In the Ginza district, on Ginza Street, is a soy sauce counter in a major department store offering 80 different flavors of soy sauce.
One day I was looking for a specific soy sauce that someone back home in the United States wanted me to find. I’d found the brewer’s website which mentioned a store in Ginza that stocked the sauce. So off to Ginza I went. When I found the store, really a counter in a major department store, I was amazed to find they had 80 different styles of soy sauce and offered a tasting too.
Ginza Shopping District
The Ginza district, just south of Tokyo Station, is full of upscale stores. On Ginza Street you can find major brands like Louis Vuitton, Apple Store, Celine, and high-end department stores like Matsuya. Matsuya is where I found the enormous selection of soy sauce.
Matsuya Ginza Department Store
In the Matsuya Ginza department store, which is eight stories high with everything you could possibly want to buy with big-name labels, also has prepared foods and a grocery store in the basement levels. Japanese department stores often have food options in their basement floors. Matsuya Ginza has a wonderful selection of prepared foods for dinner or lunch at reasonable prices. And they have a vast selection of Japanese sweets. Tucked away on one level is a section devoted to soy sauce.
The first time I saw the counter, I was astounded. How could there be so many choices? Back in the United States, there’s pretty much only two and those are black and salty. But here there was such a variety, I was overwhelmed. How would I know what to buy? Luckily, they give a tasting.
The Soy Sauce Tasting Experience
They usually have 5 choices presented for sampling but you can ask for more. Tasting such a variety of soy sauces was a fun and educational experience. Who knew there were soy sauces that aren’t even black. Some are as clear as a white wine. The samples selected for tasting are meant to give the customer a sense of the broad range of tastes and typical applications. For example, some are recommended for meat, and others for fish or rice. There are even sweet varieties.
The tasting is fun. The counter rep will pour a small amount into a very small plastic cup and give you a tiny spoon to use for tasting. If you never knew about so many soy sauce tastes and options, the experience is a delight.
Besides the fun of tasting so many soy sauces, they’ll give you some easy reading literature to help you know which is best for what. And even where the soy sauces came from.
The cost is quite reasonable at about $5 a bottle for 3.4 oz (100ml). Buy 3 or more and they’ll wrap it for you in a wonderful box. The wrapping is exquisite. I’ve purchased numerous sets of 3 or 4 bottles as gifts and sent them home. Much to the delight of my friends and family. They too were surprised at the range of flavors.
Finding the Soy Sauce
Finding the counter is tricky given the store is huge and has more than one basement level. The 2nd basement, B2, is smaller than the other floors. I recommend you enter from the street at the most northerly entrance, right next to the Louise Vuitton store. Take the escalator down two levels to the B2 level. Turn left at the B2 level, the lowest level, and the tasting counter should be there on your left.
You could even have them shipped from within the store. Look for the shipping desk on the 1st floor. And if you spent enough in the store, usually $50 or more, you can also get a tax refund if you have a tourist Visa.
Buying in the United States
I’ve had a hard time finding sources for Japan’s amazing soy sauce selections. But Amazon sells a single large bottle and a taster set. Both are worth a look if you’re not getting to Tokyo any time soon and are curious.
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How Soy Sauce is Made
Many commercial soy sauces are made from soy meal, processed with chemicals in a day or two, and bottled with additives and coloring. Not too appealing. The soy sauces presented at this store are made with the traditional fermentation process. This involves combining soybeans, wheat, salt, water, and yeast and allowing the mixture to ferment for at least 6 months along with some tender loving care. Some use stainless steel barrels while others use wood or bamboo.
Yamaroku, presented in the video below, uses bamboo barrels and allows some of its soy sauce to ferment for as long as 2 years.
You can find Yamaroku soy sauce at the Matsuya Ginza store and have a taste. It is delicious.
I hope you find your way to Matsuya Ginza for a fine soy sauce tasting the next time you are in Tokyo. If you do, please let us know what you thought below.
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