Fermented foods are such an integral part of the Japanese diet, it’s easy to take them for granted. From traditional salty-savory cooking seasonings to pungent pickles and fizzy-sweet rice cultures, the sheer number and variety of products is remarkable.

This breadth only really sinks in when you visit a store on the scale of Hakko Department, near Shimokitazawa. The shelves of its shop are packed not just with the usual miso, shoyu, nattō, sake and vinegar, but also many less widespread regional specialties.

There’s shottsuru and ishiru, both varieties of fish sauce; tamari, a type of soy sauce made from soybean kōji rather than wheat; tofuyō, cheese-like Okinawan fermented tofu; and saltless sunki pickles from the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. These, along with many other traditional foods teeming with microbiological life, are the raison d’etre for Hakko Department.