Vegetarian in Japan   ベジタリアン料理

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A typical Japanese meal yet vegetarian

Rice and tofu (fried tofu here, called aburaage) are staples of Japanese cuisine. A fact that makes it easier for vegetarians in Japan.

The Buddha of Kamakura

It was Buddhism that made vegetarianism popular in Japan, and its influence remains today.

Typical of Shojin ryori

In many Buddhist temples, you can eat vegetarian: shogun ryori.

Buddhist monks on Koyasan

On Koyasan, one can eat shojin ryori, Japanese, Buddhist vegetarian food, prepared by the monks.

Veggie friendly

In a country where eating meat is only quite recent, being vegetarian in Japan isn't so hard.

In Japanese culture, edible plants and animals are gifts from nature that we must honor and eat with respect.

Eating meat is therefore considered natural and right. Yet before the Meiji era, eating habits were quite different: Buddhism was introduced in the sixth century, along with the belief that killing should not be done under any circumstances. Many of its followers became vegetarian.

At the time of imperial restoration (1868) and the opening of the country to the world, the vegetarian diet was decried by nationalists for whom Buddhism (arrived from China via Korea) was a foreign religion, unlike Japanese Shintoism.

It was also at this time that Western cuisine, French and American, often meatier, was introduced to Japan: success was immediate and vegetarianism soon became obsolete. 

The Monk Diet 

Today, its practice is not widespread in Japan. A habit accentuated by the eating habits of the Japanese, which differ significantly from ours. A dish tends to consist of a piece of meat or fish served with an accompaniment of vegetables, and nothing starchy. In Japan everything is mixed.

This certainly complicates things for a vegetarian in Japan, especially as many dishes that may seem vegetarian at first glance are not: ramen, udon, miso soup, many are cooked or served with fish stock , pork or beef! It's important to always ask your host if the dish that you are served contains meat or fish.

Yet, vegetarianism is still present in Japan and associated with Buddhism. Vegetarians can therefore enjoy a 100% vegetarian, and incredibly hearty, meal known as shojin ryori in the places Japanese Buddhism is largely practiced: in Koyasan, near Osaka and Kyoto, or in the mountains of Dewa Sanzan (Tohoku Region, south of Aomori).

And in general, Japan still remains a country where meat is not largely consumed. Almost everywhere you go, you can be satisfied with a bowl of white rice and tsukemono (pickled vegetables),  tempura (fried foods, often vegetables) or zarusoba (cold buckwheat noodles).

Survival Lexicon

- I don't eat meat or fish. I am a vegetarian.
Watashi wa niku to sakana wo taberaremasen. Watashi wa bejitarian desu.

- Is there any meat or fish in this dish?
Niku ya sakana wa haitte imasu ka?

- Vegetarian (a word to look out for in menus or shop signs)
Saishoku shugi sha 菜食主義者

Bejitarian ベジタリアン

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