Hey, heard of the Black Death? This delightful plague wiped out half the European population during the 14th century, and was caused by Yersinia pestis. So fatal was this modest bacterium it was once used as biological warfare – yep, ye olde catapulting of diseased corpses over the city walls trick.

So if you’ve got world domination in your sights, here’s some advice: invest in bacteria. Since we’re friends, I’ll throw in another tip for free: world domination doesn’t have to mean killing and maiming.

Case in point: Japan’s very own Yakult Honsha Co., Ltd. It’s the kingpin of the fermented milk world, with worldwide operations that rake in billions of yen every year. This, despite the fact there is no hard evidence that their products meet any of their health claims of maintaining better gut flora and health. They’re even listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, a veneer of respectability that fools the unsuspecting masses (all the easier to eat you, my dear).

But none of this would have been possible without bacteria – specifically, the shirota strain of Lactobacillus casei.

Humble Beginnings

Shirota Minoru was a young, idealistic graduate of Kyoto University who just wanted to help people poop regularly. Duly inspired by the writings of Ilya Mechnikov, a Russian scientist, he set out to develop a bacterial culture capable of surviving the harshly acidic human stomach to reach the intestines.

pH scale

Image by Edward Stevens

Incidentally, battery acid is approximately pH0.8.

It was no mean feat, but by golly in 1930 he did it!

By 1935, with the help of certain “friends,” the flagship beverage of the soon-to-be established Yakult Honsha Co., Ltd. hit the domestic market. These little bottles of sugary, shirota-enriched, fermented milky goodness hit the market – and signaled the start of a hostile takeover.

yakult bottles and delivery bike

Image source: 1, 2, 3

There was no end to the depths to which Yakult would stoop. In the 1960s they even mobilized the Yakult Lady army to deliver straight to peoples’ homes. Who could say no to these kindly obasans on bikes? Ka-ching! Another one has been suckered into the dark side.

Was Shirota part of it all, or was he blissfully unaware the whole time? What is certain is that slowly but surely, Yakult wrestled its way into the foreign market. It’s only a matter of time, folks, before they take over completely.

Yakult all over the world

Yakult: we’s global.

Plan A: Fermented Milky Goodness

The more observant readers will have noticed that despite Yakult’s best efforts, their presence is glaringly missing certain parts of the globe. It’s certainly not from lack of trying though. Their other milky drinks and yogurt products just never reached the same dizzying heights of celebrity as their namesake drink.

Joie? Has anyone seen Joie outside of Japan?

How about Mil-mil? Ever heard of Mil-mil?

Sofuhl, anyone?

To all intents and purposes, the Hostile Takeover by Fermented Milk Plan hasn’t gone too smoothly. But like tigers that have tasted and now crave human flesh, so close have Yakult come to total world domination that they’re not about to stop now. Oh no, they’ve got a few more tricks up their sleeves.

Plan B: Fruits, Beans, and Roots

True to its beverage origins, Yakult also makes a whole lot of other drinks, such as fruit juice and soy bean milk.

Yakult products

Images from Yakult site.

Unfortunately for Yakult, and fortunately for us, these haven’t had much global success either. For example, Brazil was the first Western country where Yakult was sold. Given the sizable Japanese population in Brazil, Yakult’s popularity was inevitable, yet Tough Man just never quite caught on… what’s Tough Man, you ask? Exactly.

It’s got ginseng root for extra Tough-Man-ness.

Plan C: The Kitchen Sink

With world domination still not within their grasp, it seems as though Yakult has decided to just try everything it can think of. Literally.

Pharmaceutical drugs? Yakult have been there, done that with their Biolactis Capsules, and the chemotherapy drug Campto.

Professional sport? Yakult has a finger in that pie too: it owns one of Japan’s major baseball franchises, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Yakult’s also an official partner of the Saitama Broncos, a professional basketball club, and has been one of the partner companies of the FINA World Aquatics Championships since 2005.

Yakult even does cosmetics! I kid you not.

All that effort and still no world domination to show for it… Why, I could almost feel sorry for Yakult. Except I think that Yakult has just been toying with us, and has actually had its eye on a much bigger prize all along. The history section of Yakult’s official site has this simple, seemingly-innocuous entry for 2012:

Yakult launches space-based activities under Yakult Space Discovery Project.

Hmm… well, why stop at world domination when there’s a universe out there for the taking?


  1. Don’t take this post too seriously; it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
  2. The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million victims, or 30-60% of the population of Europe at the time. Also, Y. pestis wasn’t solely responsible; it piggybacked on fleas that piggybacked on rats that piggybacked on merchant ships.
  • besterthenyou

    Wouldn’t it be “obaasan”, not “obasan”? Oh well. Also, that Joa commercial is super catchy.

  • shiroi


    obaasan = grandma
    obasan = auntie

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    Nope, it’s definitely obasan: obasan = aunt, obaasan = grandma.

    I thought it was a catchy ad too. It didn’t hurt that the girl was cute as well LOL

  • Guin Oyaji

    I tried Yakult and they are delicious ! Plus it makes pooping easier !!


    Dollah Dollah Bills Y’all! In America, all I ever saw was the plain flavor, but here in Singapore they have all kinds of flavors, like Black Current (Ribena), Strawberry, Mango, and Grape.

  • Hashi

    Pooping more easily = #1 goal in life.

  • zoomingjapan

    I used to drink Yakult. I really liked it. I stopped after moving to Japan.
    Makes any sense? No.
    Thanks for writing this article! ^^

  • Jon

    I know what they’re doing wrong! They forgot squid-girl!


  • Brittney Howdyshell

    Is this the same thing as kefir (also a fermented milk product that comes in a variety of delicious flavors)?

  • Hideki

    So it’s called Tough Man? My life now has changed LOL. In Brazil, it’s called Taffman. (misromanized, maybe?) And Sofuhl is Sofyl. We have Yakult apple juice and some fruit-flavored soy milk, but here their lineup isn’t THAT extensive. They tried to sell their cosmetics too, but it was unsuccessful and not available anymore.

    But hey! At least we have a version called Yakult 40: 40 BILLIONS of bacterium per bottle. It’s a little scary, though: with that number, what if they take over my body?

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    OoOoohhh, what does Tough Man taste like? I’ve only ever seen and tried Yakult and Yakult Light.

    40 BILLION? ◉_◉ Yeah that’ll have you making perfect poos in no time.

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    Mmm Ribena… good memories.

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    Constipation: the silent killer.

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    I don’t think so, since kefir’s got yeast in it as well… I’ve never had kefir myself, is it good?

  • Brittney Howdyshell

    It’s great! I’d start with greek yogurt if you haven’t had it yet. That’ll get you used to the sourness before you try kefir. It’s very sour. And effervescent.

  • Hideki

    Wine with honey and hints of cinnamon. Speaking of which, it’s been a while (years, actually) since I had one.

  • CelestialSushi

    Ah, the Yakult Swallows… so THAT’S the team that manga artist Ayumi Komura kept talking about in the “Mixed Vegetables” manga sidebars… apparently, she really likes them.

  • Ichigo

    ooh i remember seeing the yakult lady army, oh god I am old now.

  • jgh

    All your poo belong us!

  • Cam Abi

    I’ve know of this drink for as long as I can remember! I never knew it was from Japan! 0_0 I’m a big health nut so when I heard this drink is good to help with your body systems I bought one instantly only to find out I detest it… The flavor of it just wasn’t doing it for me. Even so living in Texas, now, Yakult has been putting out more advertising and I see it more and more in different stores so it IS growing at quite a fast rate here, I think.

  • Jonadab

    Thing is, none of those ads make me want to try the products they are advertising. Granted, I’m not Japanese, so maybe I’m just not part of the target demographic…

  • Jason C

    Thing is Yakult is so Yummy ^^ I finish the five pack in one shot…im sure they lace the bottle with cocaine or something.

    does Yakult make Calpis? Calpis soda ^^

  • Fee_Fi_Fiona

    Nope. Looks like Calpis is by Calpis Co., Ltd.