soybeans), soybean coffee, canned steamed soybeans, sweets, and seasonings such as miso, soy sauce and Natto Koji Paste (natto fermented with rice malt).
Miso cookies: The slight miso aftertaste is very addictive!
Various dips using natto koji paste
The natto koji paste is very popular - even among foreigners who don't like natto! There are many creative ways to enjoy it, some of which hide the pungent taste of natto:
- Natto Koji Paste with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic powder
- Natto Koji Pastewith cream cheese
- Natto Koji Paste with yogurt, salt and black pepper
- Natto Koji Paste with kezuribushi (dried sardine shavings)
This is all you need for a full meal of steamed vegetables
"Planting just one soybean results in 100 new soybeans. They are rich in protein, oil, and can be stored for a long time. Even if climate change results in a food crisis in the future, I think soybeans will play a vital role in supporting nutrition. Soybeans are going to save the world!” - Mr. Okamoto
Mr. and Mrs. Okamoto