Several years ago NHK broadcast an exhaustive special on natto, containing more than you ever cared to know about that much-maligned sticky, stinky dish of fermented soybeans. One of the exciting pieces of information that NHK's crack investigative journalism revealed was the number of times required to stir natto to a frothy, snotty perfection.

The magic number? 424. Any more agitation and the beans become overworked and loose their stringiness; any less and the right amount of air will not be incorporated — air needed to create just the optimal amount of foam.

Whatever the number of stirs, true connoisseurs of natto have a specific regime when preparing to eat the little beans. A routine that will often be too much for those not yet initiated into nattohood.