Today we would like to introduce the president of Biogaia Japan, Mr Keitaro Nomura During the corona-virus crisis, he created a buzz on Facebook after writing an article expressing his views on the government’s handling and communication during this troubled period. It seemed that at this time it was especially necessary for the general populace to learn the views of someone who has been long established in a relevant field of expertise.
Human living with Bacteria
Chief Editor（from now on referred to as E：）：Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come and visit us today. We’d like to ask you questions about your life story, and hopefully in doing so also learn about the bacteria, Lactobacillus Reuteri.
Mr Keitaro Nomura（from now referred to as N：）Thank you for having me.
E：So to start, your Facebook article yesterday has really blown up and people are talking about it.
N：Yes, even though I was only writing my own opinions on the matter I am very grateful to the media for picking up and spreading my thoughts. Though really I was just saying the things that I had been wanting to say (laughs). From it I will be able to receive many great opportunities such as this interview, so I am very grateful.
E：Though it’s a bit strange that you didn’t introduce your company’s products in the article.
N：I didn’t write the article to increase my company’s sales. I truly only wrote the things I wanted to say about the issue at hand. That said, one of the staff at my company said, “it’s a pity that creating this buzz on facebook won’t have any impact on sales”, so perhaps that’s something to think about next time. My family were the founders of the dairy industry company, Chichiyasu Yoghurt, so perhaps people will mistakenly buy their products (laughs).。
E：The founding family of Chichiyasu Yoghurt? So you were born and raised on lactic bacteria?
N：Yes. Though I was born and raised in Hirohima prefecture（laughs）.。 My family founded the dairy manufacturing company, Chichiyasu in Hiroshima in 1886, so I was born the 5th generation eldest son. Chichiyasu (at the moment 100% funded by Itoen) were the first company to sell yoghurt in Japan.
When I was born I lived the spoiled young heir dream. My family owned a house with around 660,000 square metres (0.66 square kilometres, and when I was in elementary school I was able to practice driving around our grounds. Half the mansion was an amusement park with a water slide and jungle gym. If in town I said, “I’m a grandchild of the Nomuras”, I could eat whatever I liked before coming home, and if I said to the taxi driver, “I’m a Nomura”, they’d drive me home. Afterwords my grandfather would pay them. Even when I say it to myself, in this day and age it seems like a completely unbelievable situation.
E：You really lived the life of a prince.
N：However, despite all this I didn’t want to inherit the family business. Whatever successes I achieved, people would say it was because of my family. So with this type of oppositional attitude, I formed a company with my friend when I was 20 and still studying at university. Now such a company would be called a consultation company. The purpose of the company was to help Japanese companies expand overseas by helping with their launches. Of course we carried out work in the target location, such as the purchasing of property, it was very fulfilling work and I tasted the joy of earning my own money. I was really happy doing work that I enjoyed that was unrelated to my family’s business, but one day my father asked to speak to me. My father isn’t someone who generally asks anything of me, so at that time in a weak voice he said, “The company is in trouble, we’d like you to help. When someone who never asks anything of you suddenly asks for your help there is nothing you can do but say, “I see”, and accept their request. So I made my trading company dormant, left university and went to Hiroshima to join Chichiyasu.
E：As expected, the responsibilities of the eldest son of a manufacturing industry family.
N：Hmm, maybe that’s what it is. I entered the company as a young assistant and worked with my family. However, when I first looked at the financial statements, I received a shock. Along with the property and assets, the family business had been inheriting debts. At 27 years of age, I personally could not remember having borrowed even 1 yen. However, my father said, “idiot, that’s what a family business is!”. Debt is not a problem when business is normal, as the banks will lend money. When business starts to decline, however, it suddenly becomes a liability. When I entered the company it was vital that we start thinking of ways of reducing debt, such as reforming operations and cost cutting measures. Our main opponent in our battle to survive was the banks and credit industry. Right from the start we had a large handicap to bear, and this lasted for 10 years.
E：This is a bit of a different reality to the flowery image most people hold of the young chairman of a successful business family running their manufacturing company.
N：It was the hardest time of my life, but I also learned a lot from the experience. During the era of the Japanese bubble the banks had happily lent out lots of money and that money including the interest had become overdue. However, due to the successful times, the banks had treated it like no skin off their noses. It made no difference to them whether or not a person worked themselves to death to repay. So now we had slipped into so much debt, that to start payiny back the loans had become a difficult endeavor. At that time I went to speak to the bankers, and after talking to them I understood that whilst it might be the money that our company borrowed, more importantly, it was also the money that the bank had lent. Further, this amount lent had been decided based upon a business plan. So rather than than suddenly paying back the loan, at that time, we needed to find a way we could proceed which would please both parties. Therefore it seemed best that together we think of a way to revive business, and then use those profits to pay off the debt which would be mutually beneficial. At that time we had many similar conversations. During good times the banks would say just pay back what you can, but at difficult times they’d say, pay us back now.” We had many such irrational exchanges. There’s a famous Japanese drama called Naoki Hanzawa. I’ve never met an amazing banker like that（laughs）.。
E：You mean there was no Naoki Hanzawa? 。 。
N：Effectively it means that the company is able to continue working and be passed on to the next generation, rather than either filing for bankruptcy or using the civil rehabilitation law. So I felt this was not a bad state of affairs to be under. Nevertheless, after I finished our fight with the our 25billion yen debt (just under 2.4million dollars), I was tired of the job and wanted to try my hand at something else. So with that I left Chichiyasu. However, a short time after distancing myself from the centre of operations I started to feel that I enjoyed the challenge presented in management. In answer to that prayer, I was contacted by the Swedish firm, BioGaia about establishing themselves in Japan, and so I accepted their request and moved on to my next battle.
E：It’s from here that your story with a latic-acid bacilli really comes to life.
N：Yes, because I’m the son of a micro-organisms specialist company, and a specialist in sales research and knowledge. BioGaia is a company that was formed in 1990 by Peter Rothschild, a member of the Rothschild family. The first time I met him was in 1992 when I was still working for Chichiyasu Dairy in Hiroshima. At that time I had been wondering whether there was better bacteria that could be used in the production of yoghurt, and to this end had been reading various academic papers and research documents. It was during this period that I first came across Lactobacillus Reuteri. Peter Rothschild was the one who made contact with the company managing it and then registered it. The result of this was that Chichiyasu Dairy decided to start using Lactobacillus Reuteri and Peter Rothschild became our first big client. The interesting thing about him is that despite being a member of the Rothschild family, and of course therefore naturally had access to a lot of money. However, he felt that he didn’t want to spend even one dollar of the Rothschild family fortune, and instead wanted to be a self-made man, following a policy of walking ones own road.
E：I get the feeling that the two of you are somewhat similar.
N：No no. He is a child of the Rothschild family, the scale is completely different. Further they are a business family, not a company in industrial micro-organisms . Before setting up BioGaia, he ran a company in the shipping industry, making use of tankers to ship raw fruits. At that time he wondered whether after harvest there was a natural way to preserve the fruit, rather than spraying them with post-harvest agricultural chemicals, and this led to him finding Lactobacillus Reuteri. Lactobacillus Reuteri was discovered by the Jewish researcher, Reuter, but had not been used industrially. He noticed that Lactobacillus Reuteri held naturally produced antibacterial properties, and wondered if this could be used for food preservation. However, the results showed that it was not effective as a food preservative. It turned out that Lactobacillus Reuteri is an anaerobic bacteria. It hates air. Therefore, when it is dispersed in the air it doesn’t work. This is somewhat rare for a probiotic bacteria. Probiotic bacteria, such as those found in natto are generally aerobic. However, when it comes to eating food for health benefits, once in the body there is only a small amount of oxygen, and so it is a fact that stimulating aerobic bacteria is difficult. Conversely, despite being a probiotic bacteria, Lactobillus Reuteri is similar to harmful bacteria, as it is also anaerobic. Even in environments with limited oxygen it can work at full capacity.
E：I see! You found a way to effectively utilize Lactobasillus Reuteri.
N：Further, through childbirth and breastfeeding, a mother can pass on the immunity it provides to her child.