• Kyodo

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A soy sauce producer’s drive to preserve the condiment’s traditional production method has spawned a new activity — taga hoop.

Similar to the hula hoop, the activity involving taga, the bamboo hoops used to fasten the wooden barrel that holds the fermented sauce, has also turned into a competition.

Yasuo Yamamoto, president of Yamaroku Soy Sauce on Shodoshima Island, Kagawa Prefecture, laments the decline of traditional wooden barrels in the industry. He said change in the soy sauce-making process is being caused by the growing popularity of easy-to-use metal barrels.

“I cannot pass on the authentic taste of soy sauce to the younger generations” without using wooden barrels,” he said.

Yamamoto, 43, said the giant wooden barrels, around 2 meters tall, can be used for more than 100 years, allowing yeast and lactic acid bacteria to live inside for a long time, a quality that enables each soy sauce maker to develop its own unique taste.

The bamboo hoop is used to fasten the dozens of cedar staves that make up the vessel.

Yamamoto, after witnessing a sudden drop in barrel artisans, volunteered to learn how to make them in 2012. While working on one, he came up with the idea of hula hooping a taga around his waist and thought it could be fun.

The hoop used in taga hoop competition is 2.3 meters in diameter — double the size of an adult-sized hula hoop — and weighs 13 kg, heavy enough to make it emit a groaning sound when one gets it going.

In 2014, Yamamoto held the inaugural competition for taga hoop on the island. Participants had to keep a taga in motion while standing in a 1.5 meter by 1.5 meter area.

A participant who steps outside the space or whose hoop touches the ground fails. The person who performs the most rotations with the hoop wins.

The novel appearance of the hoop caught the eye of residents and led to a competition being held each May on Shodoshima. The third tournament, held this year, drew nearly 100 competitors, including some from Thailand and South Africa.

Taga hoop has also spread to makers of miso, who use the same kind of barrels. Soy sauce and bean paste makers have held or plan to hold competitions in Saitama, Aichi, Nara and Yamaguchi prefectures.

“Its wildness is its charm,” said Yoichi Ninagawa, 57, president of Nitto Jozo Inc., a maker of white soy sauce in Aichi Prefecture. “My hips hurt and I’m bruised after I do it, but it’s fun.” The company held an event in July to let people have a go.

Yamamoto said soy sauce and miso are “the basics of washoku that was put on UNESCO’s cultural heritage list.”

“I want people to deepen their understanding of the fermentation culture using the wooden tanks, first by getting to know the taga hoop,” he said.

The taga hoop “world record,” according to the island’s competition records, is 352 rotations, achieved by a man from Yokohama.

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