Ohsawa was born in a family whose father was descended directly from samurai. But this was the period of the Meiji Restoration and his family was very poor. He had to leave school after the compulsory high school as there was no money for higher education. This is when his spiritual path started. Around 1913 he met up with Nishibata Manabu (a direct disciple of the late Sagen Ishizuka) and studied with him in Tokyo in the movement Shoku-yo Kai.
Ohsawa also mentions in his books how he cured himself from tuberculosis at age 19 using what he knew about the ancient yin-yang concepts.
Later he travelled to Europe, particularly Paris, France where he started to spread his philosophy (it is in this period he supposedly adopted his new pen name "Ohsawa", after the French "oh, ca va" which means "all right" or "I'm doing fine" as a reply to the question "how are you doing ?"). After several years he returned to Japan to start a foundation, and gather recruits for his now formalized philosophy. After drawing attention to himself during World War II for his pacifist ideals, he moved his institution to a remote area in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture.
It is presumed that he got the western name for his movement from a book written by Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, a famous Prussian physician. It is known that he spent time in Europe with a descendant of Hufeland.
Several of his Japanese disciples were also instrumental in disseminating Macrobiotics in the West. They are, in particular, Herman Aihara in California, Roland Yasuhara in Belgium (where LIMA, the well-known manufacturer of macrobiotic products saw the light of day), and Michio Kushi in Massachusetts.
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