If you’re like me, you may have thought that being veggie in Japan would be easy. They eat TOFU right? Right…
Well, this expectation was already questioned before I moved to Japan. In my pre-move research I found a barrage of blogs talking about how hard it is to eat green in the Land of the Rising Sun and, after moving to the Japanese inaka (countryside), like deeeeep inaka, I have found my pre-move research to be right.
The difficulty isn’t just in the countryside though, even in the cities eating out as a veggie is pretty difficult, especially when you’re used to those little green ‘v’s’ of Heaven running down your menu. I also found, unlike the UK, that there’s a reluctance to alter a meal for your veggie needs. Like, can I have those noodles without chicken? Proooobably not. They’ll tell you this politely, or in my experience, just sort of stare at you sadly until you become a meat eater or leave.
Now this didn’t happen everywhere I visited and it isn’t the restaurant staff being rude, it’s just the way things are done. Food is a big deal in Japan and in a lot of ways is seen as an art-form; would you swan down to Picasso and tell him to change his blues to greens? No.
So after my short visit to the city, I got my first taste (pun intended) of veggie life in the inaka.
I’ve noticed that the locals are definitely interested in my diet to say the least. When I was boasting about making veggie burgers from scratch (literally the nicest veggie burgers I’ve eaten, maybe just the excitement talking, but either way will probably post a recipe) my Japanese supervisor seemed genuinely impressed and interested.
She asked about how I made it and what ingredients I used. After I explained, she said ‘in Japan, because we focus on fish and meat, we don’t have any new ideas about other options’. I thought that was pretty awesome to be honest. The way she said it showed an openness to new ideas and made me feel like I can make a difference in my teeny little town, one veggie meal at a time.
Now, despite the title, (sorry guys) it appears that I may NOT be the only veggie in the village. The mayor mentioned to me that there is in fact a VEGAN in the village- who I have yet to meet. For now this vegetable maverick, this master of the greenlands is an ambiguous mention, leading me to imagine (knowingly wrongfully) a witch woman on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by fields and cats. I mean I’m surrounded by fields… and I love cats…
Anyway! This leads me on to a really important point about being veggie or vegan in a new country; you need to speak to someone in the same boat! Get recipes and share ideas, or even just the struggle, and you’ll feel so much better about it.
Some other tips include:
When Eating Out-
Research beforehand: Going on a trip to the city? Google veggie restaurants nearby and look at online forums to see where’s best to go- even get a route planner.
Prepare a speech: Have a Japanese explanation of your dietary requirements, written or spoken, ready for the waiter/waitress to see what they can do.
EXTRA HINT: Add ‘what would you recommend’ (Osusume wa nan desu ka) to your speech, showing an openness that the chef will hopefully reciprocate.
When Home Cooking-
Home cooking really helps you out as a veggie/ vegan as you have way more control over what goes into your food. Also, if you’re living inaka, the veggies are going to be local and fresh, so it’s a win win.
Shopping: A good rule in any new situation is, if you can’t read Japanese, go for the veggies, beans, herbs and some noodles/ rice. Get the staples and you can make curries, chilli and a load of stir-fries to keep you going until you can expand to more exotic veggie options.
Ask a local: At first, my main help came from my host family; they showed me which foods and brands were veggie, so when I’m shopping I can recognise them! Also, my friends in the town have been super helpful, keeping an eye out for those veggie products when they’re shopping.
For when times get tough:
Remember why you’re veggie/ vegan: It’s important to remember that you aren’t suffering, watching all your meat-eating friends slurp meaty ramen and crunch on deliciously smelling fried chicken, for no reason. Hold onto that reason!
Home comforts: Find something familiar that reminds you of simpler times, like when you could buy Quorn nuggets and eat the whole bag to yourself… anyone else? No? Just me?
When I was packing for the big move I made space for my massive tub of Bisto gravy (original is veggie dudes), so that when I’m feeling overwhelmed I can shuffle to the kitchen and make an XL portion of chips and gravy, which is obviously the healthiest cure for stress.
Give yourself credit: Being veggie/ vegan is hard as it is, doing it in another country (especially if you don’t know the language and the country isn’t very accommodating) is solid. Give yourself credit for doing it!
Oh, and if you accidentally eat ramen with dashi (fish stock that is in EVERYTHING) in it, don’t start crying and go on a remorseful meat binge, just realise that it isn’t the end of the world and that keeping it up is more important- marathon not a sprint cliché eh?
For those non-veggie readers, I hope this post helped to shine a light on the struggle that some of your friends might be going through and thanks for bearing with us when we awkwardly bite our lip before telling you that there aren’t any veggie options at the restaurant you’re stood outside of,stomach growling.
I’ve been in Japan for about 3 weeks now and I’ve started to find a lot more veggie options- including fake meat! I’m planning on posting up some products and recipes to help you out if you’re ever feeling stuck. It’s always good to try out new recipes, if you’re veggie or not!
Hope that this helps, keep it up!