A familiar aroma wafts from Iio Jozo, a vinegar brewery in Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, that stands by the seaside near the Amanohashidate sandbar, considered one of Japan's three most scenic views.
Akihiro Iio is the fifth-generation proprietor of the brewery that has been producing vinegar for 125 years. The company makes all of its rice vinegar from pesticide-free rice.
The company decided to change course in 1964, after Iio’s grandfather, the third-generation proprietor, felt a sense of crisis when he realized that the effects of pesticide had turned the rice paddies uninhabitable for "dojo" weather loaches.
"Hoping to make vinegar with pesticide-free rice, he went looking for farmers who would grow such rice and was able to persuade them," the current 43-year-old proprietor says.
The brewery currently has contracts with about 20 farmers. Made entirely from rice grown in the local Tango Peninsula, Junmai Fujisu is produced in the traditional method that puts in time for fermentation and maturation.
"We hope to produce tasty vinegar that can be consumed at ease," says Akihiro, who has inherited his grandfather’s spirit.
When tasted, his mild-flavored vinegar does not sting. The company receives orders from around Japan. Individual customers who purchase the product online and through other means account for as much as a quarter of its sales.
When Akihiro lived in Tokyo during his university years, he was surprised to learn that his family’s vinegar had a different taste from other vinegars and became proud of the family business.
After working in Tokyo for four-and-a-half years, he returned as the apprentice-proprietor. Having studied about the aroma of vinegar at university, Akihiro went on to produce Fujisu Premium with an improved smell.
All of the family members work at the company. They gather for lunch at Akihiro’s home that is a few minutes’ walk away.
His mother, Satomi, 68, and his wife, Ayako, 40, make preparations in the kitchen while his father, Tsuyoshi**, the 71-year-old former proprietor, amuses 2-year-old Aoi, Akihiro’s eldest daughter.
The stir-fry of pork, "nira" and daikon radish is a dish that reminds Akihiro that winter has arrived. His mother had come up with the recipe so that they could eat a lot of daikon radish that grew in the garden of her home that is a few-minutes’ ride away.
The daikon radish retains its crunchiness, and the gentle soy-sauce flavor enhances one’s appetite.
"The savory vinegar unifies the flavors and gives depth," Satomi says. It is one of the popular vinegar recipes introduced on the company website.
Born in Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, in 1975, Iio studied zymurgy at the graduate school of the Tokyo University of Agriculture before working for a beverage manufacturer. He joined Iio Jozo when he was 29 and became the fifth-generation proprietor in June 2012.
In addition to Junmai Fujisu, Iio Jozo (https://www.iio-jozo.co.jp/) produces and sells "ponzu" soy sauce, sushi vinegar, "beniimo" (purple sweet potato) vinegar and "genmai" (unpolished rice) black vinegar.
daikon radish (about 600 grams)
1 bunch nira leaves
200 grams pork slices
1 piece ginger (half the size of thumb)
or 1 pod red chili pepper
2 Tbsp oil
Seasoning A (3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp each of rice vinegar and sweet mirin sake)
Cut ginger into fine strips. Soften red chili pepper in hot water, remove seeds with chopsticks or other means and chop finely.
Cut daikon radish into 7-mm-square sticks that are 4 cm long. Cut nira and meat into 4-cm-long pieces.
Place frying pan with oil on high heat and stir-fry ginger and red chili pepper. After aroma rises, add pork and stir-fry over medium heat.
When pork changes color, add daikon radish. Once oil coats ingredients, add Seasoning A, place lid and simmer over slightly high medium heat.
When daikon radish has lost edge and become transparent, turn off heat and pour bit of sesame oil (not listed above). Add nira at the final stage to retain color and mix ingredients from the bottom.