Called hatake no gyuniku (beef from the fields), soybeans are known for the healthy, high-protein punch they pack and their contribution to lowering cholesterol. In Japan, consumers are lucky enough to receive their benefits in many forms, including tofu, miso and natto.

But the potential of the super-beans' health bonanza may stretch the imagination even more.

In Noda City in Chiba Prefecture, for instance, edamame taiso (green-soybeans exercise) has recently become very popular. "When people first hear about it they don't seem to get what it's all about," said Takashi Suzuki of the health center in Noda City. "But in fact, it's been getting popular, and we have had inquiries from as far afield as Hokkaido, asking if they can get the DVD of the exercise."