Natto Good

The title of this blog, “Natto Good” can be translated, “Not too good”.

Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis natto.  It has three overwhelming characteristics: a devastatingly foul smell, a powerfully strong rotten flavor and a mucous-like slimy texture, any one of which is a good enough reason not to eat it. 

Legend has it that a group of samurai were cooking soybeans when they were encountered by the enemy.  They quickly packed their things placing the soybeans in straw bags.  Upon opening the bags, days later after the soybeans had fermented; they were hungry enough to eat the rotten repast anyway.  They liked it.  They offered the entrée to the head samurai at the risk of losing their heads.  He liked it, they kept their heads and the rest is natto history. 

At one of our very first meal together, I discovered much to my dismay that everyone at my table liked natto and had it on their plate from the buffet table.  I watched as everyone happily consumed the fermented bean with a trail of slime still connecting them to their eating utensil. 

I considered changing tables, but remained seated for the sake of team chemistry.  I was taught long ago on the field of athletics that it was important to occasionally “take one for the team” (whoever came up with that phrase never had to sit at a table with his team eating natto). 

As I read about natto, one particular line intrigued me.  After adding the bacteria to the soybean “care must be taken to keep the ingredients away from impurities”.  What in the world are they thinking… natto is the impurity that should be kept away from everything else.

Having written the above (tongue in cheek, which is better than natto in cheek), 70.2 percent of the Japanese population (the other 29.8 percent stand with me) love their natto and take their fermented soybean very seriously.  They consider it more than just a delicacy, it is a regional treasure. 

Come to think of it, we are somewhat like natto.  In our sinfulness, we have a foul smell, a rotten flavor and a slimly texture about us.  However, once Christ is added to us, we become a heavenly treasure and great care must be taken to keep us away from impurities.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:3, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  We are to guard ourselves against impurities so that we can develop and mature into Christ-likeness. 

By the way, of the 29.8 percent of Japanese who do not like natto, over half of them still eat it for the tremendous health benefits it provides.  It is an acquired taste, but once acquired, it becomes a high quality food choice because the bacteria break down the soybean protein into its constituent amino acids.

Something to think about…

Missions Comment: One of the things that might be helpful for missionaries in the field is to learn to appreciate and to partake in the local customs and cuisine of the host culture.  For example, a missionary could learn to eat and enjoy (at least eat) things like sushi and natto before leaving for Japan.

When I was in Sendai, I decided to try the local culinary specialty, beef tongue.  They prepare it in a variety of ways, so I ordered a combination plate, which feature beef tongue prepared five different ways.  If a family invited to enjoy the local delicacy, I would be able to oblige them with experience.