Right down the street from our family drug store was a vinegar factory. On our way back from to the Ryokan someone had the bright idea to ask for a tour of it. Not everyone thought touring a vinegar factory was the best use of our time, but oh, were we wrong.
Introducing Marushi Brewing Nachi-Katsuura, a magical place where vinegar is created from the holy water of Nachi Falls, citrus, and a convoluted ritual involving conch shells, drumming and praying to Shinto gods. They sell this stuff in the United States.
We were shown around the vinegar factory by a charming older man and he went through his daily ritual as he explained the complicated steps it took to make their special brand of vinegar. At this point I should note that he spoke a very thick regional dialect and our interpreter could only kind of understand him. None of us really knew what was going on and it was glorious.
The vinegar man first showed us a small shrine in a tiny garden in the back where (we think) he told us he prayed every day for good vinegar or something.
He then had us taste the water which ran into the town from Nachi Falls, was holy, and was used to make the vinegar. It came out of a random hose and we unhygienically and inappropriately drank it by slurping it out of big wooden ladles.
At the entrance to the storage room where the vinegar was held in giant wooden barrels, the man stopped, bowed and then picked up a conch shell and just started wailing away.
We then followed him into the storage room, where we were dwarfed by the humongous vats of vinegar.
After exiting the storage area, he pulled out two drum sticks and began beating on his large taiko drum. It is his ritual that he does every day at closing and opening, although we didn't catch why. Why convinced our cousin Jaime to take a few swings, as she was quite the taiko master in her day.
A day later, the factory gave us all gifts of vinegar. The translation Hannah got of the writing on the bottle summed up our trip to the vinegar factory:
"Shinawaridaidai Ponzu - Orange juice and old juice, brewed soy sauce (including soy ingredients wheat), kelp, fermented seasoning also bonito. How to save before and after: avoid the sunlight manufacturer's sure to save at the before and after a cool, dark place!"