Before I came to Japan for the first time three years ago, I never thought I might have problems finding vegetarian food here. Of course I expected a lot of fish everywhere and that it might be difficult to explain that I do not eat it. I had been in Southeast Asia before, where it was no big deal to get veggie food, I had learned a lot about Japan, I had had vegetarian Japanese food in Germany, I thought I'm well prepared. But uh uh, I was absolutely caught off guard with the fact that the concept of vegetarianism is pretty much unknown and completely uncommon here. There isn't even a proper Japanese word for "vegetarian"! There are words like saishoku (which is oldfashioned and not really in use) or Shoujinryori (which derives from buddhist vegetarian diet and means "devotion food", now that is not exactly what I am searching for..), but the best thing is to go with the japanized english word bejitarian.
Furthermore I was shocked that A LOT OF MEAT is eaten here: be it the famous, horrendously expensive "Kobe biifu", beef bowls at the fast food chain Yoshinoya that you can find on every corner in Japan, or a vegetarian's nightmare called "Meat Dog", a Hot Dog covered in - yes! - meat.
Even when you order a salad, you can be sure to find some ham on top of it. You want a veggie sandwich? Forget it! Onigiri? Have a close look at the list of ingredients, even if you already made sure it is without any fish, otherwise you might have chicken inside.
The omnipresence of fish is a problem that might not surprise any vegetarian visitor of Nihon. But I have to say that here fish sneaks in in all kind of nasty ways: you like to nibble some nuts? Better check them for some little dead eyes staring at you! And a constant companion is katsuobushi - those fishflakes are everywhere: on top of all kinds of dishes or also hidden, for example in dashi, the stock that is used to give flavour to almost everything that comes out of a Japanese kitchen. Believe me, katsuobushi haunt me in my dreams..
Here in Tokyo there is so much wonderful food where ever you look, but if you are strict with your vegetarianism, 90% of all those culinary options are taboo: no râmen soup (just watch Tampopo, one of my all-time favourite movies by the way, and you will see what the broth is made of..), no soba (guess what is in the sauce that comes with the noodles: dashi!) and so on..
But there are also good news: not only I am here now to help you, no, people here pay more attention to the so called "health food" nowadays, thanks to disgusting foodscandals and the better economical situation that allows the average Japanese to spend more money for and time to think about good food. That means there are now some organic foodstores, restaurants specialised in high quality "yasai ryôri" (vegetable dishes, although that does not necessarily exclude fish and meat) and even some real vegetarian and even vegan places can be found. So there is hope, there is help and there is sooo much fantastic food out there - just go for it!


vegetablej said...


Wow, I'm so happy to see you and your blog! It's absolutely great to get another point of view from a vegetarian in Japan. I found I kept nodding my head as I was reading through your posts.

Thanks for the kanji for umeboshi. For some reason I can't remember it and always have to ask which one it is (and feel very sheepish about it).I'll add it to my shopping list. I like the red bean and rice ones (sekihan).

Katsuoboshi -- don't get me started. They had a perfectly nice fresh tofu salad at the grocery store that I got exactly twice before they decorated it with fish flakes.:(

If you have any more good ideas for lunch items we can buy I'm all ears.

Finally, thanks for adding me to your blog list; you are going on mine as soon as I finish typing.


Julia said...

Thanks for your nice comment, the first one on my blog by the way :)
I am happy when my writing is of interest to someone.

Yeah, those katsuobushi are really haunting me..
I have many more ideas.. I have just started to write them down ;)

yume no yukari said...

hallo du,

endlich komme ich mal dazu mir in ruhe dein blog durchzulesen, habe gerade mit der einleitung hier angefangen und bin begeistert.
du schilderst die situation für vegetarier/innen in japan sehr treffend und anschaulich.
es gibt ja leider gottes immer noch viele vorurteile in bezug darauf, a la "japan ist ein paradies für vegetarier" (habe ich vor kurzem noch original in einem japanbezogenem forum gelesen), aber in wirklichkeit sind wir leider alles andere als zu beneiden.
schön, dass du da jetzt ein wenig abhilfe schaffst.
werde beim lesen sicher viel bekanntes wieder finden und freue mich auch auf neue hilfreiche informationen.
in diesem sinne auch an dieser stelle ein kräftiges "kore kara mo ganbatte!" und viel erfolg mit deinem blog!

Julia said...

Hallo und willkommen und danke fuer deine kommentare :) freue mich immer sehr ueber jede reaktion! im moment bin ich auf dem land (noch immer in japan) und ohne internetanschluss im haus, darum komme ich gerade kaum zum schreiben... mit 15min in der buecherei kommt man nicht so weit. aber bald folgen mehr artikel, hab schon wieder einiges auf lager :)
ueber das "paradies fuer vegetarier" lach ich mich immer noch schepp... da war wohl jemand noch nicht in japan, oder ist kein vegetarier oder hat keine ahnung was er aufm teller hat! lol...

Vegancat said...

Wirklich schön den Blog, informativ, hübsch anzusehn, gut ausgearbeitet wie ich finde.

Ich hab schon andere Blogs gelesen wo man Probleme hatte sich zurecht zu finden.

Ich hab mich schon selber an so ein paar japanischen Sachen versucht und sie auch auf den deutschen Geschmack etwas umgepolt.

Eingelegter Ingwer käme hier bei den meisten Deutschen wohl nicht an ;)