Japanese are their own best food critics, rewarding quality establishments with outstanding success while leaving shoddy places to languish. But some quality restaurants and food businesses have been propelled to even greater heights by the influx of foreign visitors to Japan in recent years.

Such is the case of Kayanoya, a Kyushu-based soy sauce brewery specializing in shoyu (soy sauce), dashi (soup stock) and other traditional seasonings. Over nearly 130 years, Kayanoya has built up a devoted following among Japanese.

As the west discovered the Japanese concept of “umami” (savory taste) and its key ingredient, dashi — soup stock commonly made with shaved, dried katsuo, or bonito fish – the business has grown exponentially.

From its humble roots as a small shoyu brewery and shop that began in 1893 in the village of Kubara, now known as Hisayama, on the southern island of Kyushu, Kayanoya has become a national empire with a booming mail order business and retail and restaurant outlets in many key cities.

The entrance to Kayanoya in Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi.

To its basic repertoire of signature shoyus, dashi packets, powders and liquids, Kayanoya has steadily added a vast range of seasonings, from salad dressings to condiments and freeze-dried soups – all made with natural ingredients and without artificial flavors or preservatives.

display at kayanoya

Beautifully displayed bottles and packages are a visual treat at Kayanoya.

The delicious simplicity of Kayanoya products is reflected in the cafés that adjoin some key outlets, mostly designed in basic but functional style and all offering simple, healthy menus.

kayanoya interior

There are a few tables but most seats are along the main counter.

A recent addition is the Nihonbashi store designed by leading architect Kengo Kuma at the Coredo Muromachi 3 building.

At the Shiruya café adjoining the Tokyo Midtown store in Roppongi, we chose from three set lunches, all about Y1,400: a flavorsome soup-cum-stew of chicken balls and mixed vegetables; a hearty Kyushu pork miso and vegetable soup featuring sliced pork rib, daikon radish, carrot, burdock, sweet potato, Japanese leeks, and barley and rice miso; and a thick mushroom and mixed-vegetable soup – all served in generous sized bowls with perfectly cooked mixed grain rice, pickles and tea.

Stew at kayanoya

The chicken soup is topped with a paste of komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach).

The mushroom soup with vegetables, seaweed and tofu.

On another occasion, the set lunch featured a soup of seven sea vegetables, nameko mushroom, tofu, mustard spinach, Japanese leek and miso made with barley and rice malt.

Adding to the pleasure of a meal here are the complimentary condiments, a piquant yuzu shichimi paste, made with yuzu citrus and chili, and a jar of toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle over the rice.

The adjoining Kayanoya store abounds with tempting products all beautifully packaged and displayed.

The signature Kayanoya dashi is made with grilled ago (flying fish), shaved dried bonito, urume iwashi (round herring) and makonbu (giant kelp).

The konbu dashi made with two kinds of kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms and salt, can be used for a variety of Japanese dishes, such as boiled vegetables and rice cooked with fish, vegetables or meat.

For western-style dishes, Kayanoya makes a vegetable dashi using onion, celery, cabbage, carrots, garlic and salt .

At most key outlets, the stores attract strong interest from passersby with their policy of dispensing free samples of various types of hot dashi broth, ranging from fish-based to chicken and even vegetarian versions made with konbu (dried kelp) and shiitake mushrooms, and other food products.

It’s best to visit the store after you’ve sampled the products over lunch in the café, not least to gain more insight into the quality of the products, and take advantage of a full stomach to curb your spending.

KAYANOYA DASHI – outlets throughout Japan, in Tokyo including: Nihonbashi, Coredo Muromachi 3 Building; Tokyo station, Gransta Marunouchi; Tokyo Midtown B/1; Takashimaya, Shinjuku and Tamagawa; Narita and Haneda (international) airports;    

See website: http://www.kayanoya.com/en/