Spurred by the claims of a self-appointed health expert - now in jail for illegally treating "patients" - a humble vegetable soup has become the talk of Japan.
Even the prime minister swears by it, and sales are booming.Its advocates say the brew, a simple stock cooked from radishes, carrots, dried mushrooms and burdock, an earthy, fibrous root, can prevent cancer, cure diabetes, lower blood pressure and vanquish hangovers.
Its detractors, including health experts, call health guru Kazu Tateishi a fraud and say the clear, yellowish concoction couldn't possibly live up to the claims.
Still, overworked office workers and health-conscious housewives are buying the soup by the case.
Mitsui and Co., a leading trading house, launched a canned version of the stock in April and says it expects sales, at the equivalent of $69 for a 30-can box, to exceed $3 million by the end of summer.
Another producer, Osaka-based Melodian, said it temporarily sold out of the soup in early May. It says it has sold 800,000 single-serving boxes since April.
Tateishi's book, "How To Become Healthy with Vegetable Stock," has been on bestseller lists since April.
His publisher, Tokuma Shoten, admits the former taxi driver doesn't have medical training. A hit on the lecture circuit, Tateishi charged $150 to $180 to examine and advise "patients."
But the examinations, and dispensing an herbal medicine called "senna," have landed him in jail. Tateishi was arrested last week for illegally practicing medicine. Formal charges have not yet been filed.
Tateishi, who was not available for comment, attracted some unwanted publicity even before the arrest.
In a six-week series this spring, the Asahi magazine called Tateishi a charlatan, exposing him as a taxi driver, not a doctor as he had claimed.
Tateishi claims the soup strengthened his bones so that when he had someone run over him with a 4-ton truck, he suffered nothing more than tire marks.
He also says that the soup, within three hours of being consumed, represses or even kills cancer cells and can produce more than 30 kinds of antibodies.
Hiroshi Maeda, a professor at Kumamoto University's School of Medicine in southern Japan, calls the claims "insane."
Recipe for brew
How to make the vegetable soup some Japanese swear by for health:
1. In a large pot, for one hour boil 1/4 big white daikon radish and its leaves with 1/4 of a carrot, 1/4 of a well-washed burdock root and one shiitake mushroom (preferably dried).
2. Strain, refrigerate and consume within three days.