Mr Okamoto, owner of Toyokuniya
We first introduced Toyokuniya when we featured their delicious and unique natto koji paste in our 2020 Kanagawa November Nourishing Essentials Care Package. The company, located in Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, produces, processes, and sellstsukui soybeans - a native soybean that has been cultivated and protected in the region since ancient times.
Unfortunately, there are very few domestic producers left in Japan as 90% of soybeans are imported. Toyokuniya is one of the remaining Japanese soy farmers who continue to harvest soybeans, particularly this rare tsukui variety.
Mr. Okamoto, the owner of Toyokuniya, worked in various industries, including selling apparel for surfers in Enoshima, before taking over his wife's family's liquor store, Toyokuniya. 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.
In addition to these harvesting experiences for local children, Toyokuniya sponsors local sports teams, plans to research and commercialize the nutritional value of localkikuimo (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.
At the beginning of September, the flowers from the soybean plants have fallen and begin bearing fruit. The soybeans were about 30 centimeters in size.
Rice is beginning to grow next to the soybean fields. The rice is turning yellow as it will be harvested in October.
We came back to visit 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. Although they still sell a variety of alcoholic beverages, 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 (natto fermented with rice malt).
The miso cookies featured in our 2021 Kanagawa November Nourishing Essentials Care Package. The slight miso aftertaste is very addictive!
Various dips using natto koji
Natto koji, which we showcased in last year’s Kanagawa November Nourishing Essentials Care Package, was 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 with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic powder
- Natto koji with cream cheese
- Natto koji with yogurt, salt and black pepper
- Natto koji 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