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Soy sauce aged in tunnel adds flavor to tourism initiative in central Japan

Soy sauce in wine bottles is transported into the old Shinetsu Line tunnel in this photo provided by Aritaya.

MAEBASHI -- A time-honored soy sauce business in Gunma Prefecture has launched a project to age bottles of its sauce in the old Shinetsu Line tunnel in Usui Pass, which lies in central Japan between the prefecture and the neighboring prefecture of Nagano.

    The company, Aritaya, plans to leave the soy sauce in the tunnel for a year to mature, and hopes to convert its project into a tourism-boosting resource.

    The owner of the business, Koki Yuasa, noted that in Europe, caves are used for the long-term aging of wine, cheese and prosciutto, and for many years he had envisioned aging soy sauce in the tunnel, which, like caves, does not let light in and is not susceptible to major changes in temperature or humidity. Noting that next year marks the 190th anniversary of the founding of the company, Yuasa decided to go ahead with the project with the cooperation of the Annaka Municipal Government and the city's tourism organization.

    The soy sauce being used in the project was created from soy beans and wheat produced in the prefecture and domestically produced salt. It was poured into green 360 ml wine bottles, which were sealed with breathable corks, and on Oct. 11, about 300 of the bottles were transported into the tunnel.

    The company will spend a year measuring the temperature and humidity in the tunnel, and examine how far the soy sauce has matured. It plans to sell the aged soy sauce under the name "Usui Suido Shikomi Tennen Jozo Shoyu" (Usui tunnel-prepared naturally brewed soy sauce). Part of the proceeds will go toward preserving and maintaining historical and cultural assets of Usui Pass, it says.

    "By having the product take in the tunnel's air and mature, I imagine it will further bring out the mellowness," Yuasa said. "Through characteristic manufacturing, we want to help develop new tourism resources and local food in Annaka."

    (Japanese original by Katsuhiko Masuda)

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