|2005 Spring - Intro - Aojiru - Chinese Black Tea - Korean Tea - Therapeutic Tea
AojiruCan a glass of tree kale a day keep the doctor away?
photography by Tomoyasu Naruse
The morning ritual
It is a cold afternoon in December. The tree kale in the garden of Dr. Jiro Endo, former director of Shimane Medical University Hospital and the foremost authority on aojiru (green juice) for health, stands nearly 150 centimeters high. It is full of dark green, succulent leaves. Around it grow some 20 other seasonal vegetableskomatsuna (Brassica rapa var. pervidis), Welsh onions, daikon radishall looking good enough to pluck and eat on the spot. The doctor mulches his garden with dried leaves and straw to insulate it from the cold; he does not, however, use any chemical fertilizers. He inherited the garden from his father, Niro, also a medical doctor, who began growing vegetables here about 40 years ago for his own research. Each morning, Jiro ritualistically picks 10 leaves of kale, from which he extracts and drinks 90 milliliters of fresh aojiru. Today he picks and runs several dozen leaves through his juice extractor to make aojiru for Kateigaho reporters.
"It's delicious!" we all blurt out in unison after the first sip.
A member of the cabbage family, tree kale has leaves that are slightly larger than a sheet of notebook paper and after assimilating the benefits of sun, earth, and water, they grow quite thick. We recall feeling as if each fresh drop, concentratedly sweet and bitter in taste, was permeating every cell in our bodies.
||The bright green cocktail contains not a drop of water, only 100-percent kale-leaf juice.
A member of the cabbage family, tree kale is native to Southern Europe where it is commonly cooked with other ingredients. A full-grown leaf is slightly larger than a sheet of notebook paper. In 1954 Dr. Niro Endo published his first book (left) documenting the effectiveness of aojiru on human health. He produced 40 books and research papers on the subject. Born in 1900, he lived to the age of 92, a real "aojiru life."
The aojiru craze
The aojiru market has grown proportionally with Japan's increasing health consciousness, and now stands at around 50 billion yen. With some 150 to 200 companies making aojiru, ranging from handmade varieties to mass production by major manufacturers, there are now countless beverages boasting the name "aojiru."
Why has aojiru reached this extraordinary level of popularity in Japan? Not only does it contain the highly nutritious elements found in kale (including some 40 vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients), but these nutrients exist in almost perfect balance. With new medical evidence demonstrating the positive effects of drinking raw kale juice on a daily basis, aojiru has been dubbed a miracle drink.
Among vitamins, kale is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C, E, and K. Compared to cabbage, which has always been considered a nutritious vegetable, kale is 58 times higher in vitamin A, one and a half times higher in B1, five times higher in B2, twice as high in C, 24 times higher in E, and two and a half times higher in vitamin K. As for minerals, kale has three to five times more calcium and iron than cabbage, and one and a half to three times more sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Kale is also high in fiber, which supports the functions of the colon; anti-cancer flavonoids and MSM (essential mineral sulfur); anti-oxidants, which prevent aging and lifestyle-related illnesses; polysaccharides and polyphenols, used to treat allergies; and has twice the calciuman immunity boosterof milk.
Aojiru is of course low in sugars, protein, and fat, so regardless how much you drink, there's little fear of gaining weight. And as is obvious from its vivid green color, aojiru is rich in chlorophyll, which purifies and lowers the viscosity of the blood. The positive effects of aojiru are too numerous to list: indeed, drinking it is an ideal way to stay healthy today. Still, the full extent of aojiru's health benefits remains unknown. Private companies, universities, and medical centers are now collaborating to learn more.
Leafy green benefits
In 1983 the owner of a food-delivery company called Q'SAI suffered a stroke, but after regularly drinking aojiru made a full recovery. The experience soon launched Q'SAI into the aojiru business, and today nearly 30 percent of the company's sales come from vegetable juice. In 2003 Q'SAI presented joint research conducted with Yamaguchi Prefectural University confirming that aojiru suppresses the metastasis of cancer cells. It also worked with Kyushu University to show that aojiru promotes the excretion of environmental contaminants such as dioxins and PCBs.
Cosmetics manufacturer Fancl entered the aojiru market in 2000, expanding it from what until then had been limited to the health-conscious older generation to women in their 20s and 30s. Fancl's joint research with Kyushu University went on to link aojiru with stimulating serotonin in the brain, perhaps making it effective in the treatment and prevention of depression and insomnia.
Jiro and Niro
It's easy to understand the growing expectations of aojiru. What's hard to believe is that aojiru originated as a remedy for malnourishment when food was scarce during and after World War II. Jiro's father Niro conceived of aojiru in October 1943, when people were forced to live on scant rations and grapple with the realities of hunger. The discarded tops of daikon radishes in the fields near his home caught Niro's eye, and prompted him to collect the discarded leaves not only of daikon, but of soybean, sweet potato, eggplant, and other plants to feed his family. After seeing a distinct improvement in their health, he began researching leafy green foods.
The following year Jiro, who had just entered junior high, came down with pneumonia. Naturally there was no penicillin, and desperate to do something to treat his son, Niro extracted and fed him the juice from mitsuba (Japanese parsley) he picked every day around their home, upon which Jiro made a speedy recovery. Shortly thereafter Niro's wife suffered acute nephritis, a fatal disease for which modern medicine had yet to find an effective cure. Within two to three months of feeding her a therapeutic diet centered on aojiru, she recovered. Hence the illnesses the Endo family suffered during the war gave rise to aojiru, and having witnessed its efficacy, Niro subsequently devoted himself to its research. As an army doctor, amid shortages of medical supplies in the field, he extracted aojiru from wild plants, and at the last hospital he headed before retirement he made aojiru for his patients. It worked like a charm and was eventually integrated into hospital meals. In 1949 Niro discovered kale, which ultimately became popular nationwide and was even introduced into school lunches.
The miracle cabbage
"Before kale, procuring enough fresh green vegetables to make aojiru year-round was no easy task," recalls Jiro. "My father discovered it in a gardening book: it could be grown 12 months a year and had extraordinary nutritional balance. Father had seeds sent from the U.S. and started growing it in our garden."
Thus, kale became the main ingredient of aojiru and soon surpassed all other vegetables as "the miracle green." Ironically, Niro later discovered writings on kale in the Ishinho, Japan's oldest medical work completed over 1,000 years ago, and the Ming-dynasty encyclopedia of Chinese medicine, Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica). Despite its having disappeared from Japan, Niro managed to revive kale domestically in the healthiest of forms.
While aojiru has now come into its own, it didn't grow into a phenomenon overnight. Initially, there was great resistance among doctors and health professionals because of its departure from Western medical practices. It has taken the hard work and devoted efforts of father and son spanning two generations to promote aojiru and contribute to its current market of 50 billion yen.
What impressed us most in researching this article, however, was to learn that the father of aojiru, the man who fostered this unlikely drink and gave it its name, never received a penny from the business: "Father only wanted more people to be healthy," says Jiro. "We were just fulfilling our mission as doctors."
Articles from the 2005 SPRING issue:
Kateigaho International Edition Issues:
2005 SUMMER - 2005 SPRING - 2005 WINTER
2004 AUTUMN - 2004 SUMMER - 2004 SPRING - 2004 WINTER
2003 AUTUMN - INAUGURAL ISSUE