“What do people eat here?” Oh dear. My Dad was mid-way through his summer visit to Japan and it appeared that he had reached the end of his tether. His positively had certainly momentarily slipped. The main reason for this is that we are both vegetarian. In Japan! To qualify this, our dietary choice is to eat food that does not contain meat or fish. Included in this short list of ‘no-goes’ are ‘additions’ to food: such as dashi (fish stock), katsuobushi (fish flakes) or rennet (stomach enzymes used in the product of some cheeses). My Dad chose to be a vegetarian at around 16 years old; I was consequentially brought up as a ‘veggie’ from birth.
Difficulties with following a vegetarian or vegan (gasp) diet in Japan are wonderfully described on sites such as Time Out, Tokyo Weekender or Never Ending Voyage. There are also great resources for listings and ratings of appropriate eateries, such as: Happy Cow, Trip Advisor or Bento. Help, therefore, is out there. But, this dietary difficulty is still one that can cause anguish for the ethical traveler. Back to Father’s holiday. We stayed in Tokyo for a few days and after carefully picking our food locations; we had great success and delicious dishes. It was when we traveled away from the neon-lights that we found bad luck. Hakone first. One Italian restaurant. It would do. Kawaguchiko next. Hours of searching eventually resulted in us sitting in a car park eating Indian cuisine. Delightful! Lastly, Nikko. Our visit generally had been so enjoyable. We joyfully explored the shrines and temples, walking through the forest of huge, green trees with our beaming smiles. Food, alas, was a different matter. We trawled through the area, astonished that most places were closed (it was poorly timed in honesty, July being Japan’s rainy season and a time for hosting summer festivals) and our four vegetarian choices (researched on the above websites) were similarly shut. When we found places that were open, the best that we were offered was shaved ice or sweets. As delicious as these sounded, sustenance was at a low ebb.
In the end, we succumbed to another Indian meal (complete with sticky tables and stained cutlery). Then, a train station convenience store. My sandwich was full of…curry sauce! Finally, when returning to Tokyo we met each eatery with amazement. Many of them even had vegetarian delights within! We adored the remainder of our visit on both a tourism and a culinary level. What an experience! A great holiday was not even nearly spoilt, but some frustration was experienced. As a resident in Japan (I moved here in August), I feel compelled to take some action! To fight for the rights of vegetarians. One minority group that Japan often ignores!
My first course of action is to set up this blog! My aim is to spread the word about vegetarianism in general and about my experiences in Japan. This site should stand as a case study for both the positive and negative findings of a vegetarian in Tokyo. Where positive experience is found, specific information will be given about the café or restaurant. I also hope to honestly discuss the cultural aspects that entwine within this particular food culture. So, as a reader I hope that you will gain an insight into the findings of a vegetarian in Japan, specific examples of vegetarian eateries (but also, importantly, potential food options in restaurants that predominantly serve meat or fish and an interesting read into Japanese food culture. I will put a lot of effort into these long-form articles. Please share my blog and raise awareness of the vegetarian cause in Japan! Rory.