Minoru Shirota M.D., Ph.D. was driven to contribute to the health and happiness of others, and dedicated his life to furthering the study of microbiology, following his motto “a healthy gut leads to a long life”, in Japanese “kencho choju”.
Minoru Shirota, a pioneer in microbiology
In the early 20th century, when Dr. Shirota was still a young man, poor hygiene and nutrition meant many people in Japan lost their lives due to infectious diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Uncomfortable with this, the young man decided to focus on medicine and make a difference to society with this knowledge. In 1921 he began studying at Kyoto Imperial University (now Kyoto University), and was greatly inspired by the theory of Nobel prize-winner Elie Metchnikov who had published a paper in 1900 on ‘Longevity without ageing’. This illustrated the remarkable life expectancy of Bulgarians and their common practise of drinking fermented milk – it took him down the path of microbiology research.
Isolating the lactic acid bacteria
Whilst undertaking his research, Dr Shirota discovered that lactic acid bacteria suppress harmful bacteria in the intestine. In 1930, after five years of searching, he succeeded in isolating a strain of good lactic acid bacteria that could survive digestive juices and reach the intestines alive. This strain is now known as Lactobacillus casei Shirota (L. casei Shirota) and classified by the scientific community as Lacticaseibacillus paracasei strain Shirota.
In 1935, Yakult was born
Dr. Shirota, together with his team, needed an easy way for people to consume L. casei Shirota so they developed a fermented milk to do just that – and the result was Yakult. Today it’s enjoyed in over 40 countries and regions with over 40 million bottles consumed every day.
The scientist Dr. Shirota held a set of beliefs that became the origin and essence of Yakult today – collectively they were named Shirota-ism. Made up of three areas, Shirota-ism has had far-reaching positive influences for millions of people. The first is the belief in prevention, rather than cure. The next is that a healthy gut leads to a long life, in Japanese this is called “Kencho Choju“. And lastly, that good health should be accessible by all, not just the wealthy. These ideals still remain at the heart of Yakult
Dr Shirota started by simply handing Yakult out to patients in his region. Word of his new discovery soon spread and demand rocketed. To make his little bottles widely available throughout Japan, the Yakult company took a unique approach. In 1963, the innovative Yakult Ladies home delivery system was launched. These were the company’s first social pioneers! Read more.