History of Macrobiotics (1715-2017)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-96-9

Publication Date: 2017 Sept. 19

Number of References in Bibliography: 2,399

Earliest Reference: 1715

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What is macrobiotics?

Macrobiotics is a diet and a philosophy, a practice and a way of life.

George Ohsawa made the remarkable discovery that the age-old practice of eating grains as the principal food in one’s diet, a sacred food in virtually every traditional society, had largely vanished from the west (Ohsawa 1965). Whole grains comprise 40-50% of each meal, with the remainder of the meal consisting of land and sea vegetables, beans (such as miso, shoyu, tempeh, tofu, azuki), and smaller amounts of other natural foods.

At the same time, the consumption of sugar (the worst food), alcohol, drugs, meat, and dairy products are avoided.

Eating local foods in season and chewing each bite thoroughly is recommended.

Food is the best medicine and the best way to cure most diseases at a deep level by changing one’s constitution.

A traditional balanced diet is the basis of good health, upon which true happiness and freedom rest.

The macrobiotic philosophy is based on the concept of balance, the balance of Yin and Yang, which are complementary opposites. It is a nondualistic worldview, as depicted in macrobiotic principles such as the Unique Principle, and the Order of the Universe.

Our two favorite books on the history of macrobiotics are both by Ronald E. Kotzsch: (1) Macrobiotics: Yesterday and Today (1985), and (2) George Ohsawa and the Japanese Religious Tradition (1981, thesis for his PhD degree at Harvard University).

Brief chronology/timeline of Macrobiotics

1630-1716 – Ekken Kaibara of Japan is considered the grandfather of macrobiotics (Kotzsh 1985, p. 15).

1805 – The German-language book Makrobiotik: oder, die Kunst das menschliche Leben zu verlaengern [Macrobiotik, or the art of extending human life], by Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland is the earliest document seen that contains the word “Makrobiotic.”

Kotzsch (1985, p. 264) states: “It is possible that [George] Ohsawa never heard of von Hufeland nor of ‘Die Makrobiotik.’ But it is fitting and propitious that he happened to choose that term.”

1850-1909 – Sagen Ishizuka of Japan is considered the founder of macrobiotics. He referred to his teaching as Shoku-yō.

In 1897 Ishizuka published his magnum opus, Kagakuteki Shoku-yō Chōjuron [“A Chemical Nutritional Theory of Long Life”]. Rejecting Western symptomatic medicine, he taught that:

1. The proper choice of food is the basis of good health. Food is a powerful healer, and the basis of any true cure.

2. The main food for human being should be whole grains – such as brown rice, whole wheat, etc.

3. The Na/K (sodium to potassium) balance in food is crucial to good health.

4. One should eat local foods that are in season (Kotzsch 1985. p. 28; Wikipedia).

1893 Oct. 18 – Yukikazu/Nyoichi Sakurazawa (who later changed his name to George {or Georges} Ohsawa) is born in Kyoto, Japan to a poor samurai family.

1908 – The word “macrobiotic” is first used to refer to the longevity of seeds. Macrobiotic seeds are those which remain viable from 15 to over 100 years (Ewart 1908). The word is frequently used in this sense during the next 100 years (For example, see 1961 Yearbook of Agriculture (USDA) issue on “Seeds,” p. 95, 97, 570).

1911 – When Ohsawa was 18, his brother died of tuberculosis – just as his mother had when Ohsawa was about 12. “Shortly thereafter, Ohsawa himself began to cough up blood. Doctors diagnosed a severe case of intestinal and pulmonary tuberculosis and gave him little chance of survival. It was then that he chanced upon one of Ishizuka's books, however, and learned about shoku-yō medicine. He tried the recommended diet of unpolished rice, vegetables, salt and oil. The symptoms disappeared” (Kotzsch 1985, p. 39). Food had saved his life.

1937 – Sanae Tanaka, trapped in an arranged marriage and sick, starts to visit Ohsawa’s lectures at the Shoku-Yō Kai. She is impressed, eventually leaves her husband, and begins living with Ohsawa as a common-law couple. He renamed her Lima and they were officially married about ten years later. She helped to care for several of Ohsawa’s children living in the household, cooked his meals, and enabled him to write and speak more.

1942 – At age 16, Michio Kushi has a profound spiritual experience that transforms his worldview and becomes the foundation for the rest of his life and teaching. He is engulfed in light and sees that everything in the world is alive and radiating light (Kushi. 1975. “Spirals of everlasting change”).

1947 – Ohsawa joins the World Federalist Movement. He becomes more interested in world peace.

1947 – Ohsawa comes upon F.S.C. Northrup's book Meeting of East and West; he is deeply impressed and begins translating it from English into Japanese.

1948 – Ohsawa moves his school to the Hiyoshi section of Yokohama. He puts a sign on the roof: “World Government Center.” At that time there were about 30 students in residence and about 100 commuting daily to hear Ohsawa's lectures.

1949 – He suddenly changes his name from Sakurazawa Nyôichi to George(s) Ohsawa. Also he begins to call his philosophy and teaching “macrobiotics" instead of shoku-yō. It is quite likely that he borrowed the word and its usage from von Hufeland (1805). The name of his school comes to be called Maison Ignoramus, French for "School of the Ignorant." He also starts giving his students new names. “They are to be new persons, no longer simply Japanese but international citizens of the world.” (Kotzsch 1981, p. 212-220).

1949 Nov. 24 – Michio Kushi, age 23, arrives in the USA, in San Francisco, California, on Thanksgiving Day on the ship S.S. W.H. Gordon. He is the first of Ohsawa’s students to go abroad. He is sponsored by Norman Cousins as part of the World Federalist Movement. The Ohsawas sold personal possessions to help pay his way. He writes letters back to Japan, and Ohsawa reads to his students at his center (Maison Ignoramus) in Yokohama.

1951 – Aveline Tomoko Yokoyama falls in love with Michio’s letters, wins a trip to America by being the best seller of Ohsawa’s newspapers, and meets Michio in New York.

1952 early – Herman Aihara, age 31 (born Nobuo Nishiyama on 28 Sept. 1920), arrives in America, and settles in New York City. As early as March 1952 he is selling macrobiotic foods in New York; he imported them from Ohsawa in Japan.

1953 Oct. 14 – George and Lima Ohsawa leave Kobe Japan (by ship) for the first time, to take macrobiotics to the world. Four days before his 60th birthday, he is a “penniless samurai.” First stop, Calcutta, India.

1954 June 5 – Michio Kushi (son of Keizo Kushi and Teru Toji) and Aveline Tomoko Yokoyama (daughter of Banjiro Yokoyama and Katsue Kimura) are married in Manhattan, New York City. It is a very simple ceremony in front of a justice of the peace. He is age 27 and she is 31. Both reside at 420 W. 19th St. Aveline was pregnant with her 2nd child, Norio. Their first child, Lillian Midori Kushi, had been born on July 20, 1953.

1955 Oct. – Chiiko (Cornellia) Yokota arrives in the United States from Japan – another of Ohsawa’s students.

1955 Dec. – Herman Aihara and Cornellia Yokota are married in New York. They had exchanged many letters before she arrived.

1956 – The word “macrobiotic” in the sense related to diet, health, and philosophy is first used in a French-language book titled Guide pratique de la médecine macrobiotique d'Extrême-Orient by Georges Ohsawa.

1958 June 27 – An article in the New York Times (p. 22) is about Michio Kushi (age 32) who conceived and helped execute the idea of a large Japanese department store on Fifth Ave. in New York City. He convinced Takashimaya, a leading department store chain in Japan, to go ahead with the idea. Construction is expected to start in August. The founders hope the store will encourage Americans to learn more about Japanese culture. Note: Michio has yet to be involved with macrobiotics.

1959 – Pierre Gevaert, in St.-Martens-Latem, Belgium, first begins commercial production of miso and soy sauce – under the influence of George Ohsawa.

1959 Nov. late – George and Lima Ohsawa first arrive in the United States in New York City, where he stays with Herman Aihara, his closest associate. There he meets with a number of his students, including Michio and Aveline Kushi, and Herman and Cornellia Aihara. They were mainly busy trying to support their families in a still strange country.

After staying for about a week, he travels to California, where he gives lectures in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Searching for a reliable source of short-grain brown rice, he discovers and meets with the Koda Brothers in Dos Palos, California. He stays in California for about a week.

1960 Jan. – Ohsawa presents the first of three series of lectures designed to introduce macrobiotics, and the philosophy and medicine of the Orient, to America; each for ten nights during January, February, and March of 1960 at the Buddhist Academy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. During these lectures he “dashes off” a mimeographed book which he chooses to call Zen Macrobiotics to capitalize on the Zen fashion then current in America. This book contains the earliest known use of the word “macrobiotics” in English.

1960 MayMacrobiotic News, The first macrobiotic periodical/newsletter in the USA is written and published by Herman Aihara at the Ohsawa Foundation, Inc., 44 West 96th St., New York 25, New York. In the July issue (p. 4) is a directory of macrobiotic people and organizations worldwide – and especially in France, Belgium, Japan, Germany, and India (Macrobiotic News, Aug. 1960, p. 3).

1960 July – The “Ohsawa Foundation” now exists at 331 Riverside Dr., New York 25, NY. (Macrobiotic News, No. 4, p. 4). By August it has been moved to 44 West 96th St., New York 25. In Feb. 1961 Herman N. Aihara was elected the first president (No. 9. p. 19-20).

1960 summer – The first macrobiotic summer camp is held at Southampton, Long Island. Ohsawa teaches at the camp and for a while after; Lima cooks and gives cooking classes. Camp records show 360 people attended the camp at one time or another and the camp served 2,128 meals during its 9 weeks.

1960 Sept. 20 – Zen Teahouse, the first macrobiotic restaurant in America, opens its doors at 82 Second Ave., New York City (Macrobiotic News, Sept. 1960. p. [7]). Started by Alcan Yamaguchi, it consists of a small (4-table) main room containing a kitchen. Miso and shoyu are served regularly. This restaurant was later renamed Paradox. By April 1966 it was at 64 East Seventh St., owned by Richard O’Kane, age 37 (New York Times, April 17, p. 110).

1961 May – The Ohsawas return to the United States. International tensions are running high. The building of the Berlin Wall had brought the Soviets and USA to the verge of nuclear war. Some of his followers in New York resolve to take some action.

1961 July – “Musubi is a macrobiotic store located at 150 West 10th Street, New York City, YU-9-1677. Musubi carries a complete line of Macrobiotic foods, Ohsawa's special foods, kitchen equipment, books and publications. Musubi snack bar serves complete lunch, dinner and special orders (Macrobiotic News, July 1961, p. 10). Kotzsch (1985, p. 167) states that it was started by Alcan Yamaguchi, with the help of Kushi and Aihara, in Greenwich Village; it was small, with only about ten seats.

1961 Sept. 16. – Thirteen families totaling 34 men, women and children drive west in a caravan to find a new life in Chico, California (north of Sacramento), a place where little radioactive fallout is expected if there is a war. They attract much media attention. Ohsawa compares this modern-day exodus to that of the Israelites under Moses. They arrive Oct. 1 and are warmly welcomed.

1962 March 6 – The group in Chico establishes a new food company named Chico-San as a retail store, an import and wholesale business, and a source of livelihood. It is capitalized with $10,000 of pooled resources. In addition to a line of whole-grain products, they soon begin to import a variety of macrobiotic foods from Ohsawa in Japan. The first store and food plant (they made sesame salt or gomashio and repackaged foods) was in the basement of a small hearing aid shop in Chico. It is the first macrobiotic food production company in the United States.

1962 early – The magazine, Macrobiotic News, which was started by Herman Aihara in New York in May1960, moved with the West Coast exodus and continued under a succession of new names starting in early 1962; U.P., then Yin Yang: The Unique Principle, Macrobiotic Monthly, etc. It is still published today by Carl Ferré as Macrobiotics Today.

1963 May – Junsei Yamazaki first arrives in the U.S. in San Francisco, from Japan. He first goes (by bus) to Chico, California, to help with the installation of small rice cake machines (sent from Japan by Ohsawa) which are still in wooden crates. Production begins in the fall of 1963. Rice cakes soon become Chico-San's first really popular and successful product.

1963 Aug. – “The West Coast group continued the tradition of an Ohsawa-style macrobiotic summer camp each year. The first camp on the West Coast was held in the Chico area from August 1-31, 1963 and was a huge success. Highlights were the participation of George and Lima Ohsawa and several distinguished guests from Japan” (Ferré 2011, Part I).

1963 Sept. – “Following this camp, the first official school on the West Coast, Center Ignoramus School of Macrobiotics, was established under the direction of Herman and Cornellia Aihara. This school would provide quality year-round instruction.”

1964 Sept. – After the macrobiotic summer camp on Martha's Vineyard, the Kushi family moves from the island to Cambridge, Massachusetts (101 Walden St., on the outskirts of Boston to the northwest). Michio stops all his outside business activities and directs his full attention to teaching macrobiotics.

1964 Nov. – The first edition of Zen Cookery, edited by Teal Nichols, a book of macrobiotic recipes (83 p.), is published by The Ohsawa Foundation in Chico, California.

1965 – The macrobiotic movement in America, though small, is growing rapidly. Ohsawa lectures again in California at Mayoro Lodge, near Pulga.

1965 – Michio Kushi organizes the first East West Institute out of his home in Cambridge and begins teaching macrobiotics, cosmology, and cooking to mostly young people.

1965 – The second edition of Ohsawa's Zen Macrobiotics is prepared and published by Lou Oles of the Ohsawa Foundation in Los Angeles. It contains much more information (including much more about soyfoods) than the original 1960 mimeographed edition.

1965You are All Sanpaku by Sakurazawa Nyoiti, English version by William Dufty is published in New York by University Books.

1965 Nov. 9 – Beth Ann Simon, a young heroin addict from New Jersey, dies while following a strict macrobiotic diet. This is the movement's first major setback. Ohsawa and the macrobiotic diet receive much adverse publicity, and the incident brands macrobiotics among many in the medical and health professions as a dangerous and extreme form of food faddism. The image was hard to get rid of. A raid by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closes the New York City branch of the Ohsawa Foundation, run by Irma Paule.

1966 April 24 – George Ohsawa dies unexpectedly in Tokyo, Japan, at age 72 – just as his teachings are beginning to spread rapidly in the West. The cause of his death: a heart attack, perhaps caused by filarial parasites he had picked up at Lambarene, Gabon, when visiting Dr. Albert Schweitzer ten years earlier in 1956.

1966 April – Erewhon opens as a tiny (10 by 20 foot) retail store downstairs at 303-B Newbury Street in Boston. The origin of the natural foods industry and movement in America can be traced to this date. Erewhon is the first store of its kind in America and it soon serves as a model for many other similar natural food stores across the nation. Erewhon sells several soyfoods, mainly miso and shoyu purchased from Howard Rower's Infinity Foods or Japan Foods Corp., both in New York.

1966 summer – Michio Kushi begins to lecture each Monday and Wednesday evening in a back room of the Arlington Street Church in Boston. These talks were supplemented by cooking classes taught by Aveline Kushi in Brookline.

1966 April – The Ohsawa Foundation is reopened, at 317 Second Ave. (New York Times, April 17, p. 110).

1967 Aug. – Paul Hawken takes over the management of Erewhon (one small retail store) from Evan Root. He changes the name to Erewhon Trading Co. (from simply "Erewhon") and starts to expand the business.

1968 Aug. – Erewhon starts importing foods from Japan, initially from Muso Shokuhin (Osaka, Japan), then later by correspondence with Mr. Akiyoshi Kazama, who worked for an import/export company named Mitoku Co. Ltd (Tokyo), which sold no food at that time. The initial orders include red miso (made by one of George Ohsawa's cronies) and natural shoyu made by Marushima. These soon become high-volume items.

1968 fall – Bob Kennedy of Chico-San signs a contract with the Lundberg brothers of Wehah Farm (Richvale, California) to grow short-grain brown rice organically, exclusively for Chico-San. Chico-San agrees to buy all brown rice planted in 1969. So in 1969 Lundberg brothers plant 78 acres of brown rice, which is harvested in the fall. Because of Chico-San's successful advertising campaign, one third of this crop was sold in advance and all was sold before the next year's crop was available.

1969 Nov. 4 – Eden Organic Foods is named and incorporated as a non-profit corporation by Bill Bolduc. It is a natural foods co-op retail store at 514 East William St. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bill is president of the company. Michael Potter, who has a deep interest in macrobiotics, joins the company in Jan. 1971 when he is hired by Bill Bolduc. In June 1971 Eden starts to wholesale natural foods out of the back of their retail store at 211 South State Street. Michael Potter eventually builds Eden Foods, Inc. into a macrobiotic, organic, and non-GE [non-GMO] powerhouse.

1970 Aug. 14-23 – The first annual macrobiotic summer camp is held at French Meadows near Lake Tahoe, California.

1970 fall – Spiral Foods Distributing Company is organized by Chico-San and Peter Milbury to distribute Chico-San products directly to retail stores in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. It is discontinued in about Aug. 1972.

1972 Sept. 14 – Fire destroys the Chico-San plant. It started as a short in a rice-cake machine. Chico-San is out of business for several months. The company resumes business at another location across town. But Chico-San loses its exclusive right to distribute Lundberg organically grown brown rice as the company has been unable to package and ship rice and rice products for several key months during the peak sales season.

1979 Nov. 26 – A large fire destroys the Eden Foods warehouse at 4601 Platt Road in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Total damages are estimated at $650,000 (Ann Arbor News, Nov. 27-29).

1981 Nov. 18 – Erewhon Inc. files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. “Erewhon listed 551 creditors to whom it owes a total of $1.5 million. The firm also said it has $4.4 million in assets and another $3 million in general claims against it” (Boston Globe, Economy section).

1982 – The book Recalled by Life, by Anthony Sattilaro, M.D. is published by Houghton Mifflin Co. Four years ago, Dr. Sattilaro, President of the Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia, was dying of cancer. Today, after changing his lifestyle [primarily by adopting a macrobiotic diet, prescribed by Michio Kushi], he is totally free of this disease.

Before this book was published, his remarkable story appeared in Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post, and he had told his story on television.

1996 May 4 – Michio and Aveline Kushi’s accomplishments are recognized by the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. The museum celebrates the donation of the Michio Kushi Family Collection on the History of Macrobiotics and Alternative and Complementary Health Practices.

1998 Feb. 25 – Herman Aihara, the leader of West Coast macrobiotics, dies in Oroville, California, at age 77 of a heart attack. He was born on Sept. 28, 1920 in Kyushu, southern Japan with the name Nobuo Nishiyama.

2001 July 23 – Aveline Kushi, wife of Michio Kushi and founder of Erewhon, dies in Boston at age 78 of cancer. She had been born on 27 Feb. 1923 with the name Tomoko Yokoyama in Yokota, Japan.

2006 Feb. 25 – Cornellia Aihara, a powerhouse of macrobiotic cooking, dies at age 79 at the Roseville Hospital, south of Oroville. She had been born on 31 March 1926 in northern Japan with a congenital heart problem and with the name Chiiko Yokota.

2014 Dec. 28 – Michio Kushi, probably the leading figure (after Ohsawa) in introducing macrobiotics into the United States and Europe, dies at age 88. He was born on 17 May 1926 in Wakayama Province, Japan.

2017 Aug. 28 – A search for the words “macrobiotic” or “macrobiotics” on Google Books results in 60,000 “hits” (results).

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