Model Yoko Matsushima makes traditional Okinawan tofuyo using a method passed down from Ryukyu Kingdom era

Model Yoko Matsushima makes traditional Okinawan tofuyo using a method passed down from Ryukyu Kingdom era

Yoko Matsushima sets tofu to dry to make tofuyo in Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa

January 10, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Masatoshi Inafuku

Model Yoko Matsushima, who is originally from Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa and is now a model based in Tokyo and appears in fashion magazines, TV commercials, and cosmetics company catalogues, also produces tofuyo in Okinawa. Matsushima’s tofuyo is characterized by being made using a secret production method passed down since the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It is made in large pieces and filled with concentrated umami, and has a smooth, mellow flavor. Because it is entirely handmade, it takes a great deal of work to make, but Matsushima is active both as a model and a producer of tofuyo as she travels between Tokyo and Okinawa.

Tofuyo made by Yoko Matsushima

The tofuyo that Matsushima makes uses only products produced in Okinawa, including shimadofu (Okinawan tofu), koji (malt), and aged awamori (Okinawan liquor). She dries shimadofu in the Okinawan sun and ferments it in “nanban” jars made by her father, who is a potter. Matsushima stresses the importance of making her tofuyo locally, saying, “Once I tried drying [the tofu] in the sun in Tokyo, but it got much too dry. I think Okinawa’s humid climate is ideal for making tofuyo.”

Because her maternal grandmother, who inherited the production method passed down for generations, used to make tofuyo at home, Matsushima was familiar with the taste from a young age. “When our extended family gathered together, my grandmother would bring out specially made tofuyo from a back room. We would all eat tofuyo while enjoying our time together. I have so many wonderful memories,” says Matsushima, expressing her steadfast love for tofuyo.

Nanban jars for fermenting tofuyo made by Matsushima’s father, a potter

Matsushima’s grandmother never sold her tofuyo, but her aunt, who inherited the production method, began selling it under the brand name “Old-fashioned Tofuyo Yogi”. Matsushima started learning how to make tofuyo from her aunt eighteen years ago, and in November 2015 she became independent and started the brand “Tofuyo Matsushima”.

Matsushima returns to Okinawa once every three months to work on making tofuyo. It is crucial to dry the tofu correctly, and she says she needs to tend to it carefully for three or four days while constantly checking the weather, humidity and wind.

Because her aunt sells her products in Okinawa, Matsushima decided to sell hers in Tokyo and online, and she went door-to-door to izakayas in Tokyo to try to find customers for her products. They can now be found in four shops in Azabujuban, Shimbashi, Ginza and Jimbocho. Matsushima does everything from production to sales, marketing and shipping herself.

In contrast to modelling, where she expresses herself within the framework of a plan that has been given to her, when making tofuyo, Matsushima starts from scratch and spends time on every step. “As a model, my job is to be used and consumed, but when making tofuyo, I need to take action to make anything happen. Now that I do both, I feel like my mental balance has improved,” says Matsushima, expressing a sense of fulfillment in having two such different professions.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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