How White Rice Mysteriously Threatened the Japanese Military and Caused a National Emergency
Articles,  Blog

How White Rice Mysteriously Threatened the Japanese Military and Caused a National Emergency


What would you do if you found a cure for
a major disease, but no one would listen to you? 1905. In the midst of a war with Russia, a soldier
in the Japanese Imperial Army entered a field hospital. His leg was swollen and his heart pounded
at 120 beats per minute. Soon after, it got worse. His face swelled up, he went pale, and he
felt tired. His tongue swelled and dried, and it was covered
with a yellow-brown slime. He started vomiting. The numbness came, then paralysis, then death
from a heart that could no longer beat. Welcome again, wildlings, to History With
Chibis. Miki: Yayy! Where we abuse chibis in the interest of learning. Miki: Oh. That scene of the soldier happened countless
times in the Japanese military even before the wars of the 1800s and 1900s. It happened all over Meiji Period Japan, and
in other Southeast Asian countries. The sickness even attacked the emperor randomly
throughout his life. You couldn’t predict when it was going to
happen, and it was always a shock when it did happen, like pregnancies. It didn’t kill him, but it did kill his
aunt. What was this disease? About one third of soldiers got sick every
year, though the death rate was much lower. The sickness was hitting so many soldiers
that it was rudely affecting Japan’s goal of conquering everything under the sun. Curing the disease became a major part of
Japan’s military plans. The government declared it a national disease. This emergency had to be resolved. And so our hero comes to save the day. His name was Takaki Kanehiro (高木兼寛). He was a doctor, born into a poor samurai
family. He wasn’t born a doctor, he wasn’t Dr.
House, he became one later on. Takaki met a British doctor in the military,
William Willis. He saw Willis work with patients and thought,
Hey British medicine is pretty neat, British food…not so much. And so he later studied under Willis. This bright young student eventually wanted
to study overseas, but because he was poor and didn’t have a webcam, the only way he
could afford studying abroad was to join the navy in 1872. It was while in the navy that Takaki saw how
bad this mysterious disease was. He started writing down everything. Every few months, a quarter of the men became
sick. Strangely, it ignored the Western militaries. Miki: Racis disease?? Cancelled! The French, British, and Americans were running
around not being paralyzed like they were rubbing it in or something. In 1875, Takaki achieved his dream and began
his medical studies in London. After 5 years, he came home to a sweet job. He became the director of the Tokyo Naval
Hospital. He also came home to a navy where one-third
of the men were sick with the mysterious illness. The Japanese government kept the problem under
wraps. If word got out to other countries, it would
have been a great shame to Japan, and a great threat. Like me and trying to finally win my dad’s
love, Takaki made it his life’s mission to try to finally cure this disease. Like any good scientist, he started by gathering
information. What did they currently know about the disease? Well, here’s who it attacked. In the navy, men who came from middle and
lower income families. Upper class men and officers were rarely affected. Large cities. Well, it happened everywhere, but it was the
worst in large cities. Small rural areas much less so. It was rampant in the city of Edo, or modern-day
Tokyo. People started calling it the “Edo sickness.” Within cities, Edo sickness struck the poor
more than the rich. It happened on military ships and bases. Cleanliness or clothing did not seem to help. Takaki was mulling over this info and had
an idea. An idea that possibly came from something
he studied while in London. About a hundred years before, the British
navy was dealing with its own puzzling disease that devastated their crews. Sailors felt weak, tired, sore. Their gums and skin would bleed, and eventually
they’d die. They called it scurvy. British naval doctors experimented with giving
the sailors a lot of weird foods. This is probably where Stargazy Pie came from,
but that didn’t work, it just made the cooks start dying mysteriously. But they eventually tried lemons. That actually worked. Not so fast though. The medical elites at the time rejected this
cure and refused to recommend it. It took decades of convincing and medical
officers trying it themselves until the medical establishment caved and all sailors were given
a daily ration of lemon juice. It worked. No more scurvy. Scurvy, of course, is caused by the lack of
loyalty on a pirate ship arrr ye scurvy dogs, no. It’s caused by the lack of Vitamin C, which
is found in citrus fruits like lemons. So maybe because he learned about the whole
scurvy episode (Arrr!), he started looking at what the Japanese in the navy were eating. Funny enough, the Japanese medical establishment
was also against Takaki’s research. At the time, the center of scientific medical
knowledge and supreme smugness was at the Medical Department of Tokyo Imperial University. They rejected Takaki’s idea that Edo sickness
was caused by diet. They thought it was some kind of germ, even
though the illness wasn’t infectious. The Medical Department had a lot of power. They had the top doctors and they trained
the next generation. They also had a superpower called legitimacy. Theories had to come from the university to
be considered legitimate, so the idea that Takaki randomly thought up a theory outside
of the Medical Department’s labs was ludicrous. Takaki had to pull every string he had to
get the higher-ups to approve his investigation into the diet of the navy, but pull he did
and investigation he got. When he compared the navy’s diet with foreign
studies on what a healthy diet included, he found that his sailors didn’t eat enough
protein. They ate half the amount of protein of a healthy
diet. Takaki pushed to increase the amount of protein
in the navy’s meals. Now they didn’t know what protein was back
then. He measured the levels of nitrogen in their
diet, saw that it was low, and recommended more nitrogenous elements. These nitrogenous elements we now know as
protein. So Takaki was like, “Hey, let’s give the
men more protein” and the navy was like “Shut up nerd. Go read or something.” The problem was.. one, Takaki didn’t have
the support of the scientific community. And two, the military’s meal system was
based around white rice. One of the perks of being in the military
was that you could have as much white rice as you wanted. All-you-can-eat, but with just white rice. You had to buy other foods. Miki: Why they like white rice so much? Well, back in those days, white rice was considered
upper class food. People living in the countryside usually ate
brown rice. White rice is just brown rice that’s cleaned
and polished. It costed more to make so it costed more to
buy. Most people who joined the military were poor,
so they were as happy as Pikachu in a battery factory Pika! ChuUuUuUuUuUu.. when they heard they could eat all
the upper class white rice they wanted. Problem was, the system resulted in most soldiers
living on mainly white rice. And as every yoga instructor will tell you,
“Like, white rice is just empty carbs.” The navy refused to change this system because
it would have costed more to feed the men actual nutritious meals. The men also didn’t want to go back to eating
a stupid poor person’s diet of brown rice or bread, so shameful. And so the problem got worse until one day,
a training ship of 376 crew members got back and reported 25 dead from Edo sickness and
almost half her crew sick. Takaki was so glad this happened, I mean he
was really sad, condolences, but he used the disaster to propose an experiment, which the
navy then eagerly accepted. There was another ship scheduled to go on
the same training voyage. Takaki controlled the food on that ship, gave
the men a normal healthy amount of protein. He even met with the emperor and promised
that the experiment would be successful. After 9 months, the ship got back. So, out of a crew of 333, how many died of
Edo sickness? How many? Miki: Tell me… No one died of Edo sickness. Only 14 got sick, and that was because they
didn’t eat what they were told. Success. Again, Takaki was like, “Hey, let’s give
the men more protein” and the navy was like, “Oh yes sir absolutely sir, I love reading.” Takaki later revealed that he would have committed
ritual suicide if it failed, it would have been too shameful to break his promise to
the emperor. Alas, Takaki’s work was only half done– Miki: Wait, so was he right? Was it a lack of protein? Well, kind of? So the mysterious Edo sickness the Japanese
called kakke (脚気). In English, it’s called beriberi. Beriberi, a word that seems pleasant, but
is absolutely not. Kind of like chlamydia. And Julia Roberts. Beriberi is a disease caused by the lack of
Vitamin B1, or thiamine. But they didn’t know about vitamins back
then. It just so happens that food with protein
also tends to have Vitamin B1. So Takaki was kind of right, but you know,
more protein probably made for a better meal anyways. Now that we know beriberi was caused by a
lack of Vitamin B1, all of the evidence makes sense, and it explains why eating only white
rice was a bad idea. Here’s a quick lesson about rice. All Asians should already know this, if you’re
Asian and you don’t know, you’re a disgrace and you’re dead to me DEAD TO ME. Rice doesn’t come out naturally white. A rice stalk doesn’t cut itself and magically
turn into a neat bag of white rice with elephants painted on it. This is different from beef, where when a
cow dies it slowly shrinks into a hamburger patty. Don’t ask where the Impossible Burger comes
from, it’s very sad. So a rice seed is a lovely little thing, quite
tempting and easy on the eyes. It has several layers. First you have the hull, the outer covering
that you can’t eat yet. Stay your hunger, because you can take it
off, revealing another layer, the bran. It’s a thin, brown undergarment that entices
you with thoughts of hidden secrets beneath. This is brown rice. That bran, that sweet rice underwear, contains
Vitamin B1 among other things. Now strip off the bran layer, slowly, and
you reveal the smooth bare rice body, called the endosperm. Attached to it is the germ, the rice’s reproductive
organ, be gentle with this at first, then break it off. This is white rice. All the nutrients, including Vitamin B1, have
been stripped off, it’s basically just carbohydrates. White rice was easier to store and cook, and
was a sign of wealth. Anyways, this explains all the evidence. The poorer sailors got sick because they ate
mostly white rice, while the richer men and the officers could afford a more varied diet. Large cities were richer and had more access
to white rice, while rural areas lived on brown rice. Within cities, the poor got hit more because
they could afford white rice, but not much else. The rich had a more varied diet. The other things didn’t matter because it
wasn’t a microbe. In 1885, Takaki mixed barley into the navy’s
white rice. Barley is rich in protein, and also in Vitamin
B1. In one year, the deaths from beriberi dropped
to zero, and the number of cases dropped 94%. As a bonus, the more nutritious meals made
the men healthier. Cases of injury and other diseases dropped
by half. You guys, that makes a really strong case
for eating healthy which we can all ignore now. But Takaki’s job wasn’t done. You would think with all that evidence, everyone
would believe him, but people gonna people. The navy believed him, but the Japanese army
still refused the new diet. It took 2 decades, 2 wars, and a statement
from the emperor himself for the army to finally change. In the First Sino-Japanese War and Japan’s
subsequent capture of Taiwan, at least 4000 died to beriberi and 73,000 were hospitalized. One year 90% of the soldiers got sick. At the same time, the navy had… zero cases. The army doctors accused the navy doctors
of being deluded. Instead of eating barley, the army doctors
would eat those words in the Russo-Japanese War, where a disastrous 27,000 men died of
beriberi and 250,000 were hospitalized. For comparison, 47,000 died in action. The army switched to the new barley/rice diet
in the middle of the war (they were barley in time), and it was part of the reason the
Japanese were so successful in that war. Takaki Kanehiro’s actions saved countless
lives in the military, across Japan, and all over Southeast Asia. He won the nickname of the Barley Baron. Hey guys, here’s today’s quiz question. In what region did Taira no Masakado create
his mini-state? You have 24 hours until I choose a winner
from among the correct answers. Winner gets one of these babies. Good luck. The last winner was LoveLive can cure cancer. Today’s new patrons are Louis-Michel Malouin,
Joseph Wilson, and Joshua Cheek. Thank you so much, you guys keep the channel
going, delaying the inevitable crash and burn, and I appreciate it very much. Alright guys, much love to you, and spread
the knowledge!

100 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *