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.
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.
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.
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: 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?
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.
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?
- Don’t take this post too seriously; it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
- 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.