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The History of Macrobiotics

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Eden's president says his teacher's definition of macrobiotics (below) is the best he has read.

"Macrobiotics amounts to finding our physical limitations and trying to live within them. This is the cultivation of humbleness. When we think that we can do anything we want, we become arrogant. This arrogance causes sickness.

When we are living within our physical limitations, then our spirituality is free. Macrobiotics seeks freedom in spirit. Freedom exists in our spirits so we can think anything. Biologically, physiologically we are unfree. We can wish to eat anything we want, but we cannot do it.

Disciplining physical unfreedom is the foundation of spiritual freedom. God didn't give us unlimited biological freedom, but appreciating and taking into consideration our unfree physical condition leads us to infinite spiritual freedom."

- Herman Aihara, 1920 - 1998


The History of Macrobiotics

By Herman Aihara
(to whom we are deeply grateful for his teachings and example)

 Macrobiotic

Thousands of years ago great sages realized that the food we eat not only sustains life, but also underlies our health and happiness. They compiled religious or medical laws such as the 'The Code of Manu' in India, the Hebrew code, the Nei Ching and the Honso Komoku (the first medicinal herb book) in China, and the Zen diet in Japan are just some examples.

Around the end of the last century a Japanese army doctor of the highest rank named Sagen Ishizuka, established a theory of nutrition and medicine based on the traditional Oriental diet, to which he applied the Western medical sciences of chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and physiology. He had been born weak and suffered from kidney and skin disease. In order to restore his health he studied both Western and Eastern medicine extensively. He compiled the information and conclusions of his lifelong study in two books, 'Chemical Theory of Longevity' published in 1896, and 'Diet For Health' published in 1898.

In 1907, several disciples of Sagan Ishizuka founded an association called Shoku-Yo-Kai in Tokyo, Japan. The purpose of this organization was to educate the public in the teachings of Sagen Ishizuka. Ishizuka was the honorable chairman of this organization and the co-founders consisted of noblemen, congressmen, councilors, representatives, and successful businessmen of the day. At this time Japan was being strongly influenced by European culture and science. Going against this trend, Ishizuka criticized the adoption of the West's modern medicine and dietary theories, and recommended the Japanese traditional diet of whole, unrefined foods, with very little or no milk or animal foods. He cured many patients by having them eat a traditional diet based on brown rice, and a variety of land and sea vegetables. Since his method was unique at that time, and effective, many patients visited his clinic; so many in fact that he had to limit his practice to 100 persons per day. There were also many inquiries by mail which, because of his fame, would reach him addressed only "Vegetable Doctor, Tokyo," "Daikon (Japanese radish) Doctor, Tokyo," or "Anti-Doctor Doctor, Tokyo." His healing technique was based on the recognition of five very important principles:

  1. Food is the foundation of life, character, constitution, happiness and health or sickness.
  2. Sodium and potassium are the primary antagonistic and complementary elements in food. They most strongly determine its character, or "yin/yang" quality. Food must be balanced in its contents of potassium and sodium.
  3. For mankind, the main staple food is grain.
  4. Food should be unrefined, whole, and natural.
  5. Foods are best if they are grown locally and eaten in season.

Sagen Ishizuka died on 17 October 1909. After his death, the organization was led by his son-in-law Takao Okabe.

Suffering "incurable" diseases at the age of 18, George Ohsawa learned about this approach to diet from two of Mr. Ishizuka's disciples, Manabu Nishibata and Shojiro Goto. After completely restoring his own health, Ohsawa joined Shoku-Yo-Kai. He was later elected the association's President.

Before Ohsawa started his prolific writing career there were only a few books in Japan on the subject of diet and health. Mr. Akira Iida was a director of Shoku-Yo-Kai, and one of the editors of the magazine published by that organization. About 1925 Mr. Ohsawa wrote many articles for the magazine, and in 1928 his first books, 'Physiology of Japanese Mentality' and 'Biography of Sagen Ishizuka' were published.

When Ohsawa's activities started to gain recognition he was excluded from the association, which some believe was due mainly to the jealousy of some of the directors. He then focused more on the teaching of the yin (yeen) and yang philosophy rather than the direct treatment of the sick as Ishizuka had done. From that point on Mr. Ohsawa devoted his life to lecturing around the world and to writing on macrobiotic philosophy and its application until his death. In 1948, three years after World War II ended, Mr. Ohsawa established a school in Kanagawa Prefecture, an outskirt of Tokyo. He called his school Nippon C.I. an abbreviated name taken from the French translation "Le Centre Ignoramus" which meant that this is the house of the ignorant. Ohsawa named his school the house of the ignorant because if you knew everything, you didn't need to stay.

After the War, Ohsawa changed the direction of his education. In other words, he started teaching the philosophy of Oriental medicine and yin (yeen) and yang as the principle of world peace as well as the principle of health. His students were not sick people but younger people who were interested in philosophy, social affairs, and health in general. He educated many young Japanese at Nippon C. I. or as it was also called, Nippon M. I. (Maison Ignoramus). Many of them went abroad and started macrobiotic centers in Europe, U.S.A. and Brazil. Michio Kushi was the first such student who left Japan from his school in 1949.

In Greek, macro means big or great and biotic means concerning life, so the word refers to the "big view of life." This meaning suggests that we should relax our small, rigid views of the world so that the underlying unity of nature can be sensed.

The word macrobiotic was originally used in literature by the German scholar Christophe Wilhelm Von Hufeland in Das Makrobiotik (1796). George Ohsawa met a descendant of Hufeland in Germany in 1958. Ohsawa first mentioned the term macrobiotic in his Japanese translation of Alexis Carrel's 'Man, the Unknown'. It did not appear in the main text but rather in his postscript. His first textual usage of the term was in 'Zen Macrobiotics', which he wrote in 1959. It was published in English by Nippon Centre Ignoramus, in 1960. During his lifetime Ohsawa wrote more than 300 books and pamphlets, in Japanese, French, English, and German. He also published a monthly magazine for more than 40 years, and today more than 30 of his books have been translated into English, German, French, Swedish, Flemish, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

After Ohsawa died at the age of 74, in 1966, his disciples continued to teach macrobiotics in Japan, Europe, North America, and South America. It is currently being practiced virtually all over the world, including the Eastern European countries.

In America thousands of people are using the principles of macrobiotics in their daily lives in all the major cities, and the number of people practicing this way of life is increasing across the country. Thousands of health and natural food stores throughout the nation now sell the basic foodstuffs commonly used in macrobiotics, such as organically grown grain and produce, sea vegetables, and special condiments. A growing number of macrobiotic publications are also appearing. A positive sign is that some medical doctors are now recommending the macrobiotic diet to their patients. Since the publication of Dr. Anthony Sattilaro's recent book 'Recalled By Life', many people have opted for this natural method of healing which simply involves providing the proper material and allowing the body to heal itself. Many of these people have had good results. However, macrobiotics is not primarily a diet for relieving sickness, nor is it a new fad. Macrobiotics is a way of life based on an understanding of the rhythm, the ebb and flow of nature. Its roots can be traced back through civilization to the beginning of human tradition. Although it requires study and seemingly very big adjustments, macrobiotics is a practical way of living towards happiness.



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