Tadasu Saiki: Science and Nutritional Policies in Japan in Interwar Years

Joseph L. Barona

Japan started a process of industrial development during the Meiji and Taisho  Periods (1868-1926). At that time, beriberi, tuberculosis and nutritional deficiencies were major social diseases. Nutrition and balanced diet were key factors to fight against these diseases and to improve the nutritional condition of the Japanese population. Tadasu Saiki established a research institute on nutrition in Tokio in 1914. The institute was nationalized in 1920 as Imperial State Institute for Nutrition, becoming subsequently National Institute of Health and Nutrition (NIHN).

In early 20th century, rice, miso soup and pickles constituted the basics of diet in Japan. The NIHN focussed research on the promotion of a well-balanced diet by reducing rice intake, increasing protein and fat intake. The Institute boosted as well food security systems of control and inspection. Nutritional research was also applied to the definition of dietary standards to palliate famine and to allow rationing policies. Saiki played a crucial role in the introduction of “nutritional science” as an academic discipline, making scientific and applied contributions to improve the diet of the population, including the training of dietitians and nutritionists, spreading nutritional education.

The work done by Saiki reached a wide impact in Western countries. He gave lectures in Europe and America during the 1920s. Saiki was invited as well by the League of Nations to reportt his work in the 1925. In 1926 he wrote an extensive report entitled “Progress of the Science of Nutrition in Japan” for the League of Nations.

This paper is based on archival sources: “The present condition of the study of the nutritional problem in Japan” Geneva, League of Nations Archives, 12B/59161/55308 reported by Saiki before the 6th Meeting of the Far East Tropical Medical Association, October 13, 1925, Tokyo; “Progress of the science of nutrition in Japan”. Geneva, Health Organisation of the League of Nations. Publications III. Health, 1926.III.25, C.H. 523; publications such as Saiki T. Progress of the Science of Nutrition in Japan. Geneva, League of Nations, 1926, and National Institute of Health and Nutrition Japan. History of the National Nutrition Survey in Japan (Japanese), http://www.nih.go.jp/eiken/chosa/kokumin_eiyou/abou_kokugen.html.