The Roots of Tofu: Ancient Tofu

Tofu (bean curd made by soy) is an essential ingredient of Washoku (Japanese cuisine).

It is said that Tofu was first invented in China in the late Tang period (850-907 AD). Tofu arrived in Japan during Japanese missions to Song (960-1279 AD). The missioners escaped from Kyoto and came to Nara, where had kept old Japanese culture, because Kyoto was in the uproar over the Genpei War (Hiroshi Kondou’s theory).

Tofu first appeared in a written record as an offering food at the Kasugataisha Shrine in 1183 (June Shinoda’s theory). According to the Shichju-ich-ban Shokunin Uta-awase (poetry contest among people of various occupations in seventy-one rounds) in the mid-Muromachi period (1467-1554), a Tofu vendor, saying ‘Please eat Tofu, I came to here from Nara’, appeared at a market in Kyoto.

Tofu at that time was similar to Tofu in China. Tofu in China was hard so that it did not float in water and was placed on a board.

Comments from Tofu producers

Mr. Koumoto at the Tofu Factory Garyu has been producing ancient hard Tofu in Heguri, Nara. He is the second-generation Tofu producer whose father started business in Sakai, Osaka.

He wants people to eat a range of his Tofu, from hard Tofu such as Genkotu Tofu (fist Tofu) and Tekken Tofu (iron fist Tofu) to creative Tofu as Tofu Kunsei (Smoke Tofu) and Tofu Jerky.

Nara was temporarily called Sakai prefecture in the Meiji period and Sakai, Osaka had a close relationship with Imaicho. Therefore, it is interesting to think that Tofu, which traveled Nara to Sakai, returned to Nara again.

  • Hiroshi, Kondo(1983), “Nihonjin no Motometa Umaaji” (“Good taste that Japanese desire”), Chukoshinsho Ltd., ISBN 9784121007018
  • Jun, Sinoda (1976), “Tofu no Hanashi” (“Stories of Tofu”), Sinsindou Unicon Color Series Inc., ISBN 4397500517
    ※All references are available in Japanese only.