I contend, try natto. It may seem disgusting, but really dive deep and see for yourself.

Party of One

Whenever I say that I like natto, my mom contorts her face. I say that natto is not that bad, that maybe she should try it. She says no. I try to make my sales pitch again, only to a stern, unwavering stream of no’s. Like the good son I am, I wave my bowl of natto under her nose whilst she is looking down at her phone. She does not appreciate it. Her nostrils flare outwards and she whips her head backwards, as a cringe sets into her face.

Then, there is my uncle. Whenever I come out as a natto lover, my family says uncle likes natto. One day, my uncle, present at the scene, was confronted about his supposed affinity with natto. Shocked, he exclaimed, “Eww, gross!” An expletive or two later, it was confirmed, at least in my family, that I am in the exclusive natto lovers club, party of one.

My friend is not too keen on natto either. She, another friend, and I had a small get together. Like the compassionate friend I am, I brought enough curry to feed an army and a styrofoam box of natto. Everyone, including my friend’s family members, ate the curry; they also found my cooking skills commendable. The small box of natto went untouched. Nobody wanted it. Already repulsed by my go-to order at the Mitsuwa food court, my friend turned down my potluck item with a look of disapproval only her former high school statistics teacher could provide. The other friend was genuinely curious about the natto, only to have second thoughts when he saw the stenchy blob of brown in its styrofoam repository.

Seemingly, I am a party of one, regardless of family or friends, Japanese or otherwise. But, why? Natto is high in fiber and protein; natto is an antioxidant; natto is also anti-inflammatory. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to suggest that this rich superfood reduces the likelihood of heart disease and stroke, strengthens the immune system, and keeps bones strong due to its high Vitamin K content. Natto is even good for the skin, too - otherwise, why would natto face masks be a thing? Despite these positive health benefits, natto is always the last one to be picked for teams per se, if it is even picked at alll.

I will not let that happen. I contend that if I had to eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be natto over a bed of rice with chopped green onions time and time again. As natto’s strongest and only soldier, I bear the responsibility to vindicate this great food from the vitriol that surrounds it.

Yes, But No

I understand natto’s biggest challenge is its smell. Stomach churning, perhaps eye watering, the smell of natto is. The first few times I ate natto I admit that I began to feel the sensations of nausea. Even the smallest portions of natto do emit a heavily alcoholic smell. Somehow that aroma simultaneously has an overtly fermented and musty odor. Perhaps due to the fermentation process, there is a staleness to natto’s scent, almost as if it has been in a closet for a good couple of years.

Or, maybe not a closet, but a cavern, because of the goo. Each individual bean is coated with an opaque white ooze that binds them together into little globs. That gives a glue-like property to natto. In other words, this white ooze is extremely sticky. It gets on my hands, the counter, the table; sometimes a cobweb of natto goo follows me as I walk out of the kitchen. However, to be frank, maybe not a cavern, but someone’s nose, because natto does kind of look like someone’s boogers. At least, that is what my natto-hating mom says.

Yes, natto may be smelly, sticky, and not much a sight to behold, but it tastes quite nice. Taste is of course subjective; however, the flavor of natto is doubly different and refreshing. There is a bitterness to each bite; though, its presence is never overpowering. Coupled with the slight alcoholic afternote from the fermentation process, natto is actually a remarkably more pleasant delicacy than first impressions might suggest.

Even natto’s more controversial attributes make it oddly gastronomically pleasing. Each bean has a nutty texture that is complemented by the aforementioned goo. The goo is slimy, yes, but in the mouth, it feels refreshing. Other than making the inside of my mouth feel more hydrated, the texture of natto is unlike any other food I have ever eaten. That in itself makes natto refreshing for its uniqueness.

When getting to know natto through its taste, I begin to become more appreciative of its quirks. The goo never gets old. I love to see how long I can elasticate a pipe of ooze with my hashi. Sometimes, it is even fun to play Spiderman and have webs of natto goo flow out of my fingers. I even see beauty in a food that many people associate with their boogers. Each individual bean is smooth and lustrous; combined together, natto becomes a brilliant golden brown sheen on a plate.

I contend, try natto. It may seem disgusting, but really dive deep and see for yourself.

But They Say Ibaraki-ken...

Ibaraki-ken is Japan’s “least attractive prefecture,” according to Tokyo’s Brand Research Institute. The prefecture has been rated as “least attractive” many times before. In fact, Ibaraki-ken has maintained its bottom position twelve other times since the Brand Research Institute began its survey in 2009.

Admittedly, these surveys do not really pique my interest. However, it does catch my eye that Ibaraki-ken is Japan’s largest producer of natto. What a coincidence? Or not a coincidence, bellow the anti-natto crowd in a last ditch effort to resurrect their cause. Natto must be so bad that it destroys the reputation of an entire prefecture and brings plight to its citizens.

I have never been to Ibaraki-ken, so I cannot substantiate Brand Research Institute’s claims that Ibaraki-ken is indeed Japan’s hell hole. Therefore, the prefecture could reek of natto. Perhaps, the residents are as slimy as the beans that they ferment. Maybe, even quite drastically, it looks like a giant oni blew their nose in Ibaraki-ken, dispersing natto-like particulates all across the prefecture.

Of course, all of that is unlikely. Although only the most ardent natto haters would ever make such a preposterous argument, Ibaraki-ken cannot be that bad. I thought Chiba-ken, the neighboring prefecture to the south, was fine—albeit, I was only there to fly in and out of Narita Airport. Oddly, in the same 2023 survey, Chiba-ken ranked a respectable 12th place of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

So what makes Ibaraki-ken so bad if not for its natto? In my deep research, Reddit says that Ibaraki drivers are among the worst in Japan. Subs went as far to say that there are illegal turns that got their name from the prefecture. This sentiment was confirmed when an article about the variance of road knowledge in Japan began with the retelling of a road rage assault in where else but Ibaraki-ken. To the ardent natto haters, your least favorite food is not responsible for Ibaraki’s chronic “least attractive”-ness, nor has it caused harm to the near 3 million citizens of Ibaraki-ken. Clearly, the reckless driving habits of its citizens puts the entire prefecture in peril.

Final Thoughts with an Exception

In a world divided on seemingly everything, the controversies of being pro-natto or anti-natto is hilarious. I actually appreciate when people give me perplexed stares when I say I like natto, because it makes me laugh. I enjoy arguing about natto, giving bombastic explanations why it does not deserve the hate that it gets - like the Ibaraki-ken argument. Frankly, I find it funny to have my mom cringe at me whenever she sees me about to eat natto or whenever my friend rolls their eyes when I tout how much I like natto. With the world spiraling out of control, sending shockwaves to someone who revels in stability, I need something small that brings me joy. That is what natto does for me.

One final thing: Do not get me started on durian.

Dear 5844

Sometimes I wonder, if I was able to do it all for you, if some magic twist of fate gave me the power to take your place in that camp all those years ago, would I do it? To live in a barn infested with termites, to shed my Japanese name and tongue, to live a life of uncertainty, would I be able to do it all if it meant I could meet you and call you Grandpa?


In Defense of Natto

I contend, try natto. It may seem disgusting, but really dive deep and see for yourself.


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