TT-519 -- Natto for heart health, ebiz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, May 31, 2009 Issue No. 519


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Which food popular with Japanese people disgusts newly
arrived foreigners the most? Probably it is a toss up
between Shiokara (fermented squid guts) and Natto
(fermented soy beans). Both smell pretty bad, and if you're
not used to the taste, both can make sensitive stomachs
throw up. After half a life time of living here, we admit
that we still can't get used to the smell or taste of
Shiokara. Luckily most younger Japanese can't stand it
either, and so we're not forced to eat/slurp it too often.

But Natto is a different case.

These smelly, sticky beans are still widely consumed,
especially in Eastern Japan, such as in the Kanto and
further North, and are ubiquitous on the breakfast tables
of hotels, inns, and friends' houses, so it's hard to
avoid the site and smell of the stuff.

While the smell and stickiness of Natto are off-putting,
the actual taste isn't bad, especially now that you can
get a variety of new sauces to go with it. Traditionally
Tokyo-ites eat Natto with soy sauce and mustard, but
recently you can get Sukiyaki, Dashi, kimuchi (Korean
pickled cabbage), and even egg flavors, all of which are
quite palatable.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Natto was first introduced into Japan in the Yayoi Period
(400BC to 300AD), if not earlier. It became especially
popular during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and was later used
by the Japanese Imperial Navy as ship food thanks to its
high protein, vitamin B-2 content, and ability to contain
dysentery outbreaks. Natto consumption varies around Japan,
but the annual consumption nationally is about 2kg per
household and is falling. As an indication of the rate of
dietary change, the average household spent JPY4,200
annually on Natto in 2002, and by 2006 this had fallen to
JPY3,800. Natto appears to be yet another beneficial
traditional food gradually falling out of favor.

We suppose that if you're not married into a traditional
Japanese family, there might be no reason for you to ever
try Natto, however, if you value your health, you should
probably take a closer look, stop breathing through your
nose, and swallow down a couple of mouthfuls with rice
every morning. In doing so, you will be ingesting one of
nature's most powerful substances able to break down and
remove plaque from the inside of your arteries, and thus
reduce your susceptibility to heart attacks and strokes.

Actually, Natto is supposed to have a broad range of health
benefits, so lets look at some of these:
* Reduction of prevalence of heart attacks and strokes
(heart disease)
* Reduction of prevalence of osteoporosis, especially in
older women
* Antibiotic effects

1. Heart Disease
There are two main elements in Natto that contribute to a
healthy heart. The first of these is Pyrazine, the enzyme
that makes Natto smell. This is an anti-clotting agent
that is present in most soy beans (not just Natto). The
second is more specific, an enzyme discovered in 1990 by
Dr. Hiroyuki Sumi, called Nattokinase. This is a powerful
dissolver of blood clots and fibrin in the arteries. To give
you some idea of how powerful Nattokinase is, drug
companies sell the enzyme urokinase to dissolve clots and
present it in a product that sells for about JPY20,000 per
dose. It lasts for just 30 minutes in the body after
ingestion. 100gm of Natto on the other hand can be bought
from the supermarket for a paltry JPY100, it is just as
efficacious, and yet it remains effective in the body for
around 8 hours.

2. Osteoporosis
One problem of Japan's aging population, especially for
older women is brittle bones. As it turns out, the Vitamin
K in Natto helps in the formation of bones by increasing
the take up of calcium from the intestine. Natto is one of
the few sources of Vitamin K, and is a very high source of
a variant called Vitamin K2. There was an interesting study
done showing the incidence of female cervical bone breakage
due to osteoporosis in major cities around Japan. Those
cities with a high family expenditure on Natto had a
significantly reduced rate of breakages versus those where
the consumption of Natto is much lower.

3. Antibiotic effects on E-coli
Natto bacteria apparently also protects a human host
against salmonella and other gastro bugs. Some readers may
recall the June 1993 Tajimi City, Gifu schools mass
poisoning of 2,700 students with E-coli O-157 virus, caused
by contaminated school lunches. It was a big scandal at the
time, with lots of finger pointing about what/who caused it.
A study was done later on the students who were affected
versus those who were not, and the researchers found that
those kids who ate Natto at least 1-3 times a week had a
far lower incidence of infection by E-coli than those who
ate none.

If you're still not sold on the idea of eating sticky,
odorous Natto fresh from the store, but you want the health
benefits, the good news is that there are now deodorized,
powered Nattokinase capsules available in the USA. For some
reason they are not sold in Japan but you can order them

For your heart's sake, look at adding Natto to your daily


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+++ NEWS

- Only in Japan -- toilet paper machine
- Square Enix tries Emergent for better foreign sales
- Unemployment rate hits 5%
- Glow-in-the-dark monkeys
- Stock market intervention plan to be scrapped

-> Only in Japan -- toilet paper machine

Office supplies vendor Nakabayashi has come up with an
in-office machine that turns used copier paper into toilet
rolls, right there in the office. According to the company,
the machine, which weighs 600kg, can produce about 48
toilet rolls over a 24-hour period from around 7.2kg of
used copier paper. The machine costs JPY9m.
Unfortunately, we have no information on the cost or
volume of chemicals needed to run it. ***Ed: A rough
back-of-the sheet (Ok, pun intended) calculation tells us
that you would need to produce at least 90,000 rolls of
toilet paper to pay for this machine, not including the
consumables, installation and maintenance. Or put
another way, it's enough for an office of 50 people for about
50 years -- based on the rate of consumption in our office.
Good idea, terrible economics!** (Source: TT commentary
from, May
28, 2009)

-> Square Enix tries Emergent for better foreign sales

Red Herring blogger Michael Lee makes the point that
Japan's largest video game software producer, Square Enix,
may have a weenie envy problem, in that they have decided
to once again licence someone else's game development
software in order to make it big internationally. Lee
points out that this is the second time that Square Enix
has tried a non-inhouse technology on which to launch a
new mega-game. But last time, the result was inadequate
both because the team was still learning the
capabilities of the software platform, and also because the
resulting game wasn't compelling. This time Square Enix
will be licensing Emergent Game Technologies’ Gamebryo
Engine. ***Ed: Lee rightly says that Square Enix needs to
step outside the role playing genre and pay attention to
some of the more novel titles being released abroad.
Focusing on the underlying game technology to fix a sales
problem is probably the wrong application of money.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Mar 17,

-> Unemployment rate hits 5%

The unemployment rate in Japan hit a 66-month high in
April, rising to 5%, considerably up from the 4.4% earlier
this year. Apparently the number of new job offers fell
26.5% over April 2008, sliding even more than the 22.3%
y-o-y drop in March. ***Ed: We think the worst for
unemployment is yet to come. Many companies have been
living off internal fat as the economy tanks. They are not
financially capable of withstanding many more months,
let alone years, of the current low activity levels, and
therefore will have to start cutting staff. We forecast an
official unemployment rate of at least 6% before a
substantial recovery.** (Source: TT commentary from, May 29, 2009)

-> Glow-in-the-dark monkeys

It was a sorry day for lab monkeys this last week, when
scientists at the Keio University School of Medicine
announced in Nature magazine that they've figured out how
to implant specific genes into Marmoset monkeys and have
that gene passed on to offspring. This is the first time
such a feat has been achieved with primates, and it opens
the way to genetically modified animals that can be used
for specific testing regimes in labs. The gene was a highly
visible fluorescent jellyfish gene, which makes the GM
Marmoset's feet glow in the dark. (Source: TT commentary
from, May 27, 2009)

-> Stock market intervention plan to be scrapped

A plan by the government to intervene in the stock market,
so as to support share prices, may be scrapped due to the
fact that the markets seem to have largely self-corrected
without such intervention. The nation's major stock markets
have fallen by up to 42% since last year, and the
government was planning to spend JPY50trn (US$520bn) to buy
shares through a special agency. The intervention was part
of a massive April 27 stimulus package. (Source: TT
commentary from, May 28, 2009)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

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That's a very interesting read. I am not a Japaneese but certainly would like to try the benefit of Natto in my healthy heart program. However, do not really know how to get that Natto here in USA.