Being vegan in Japan
Eating out, cooking at home and the struggles of veganism in Japan
I became vegan 2 years ago in early 2018. At this time, I had been living in Japan for 3 years already. I was used to eating all the delicious foods I could find at restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores, and street stalls.
In early 2018 I decided the planet was more important than my food habits, and I made the switch to veganism. It was a HUGE learning curve for several reasons.
Firstly, I can't read Japanese all that well, especially Kanji
The idea of picking up a product in a shop and reading the ingredients on the back was scary. I had to do lots of research about what foods were and weren't things that could include animal products.
Due to Japan's lax labelling rules, something with no fish (for example) listed in the ingredients, might contain fish listed under "other ingredients". You don't know what's actually in there unless you call the manufacturing company and ask!
Luckily there's a website that does just this!
Isitveganjapan.com is a volunteer-run website that posts tons of food that is vegan in Japan. It has been a lifesaver for me and I still use it!
The second thing that made suddenly becoming vegan in Japan difficult was, I had no vegan friends!
All my friends were of course omnivores, so finding places to eat out was difficult. Japan has a tradition of vegan food called shojin ryori, which is traditionally eaten by Buddhist monks. Despite this history, shojin ryori is hard to find and expensive!
So what does one do when they want to go out to dinner with their friends?
Another tool that helped me a lot since becoming vegan is an app called HappyCow.
Available on both iOS and Android, it allows you to search your area for restaurants that are 100% vegan or have vegan options. It has a great rating system that lets you know if the restaurant is going to be good or not too! And some people will leave bits of advice such as waiters don't speak English or the pancakes were great but small portion sizes.
HappyCow becomes my go-to app and I use it several times a week! If I'm just looking for something for dinner, or planning a trip to another area, I can check the app before I go to help plan out my trip!
With the above-mentioned issues, you'll probably understand why cooking at home has become the easiest thing for me
I can control exactly what is in my food and I don't have to worry if I'm accidentally ingesting dashi or egg or some other animal product. I've come to learn many new recipes and have expanded my cooking abilities!
In the end, becoming vegan while living in Japan wasn't so difficult. I have learned a lot and found many ways to work around any troubles I've had. That being said, there are times when I make a mistake. I might eat something and then find out later that it actually had milk in it! But I don't beat myself up over it. I do the best I can!
I do want to note, that I live in Tokyo. This has a great advantage as there are many more restaurants and shops that cater to vegans than in smaller cities.
If you decided to try to be vegan, or just eat a little less meat, I hope the information I included in this article can help you out. I look forward to writing more about living a vegan lifestyle in Japan!
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