Contrary to the title I am not a vegetarian. However, I am a bit of a health nut and while I was living in the UK I would always opt for the sweet potato pitta at Nandos or the Veggie Burger in Frankie and Benny’s. In fact, the only time I ate meat was if it was put in front of me and not wanting to seem rude by saying “I don’t want this” I would just eat it.
My typical day would be oats with honey in the morning, couscous and beetroot humous salad for lunch with a Nature Valley protein bar, a few bits of fruit here and there and a dinner consisting of some kind of Quorn dish with a Gold Standard Protein shake made with unsweetened almond milk before bed. In fact, if I didn’t eat eggs I would eat vegan.
However, moving to Japan threw my diet out the window, from the 40th floor, on to spikes, made of lava.
The thing is, Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian. In fact, I have come across one too many people that look at me like I’ve lost my goddam mind when I say things like “no meat” “vegetarian” “don’t put Bonito flakes on it!” It’s not that they don’t understand it, vegetarian in Japanese is “Bejitarian” and vegan in Japanese is “bee-gan”. No seriously. Even though there are words for it in Japanese doesn’t mean that they understand it. Every time I say vegetarian I still have to run through the list with them.
Dashi? (fish stock) not ok.
Chicken? not ok.
Eh? but… Eggs from a chicken are ok?
Its like in the majority of cases they can’t tell the difference between eating an animal and eating what comes from an animal. If you tell them outright you are a Vegan they tend to understand that you want absolutely nothing to do with an animal. However, that checklist will still probably come out. And restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. Getting food from a Seven Eleven or a Family Mart is a minefield of meat, even the pre-made vegetarian salad has some kind of animal derivative in it for absolutely no reason. Just plain lettuce on its own in a pack has fish flakes in it. Almost all cakes have gelatine or animal Rennet in them. And if you’re a Vegan!? Good luck! Even the bread has milk in it here.
Now, I have succumbed to the fact that I can fight this every single time I eat or just go with the flow. Not wanting to be that typical foreigner with a list of dietary needs that end up slowing a kitchen down because they need to remake everything, I either eat a little meat or simply go to vegan restaurants.
But! Fear not! Vegan restaurants are popping up all the time. It would seem that more and more people are realizing the niche that is veganism in a meat-eating country. Don’t get me wrong they are few and far between but the ever-increasing rate is a good sign that Japan is heading in the right direction. I will link just a few places that I have eaten in and can personally vouch for their deliciousness for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.
It goes without saying, I am a very respectful foreigner and I would never walk into an establishment and throw demands around and kick off when I don’t get my way. I have read up on the culture and how Japan does things. I know that they are a homogenous society with a collective mindset and I am happy to assimilate. However, the vast majority of goers of the Rugby world cup and the 2020 Olympics will not care one bit.
Now, I’m sure if you are reading this and you are not from Japan, you are a very respectful, easy going person that would be more than happy to adjust your lifestyle for the two to three weeks that you stay here. You might even be reading my blog to get a bit of insight into what to do and what not to do. And if you have done a bit of research about the typical foreigner faux pas, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I fear for Japan. I have lived in other parts of the world prior to moving here and I can honestly say that Japan is not ready for the rest of the world. Smoking in public is illegal here. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. Eating and walking aren’t exactly good manners. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. I once saw a group of old ladies scowl at a man that coughed one too many times on a train and caused a disturbance. Well, get ready for carriages full of people on their phones screaming about god knows what. The one thing that Japan is going to need is to hurry up and get the right dietary requirements catered for. I’m not just talking about meat, fish, and milk. I’m talking about allergies and religious needs as well.
If you are Vegan/Vegetarian I highly recommend trying these places out.
Kanro Shichifukujin– A traditional Japanese vegan macrobiotic sweets and bento restaurant. It’s run by the sweetest Japanese lady in the world and there is a cat. What’s not to love.