To understand the origins of anything, you have to go back. But when you begin to look back it’s difficult to know when to stop looking and to start telling. We’ve decided to start our story in 1990, when Shoichi Sugiyama made the decision to learn how to make miso by enrolling in a small, locally-taught class in Fukuoka, Japan. However, we could easily go back further: to how he learned to cook in the 1970s as a firefighter, on nights when his crew would make dinner together, or to his own family’s meals and traditions. Origins aren’t always clear.
In 1990, Shoichi was living in Iizuka, Japan and began to make his own miso. There were ups and downs and some batches turned out better than others, but he was progressively getting better. During this time Shoichi had two daughters, Anna and Maia. The two girls grew up chasing frogs, riding bikes, and playing hard in the countryside of Iizuka (Their home and surrounding neighborhood looked like it came straight out of My Neighbor Totoro). Anna remembers some nights that her dad, Shoichi, would go out and catch fireflies in jars so that she’d have a soft night light, and then once she’d fallen asleep he’d release them back outside.
Fast forward to 2001, and Ichiro Suzuki is the greatest baseball player ever playing on the greatest baseball team to ever play (The 2001 Seattle Mariners) and the Sugiyamas have been living in Seattle for two years.
Double time fast forward.
Anna Sugiyama is in her early 20s and an English student at the University of Washington. Her friends and her have developed a deep love for food and cooking, and begin to regularly explore new restaurants, prepare large dinners, and holistically grow their culinary skills. She begins to learn about farm to table, ‘buy local’ movements, foraging, and low waste life styles, etc. Meanwhile, Shoichi has worked as a professional woodworker for years and is the premier Mochitsuki master in the Pacific Northwest. At this point, the miso he’s making has only been for friends and family.
That’s when it happens!
The light bulb clicks!
A friend coming to pick up miso says something like, “Ahh, thank you! Your miso is so good. It’s our absolute favorite.”
Anna looks to see if there are any miso companies in Seattle - none.
There’s both a problem and a solution.
Problem: No supply of quality, locally made, small batch miso.
Solution: Yoka Miso.
Initially to be titled Yoi Miso (Translates to “Good Miso”), the Sugiyama’s decided on Yoka Miso because Yoka is the more colloquial way of saying Yoi in their own region of Japan. Yoka Miso, as a title, is simple but very intentional. The Sugiyama’s are incredibly proud to be providing the best quality miso (good), and to be a company that’s focused on the local community (yoka).
In many ways, our story has just begun as we introduce our miso on a larger scale. We hope you enjoy our miso and we thank you for all of your support <3
Anna & Shoichi
Anna Sugiyama is the visionary for Yoka Miso. She took her father’s recipe and decided to share it with the world. Anna oversees everything about Yoka Miso and enjoys the farm to table business process. Anna studied English at the University of Washington but could not imagine a lifestyle that did not include food at the center of everything.
"I'm half Japanese, half American and speak Japanese fluently. I love to spend time with my partner Kyle, my family, my two beloved dogs Vesper (who's in the pic) and Mei, and my sweet but feisty cat, Frida. I have recently dove deep into the ideas around permaculture and establishing a thriving ecosystem in my own spaces. Over the years, I've become an avid backpacker. I love to eat, especially with people and I enjoy drinking cocktails on my porch. :') "
Shoichi Sugiyamais the Miso Master and recipe chef for Yoka Miso. He has perfected it over a period of 25 years, after moving from Japan to the Northwest. His fermenting expertise is unprecedented. He began experimenting with miso and other staple foods back in 1972 when he became a firefighter for the City of Fukuoka in Japan. Shoichi is also a bit of a local hero with his mochi pounding and reverence for farm to table food and foraging.
"I am an old man now, but I still have a lot of energy and good spirits. I love baking and learning from Japanese youtube videos. I also love Japanese dramas. This year I am going to be a first time beekeeper! I'm really excited and it's something I've wanted to do for a long time."