by Hilal, Okinawa 2014
One thing right in the beginning: If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are going to have a very difficult time in Japan.
In general, everything in Japan contains meat, even the dishes that seem to be vegetarian. That`s basically because Japanese people love their “dashi“ (a cooking stock made of fish) – miso soup, oden, takoyaki, even pasta and many vegetable dishes in restaurants, all contain dashi. On top of that many meals, even salads, are topped with fish flakes (katsuobushi) or sliced up crab. However, Japanese people don`t consider fish as meat, so you should be extra careful about that.
Also, many snacks are made of fish or seafood and, unlike in many western countries, bread in Japan usually contains lard instead of vegetable oils. Lard is rendered and clarified fat from the abdomen of a pig, so obviously as a vegetarian/vegan you should avoid eating it.
The word “vegetarian“ seems to have a different meaning in Japan. Eating more vegetables is a current trend in Japan, and many “vegetarian“ restaurants like Vegetaria in Shinjuku Station opened. In this one however you can`t find a single vegetarian option.
A very odd thing is that if meat is chopped in very tiny pieces or blended with anything else, people seem to forget it`s still meat.
But don`t worry, you will not starve to death here, there are also things you can eat: For a long- term traveller the best option is to cook for yourself. You can even make vegetarian/vegan versions of Japanese meals using vegan dashi (http://www.justhungry.com/vegetarian-dashi-japanese- stock).
At the resort it can be extremely difficult to keep a vegetarian/vegan diet. Meals are prepared for everyone, and the kitchen staff are unable to prepare anything special. There will be some things that you can eat, although it will probably be almost the same every day as the meat and options which include meat change daily. There won`t be a lot of fruits and vegetables available in the cafeteria. The cafeteria serves up just the main three meals, and traditionally the Japanese diet has less fruit and vegetables than in the West.
At some resorts there is a bus to the nearest supermarket once a week. Many resorts don’t have such a bus, but there are shops near-by, so you can make sure you get enough vitamins. If you`re lucky, your dorm will have a kitchenette in the common room with basic facilities you can use for heating food.
If you`d like to try something traditional, “Shojin Ryori“ (Buddhist temple meal) is the best option. It is completely vegan and doesn`t even kill plants since the vegetables are harvested without killing the stem. But don`t get too exited: You can`t go into any restaurant and ask for shojin ryori. It’s usually only served in temples (Kyoto is a good place to try and find it), and since it is quite expensive, it’s not something you can eat every day.
Do some research about vegetarian restaurants in the place you will be going (here’s a good site for Tokyo) and, if you`re tired of Japanese food, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Japan which have vegetarian options as well.
By the way, Japanese gelatin is usually made from seaweed, which means you can enjoy delicious Japanese sweets like warabi-mochi.
As you can see Japan is, with a few obstacles, also enjoyable for Vegetarians/Vegans – so I am sure that you will have an amazing and unforgettable time!
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