Naomi Ichikawa Esko said before discovering the macrobiotic diet, she was overweight and addicted to junk food.

The International Macrobiotic Institute, founded in 2016 by husband-wife duo Edward and Naomi Ichikawa Esko, launched a series of vegan, Japanese cooking classes March 18.

Veering away from the modern Japanese diet that has adopted food trends from western society, those who follow the macrobiotic diet emphasize the intake of whole foods like brown rice, and exclude the intake of sugar and dairy.

Edward Esko referred to the Japanese diet of 100 years ago, when everything was grown organically, as a model. Maintaining a balance of whole grains, soy and bean proteins makes it much easier to avoid animal products, he said.

A Pittsfield transplant from Tokyo, Naomi Ichikawa Esko said before discovering the macrobiotic diet, she was overweight and addicted to junk food.

“I was an American-type junk restaurant manager. I ate fried chicken everyday. My condition was so bad and I was addicted to chocolate,” she said. “Not only physically, but [I was] mentally unstable.”

She said she was inspired by a friend to switch from white rice to brown rice for a month. Naomi Ichikawa Esko calls this her turning point.

In 2010 she traveled to Becket to study at the Kushi Institute, which was founded by Michio and Aveline Kushi in 1978, but has since closed.

She then returned to Tokyo and founded Macrobiotics Japan and started a blog with recipes and took to coaching clients, particularly young women, who she said don’t like to openly share depression, infertility and their weight struggles.

“This is exactly what they can improve just from their diet,” she said. “They can [make] small changes and change [their lives],” she added.

Naomi Ichikawa Esko is a testament of that herself. She said when she started to change her diet, everything else seemed to fall in place.

“This is a very spiritual thing. When you eat clean food, [your] intuition becomes very sharp,” she said. “Before that, I ate when I ate, and I had trouble with relationships but after my life became very simple.”

Her husband, Edward, whom she met at the Kushi Institute, seconded this, calling it a “alignment with the universe.”

Edward Esko, former director of the Kushi Institute, said he encourages clients to avoid animal meat five times per week, but if they want to try a full-on vegan diet, he wants to provide them with the tools, like how to incorporate miso or tofu, a traditional fermented staple of the Japanese diet, into their foods.

These foods, Edward Esko said, have proven protective effects against breast cancer and bad estrogen along with a primarily plant-based diet.

The Eskos aren’t 100 percent vegan themselves, but said even those who are completely vegan don’t always have a foundation in proper nutrition.

“Essentially, Kool-Aid and Hostess Twinkies could be included,” he said. “We’re thinking smart vegan is to be primarily free of animal products, but also to incorporate the best foods from dietary traditions around the world. The Asian tradition is one, the Mediterranean is another.”

Japanese women have an average life expectancy of 87.05 years, and have held that record every year since 1985, with the exception of 2011 due to the 9.0 magnitude earthquake then tsunami that struck northeast Tokyo.

Edward Esko said the IMI currently reaches clients all over the world, and eventually hopes to set up a school in London, but first he intends to grow the reach of the IMI in Pittsfield.

The remaining IMI Smart Vegan Cuisine classes will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 175 Wendell Ave. at 10 a.m. The cost is $35 per class.

For more information, contact Edward Esko at or 413-442-1360.