Macrobiotic Pioneers 

In attempting to assemble a history of macrobiotics, it’s difficult to actually mark where the starting point begins; the prime movers and shakers of macrobiotics had multiple, often unaccredited historical influences, so establishing an exact origin quickly becomes an illusive and arbitrary task.

Ekken Kaibara (1630-1714)

Ekken Kaibara (1630-1714), sometimes referred to as the “Great-Grandfather of Macrobiotics,” was a Japanese Neo-Confucian scholar born on the island of Kyushu, in southern Japan. After his father taught him nutrition and medicine, his hunger to learn embraced many fields of study related to health and spiritual teachings.

He advised eating grain as a staple food with plentiful amounts of seasonal vegetables; recommended consuming foods that were peacefully prepared and balanced according to the five tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent; suggested the avoidance of fatty meats and recommended animal protein to be eaten in minimum amounts; was not fond of greasy, raw, or overcooked fare or foods that were unripe; warned of overeating and suggested leaving 10 to 20 percent of one’s capacity empty; recommended giving thanks to all the elements that conspired to bring food to one’s table; suggested refraining from eating when upset or prior to bed; and endorsed brief walks after eating to promote circulation. His recommendations are surely a template for what was to evolve as a macrobiotic directive.

Christopher William Hufeland (1762-1836)

If anyone deserved the title of “Great Grandfather of Macrobiotics,” Hufeland would probably win it hands down. He was one of the most eminent German physicians of his time. Hufeland vigorously championed the idea of preventive medicine. During a time when the medical science of the day focused on symptomatic disease treatment, he claimed that the ultimate goal of human medicine was not to treat illness but to maximize life. Of his many writings, his most popular book, Makrobiotik, or The Art of Prolonging Human Life, was published in 1796, became a best seller and was translated into many languages.

Hufeland embraced the Hippocratic principle of a natural healing force that existed. He insisted on treating the whole person, stressing the value of a sensible lifestyle, intellectual stimulation, humor and joy and a vegetarian diet with regular exercise.

His packaging of the “Makrobiotik” dietary program fueled the healthy eating movement of the past 200 years, shaping the teachings of health leaders such as Sylvester Graham, W.H. Kellogg, Bernard McFadden, Paul Bragg, George Ohsawa, Bernard Jensen, Michio Kushi, and Herman Aihara — all of whom positively influenced the health and lives of millions with their dedication, insight and tenacity.

Sagen Ishizuka (1850-1910)

Sagen Ishizuka righteously deserves the title of “Grandfather of Macrobiotics.” Born to Samurai parents in 1850, Ishizuka was drawn to medicine at an early age and eventually became a physician in the Japanese army. Suffering throughout his life from a chronic kidney condition, he was unable to find relief from the allopathic medicine that he had practiced as a physician.

Researching Oriental medicine, Ishizuka was inspired to pursue studies and experiment with his daily nourishment. Influenced by classical texts as well as the teaching of Kaibara, he gave up the modern Japanese western influences of milk, animal meats, and refined rice for a more traditional diet of grain, vegetable, beans, seaweeds, and fermented foods. Soon, his illness reversed and Ishizuka was motivated to experiment with his patients.

Ishizuka saw health imbalance in terms of two universal extremes: conditions from inflammation (characterized by an excess of potassium-based factors) or conditions of constriction (based on an excess of sodium). Often, many sicknesses were composed of both extremes. According to Ishizuka, the destiny of our health is controlled by our choice and preparation of food that influences our sodium-potassium chemical balance.

George Ohsawa (1893-1966) 

is often regarded as the “founder” of macrobiotics. But while he did synthesize a blueprint of adopted principles and healing strategies from different sources under the banner of macrobiotics — a name he no doubt borrowed from German physician Christopher Hufeland’s 1797 book — Ohsawa was not, in fact, the originator by any means. In his writings, he credits the Japanese medical doctor, Sagen Iskizuzka, as his first mentor and teacher. Ishizuka formed much of his theory from traditional Chinese Medicine, which was developed over several thousand years.  

George Ohsawa, born as Yukikazu Sakurazawa, was a gifted original thinker, entrepreneur, tireless writer, lecturer, social activist, student, and philosopher who collectively synthesized the teachings of his predecessors into a cohesive format of diet, philosophy, spiritual teaching, and behavioral principle. It was a package he later, in the last decade of his life, introduced as macrobiotics. 

Ohsawa developed a severe case of intestinal and pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 18, ironically the same disease he witnessed consume his mother’s life when he was 12. Refusing to undergo the same westernized “medical treatments” that failed to save her, Ohsawa chose his own path, encouraged by discovering Ishizuka’s first book, A Chemical Nutritional Theory of Long Life. The book detailed Ishizuka’s dietary suggestions, concentrating on balancing the ratio of sodium and potassium in the blood through a combination of whole traditional foods that includes sea vegetables and fermented foods. 

Diligently following Ishizuka’s program from the book, Ohsawa’s symptoms soon disappeared. The realization of food’s innate power to change the course of sickness proved a turning point in the life of young Ohsawa. 

He wrote hundreds of books, pamphlets, and articles about all aspects of folk medicine, nutrition, philosophy, chemistry, martial arts, language, cultural arts, and principles of well-being. With his ever-present wife Lima, a consummate teacher of cooking arts and fierce dedication to his work, they traveled throughout the world, making new friends wherever their journeys took them. 

Ohsawa’s presentation of macrobiotics, his views on healing, sickness and health seemed quite radical to many. He articulated his ideas in archaic terms borrowed from Taoist Yin-Yang philosophy layering his expression in complexity and alien to many. He championed Japanese foods that had, according to him, necessary medicinal value and frequently suggested, in lieu of fasting, an exclusive diet of brown rice, which he claimed could cure most diseases.  

George Ohsawa lived as he had taught others to live: adventurously with a spirit of play, a strong social concern for human welfare, and a deep commitment to leave the world healthier and better then he had found it. According to the testimony of others, Ohsawa helped countless people regain their health and personified joy and gratitude in much of what he did.  

Herman Aihara (1920-1998) 

Herman (Nobuo) Aihara began his initial studies with George Ohsawa in 1940. Attracted by the philosophy and world peace goals that Ohsawa was then teaching, Aihara studied with Ohsawa on and off while he experimented with a change of diet. He arrived in New York in 1952 and eventually, with fellow student, Michio Kushi, became President of the Ohsawa Foundation in New York. In the early 1960s, he ventured with his wife, Cornelia, to Chico, California where a small community of macrobiotic people had settled.  

On the west coast, the unassuming and intelligent Aihara began to teach and write, eventually establishing one of the first United States macrobiotic magazines and often traveling throughout the U.S. by car with Cornelia and children in tow offering public lectures and cooking classes. 

Later, the Aihara’s began another organization, The George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation (GOMF) that sponsored his talks and acted as a publishing arm for his writings. Eventually, he started another institute of macrobiotic studies for students and teachers called The Vega Institute.  

The Aihara’s annual summer camp in the High Sierras meets every July (to this day) for 10 days of camping that includes outdoor lectures beneath tall pines and redwoods, meals prepared in fire pits of extraordinary simplicity and taste, and a number of other classes from acupuncture massage to cooking and martial arts.  

Michio Kushi (1926-2014) 

Michio Kushi was born into a family of educators. After meeting and studying with Ohsawa, Michio decided to come to the United States to continue Ohsawa’s work under the banner of macrobiotics.  

Kushi and his wife Aveline lectured throughout the United States, settling in Boston and beginning one of many foundations and various business ventures (East West Journal, Erewhon, Redwing books, Sanae and The Seventh Inn Restaurants, Kushi Foods,) as well as a seven-day yearly congress known as the Kushi Conference, usually occurring on east coast college campuses.  

Along with Aveline, Kushi has authored dozens of books, including The Book of Macrobiotics (Japan Publications) and The Cancer-Prevention Diet (St. Martin’s Press, 1983).  

The Kushi Institute continues in rural Beckett, Massachusetts, offering three levels of accreditation and various graduate programs for students and those who want to teach Kushi’s interpretation of macrobiotics.

Reference: Macrobiotics For Dummies


Early Roots of Marcrobiotics Health and Lifestyle

Ekken Kaibara 1630-1716


Essence of Kaibara

  • Physical well-being and long life are the natural condition of mankind
  • Human life is also meant to be enjoyable.
  • Sickness is something humankind creates: “One’s life is in one’s hands.”
  • Control of the principal passions and desires is essential. Lack of self-control, and indulgence in food, sleep, talk, and sex lead to trouble. Moderation and self-discipline are the keys to health and long life.
  • Daily exercise is important.
  • Keep one’s immediate environment orderly and clean.
  • For true health one must cultivate a healthy mental and emotional life.
  • Above all one must cultivate a sense of gratitude, a deep awareness of life as a wonderful gift which has been received from Heaven and Earth, from parents and ancestors.
  • Practice the simple pleasures of everyday life: gardening; playing music and singing songs; writing and reading poetry; appreciating the natural beauty of the heavens and earth; enjoying sports; spending days of quiet solitude; and enjoying evenings of companionship with the drinking, though not to inebriation, of fine wine.
  • Do not expect too much of yourself and others. To want perfection of others as of oneself makes a burden on the heart. This attitude leads to anger and to reproach.
  • Be satisfied with a few simple, but functional possessions. Be satisfied with what meets your needs.
  • The cosmos is an orderly, harmonious whole operating according to predictable laws.
  • Man, created by Providence through the working of Heaven and Earth, is an integral part of nature. Health and happiness are his birthright. He need only observe the rhythm and order in nature and live in harmony with it. If he is sick or unhappy it is his own fault, and he can cure the situation by returning to the way of nature.

Dr. Sagen Ishizuka 1850-1910


Ishizuka Summarized

Human physiology, food, health, sickness and medicine is all based on the relationship between the elements sodium (Na) and potassium (K). George Ohsawa later replaced Ishizuka’s Na:K theory with the terms yang and yin.

Human health and longevity are dependent upon a proper balance in the body between the salts of sodium and potassium.

Food is the most important factor in determining the body’s sodium and potassium balance. Human health and sickness depend on diet above all.

Proper diet for mankind is determined by the following:

Our physical structure: Human teeth and human digestive system both indicate that by nature man is an eater of whole cereal grains.

Our environment and the food it offers us must also be considered. Man is above all a product of his natural environment. It provides those foods that will help him to function healthily and happily in that particular place and climate. Man should eat, then those foods which occur naturally and abundantly where he lives.

Except for the arctic and tropical areas, the most plentiful easily cultivated food is cereal grain. The type may vary from region to region, but generally in a temperate climate cereal grains should be the principal food.

Nature provides those foods for man at the time he needs them, so as much as possible his foods should be as fresh and as seasonal as possible.

The preparation of food is also important. The use of heat, water, salt

Main Influence of Kaibara & Ishizuka

We are a part of Nature, not separate from it.

Nature and the entire universe is orderly and harmonious, following clear and predictable principles or laws.

Health and happiness are the natural state of human beings.
Food is the primary factor for our health.
Be moderate, and take only what you need.
If one is unhealthy or unhappy, it is within your ability to change it. Cereal grain is the principal human food.


Macrobiotics Yesterday and Today, by Ronald Kotzsch

George Ohsawa: The Beginning of Modern Macrobiotics


“Non Credo” = “Don’t believe. Always think for yourself.”

  • Overview of “Ohsawa’s Theory of Health!
  • Honor and respect your natural human qualities.! All is inter-related: Wholeness is the reality!
  • There is an natural order to life, and this order cycles and changes according to natural principles!
  • Embracing your own freedom, following your passion, thinking freely for yourself!!
  • Appreciation for the gift of life, the natural world, health and simple food.
  • We can guide ourselves and restore balance through the application of the “Unique Principle” of yin-yang.!
  • Food is the #1 key for establishing and maintaining our health and clarity in daily life.!
  • There is no one and nothing to blame. !
  • Physical health is the foundation upon which we develop clear and comprehensive human consciousness and a happy life.!
  • There is no separation between body & spirit/material & spiritual.


Ohsawa’s Greatest Contribution

  • The Unifying Principle of Yin-Yang!
  • Ohsawa’s expression of Yin-Yang should not be confused with the Yin-Yang expression of modern Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has developed since the 1950’s and practiced today by most acupuncturists.!
  • Ohsawa’s Yin-Yang view is very simple. He said that our macro- biotic concepts should be simple enough for a kindergarten child to understand.!
For Ohsawa the Unifying Principle of Yin-Yang was a natural way to understand the Order of Nature and our place within it.
Ohsawa’s “12 Theorems and 7 Principles”!“
Seven Levels of Judgment”! “Signs of Health”