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Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/13 05:46
I know that vegetarianism (let alone veganism) is a rarity in Japan, but I plan on going to Japan next summer for a few weeks to continue my language studies. :)

However, I'm just a bit worried about getting around with my diet restrictions. For the most part, I believe it will be okay as long as I order things that are mostly vegetables and ask for this / that without whichever animal-product. But I am worried about when I need to go out and purchase items, because I won't be able to survive on just fresh produce and rice haha.

Would anyone be able to provide for me a list of animal-products the way they would be read in Japanese? I've never been to Japan and don't know what to expect when reading through labels, and I don't think my language knowledge will cover the very minute details of animal-products.

Mostly I'm looking for meat, milk, whey, casein, eggs, fish, gelatin, and honey.
by HappySam  

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/16 10:41
I can't answer your specific query but this article might be helpful to you as it lists things to watch out for and some links for vegans and vegetarians: http://www.lisadempster.com.au/?p=2223
by holly (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/16 11:02
I'm not vegan so I don't have a lot of advice for you, but a few things stuck out from that link by the last poster.

Be careful with Umeboshi. They are listed as vegan traditional food on that blog, but it is not uncommon to find Umeboshi prepared with honey or fish stock. Also, some of the foods in the pictures on the blog are usually prepared with fish stock, so they wouldn't usually be vegan unless specifically prepared as such.
by yllwsmrf rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/16 15:14
I am veganism too and i visited Japan (osaka) one week ago.

I had my friend help me to find some food I could eat.
But in some situation I went by myself, i just ate saru soba/saru udon or salada.

Just wanna inform you most japanese food based on fish. so may you find katsuo in food ingredients, do not buy it.
There are so many types of fish in Japan, so I think it would be hard without knowing any type of animal ingredients.
by lan (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/16 19:22
Hello Ian,

did you eat the pure noodles only? Because the dipping sauce of zarusoba normally contains dashi, made with katsuobushi.

I never looked for vegan food in Japan, but a friend of mine was vegetarian, before moving to Japan. He pretty much gave it up soon. That's not to say it's impossible - there are lots of threads here about vegetarian/vegan lifestyle in Japan, but it's surely a difficult task. Probably more difficult than in many other countries, partly due to the omnipresent usage of fish.
by umi2jp rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/19 14:14
Most vegans and vegetarians in Japan will/have unknowingly eaten at least fish, because as above posters have mentioned, fish stock is used in many seemingly vegetarian dishes.

If you don't know Japanese, it will be very difficult for you to actually eat a vegan diet on your own. Japanese don't know or understand veganism, and even if you ask if there are meat or fish in a dish, they will often say "no" when there is in fact a lot of fish product or even actual visible seafood in the dish.

If your study program includes a host family or visit to a Japanese family, DO NOT burden them with veganism. It's an expensive lifestyle in Japan and extremely selfish to expect others to be able to cater to such pickiness. Your hosts will likely be offended, annoyed, and resentful of you regardless of whether or not they show it. Host families may be nice to vegetarians and make them feel very welcome but they complain A LOT about how hard and annoying it is to feed them when they're not around and it can be a bit sad when the hosted person only speaks well of the host... A vegan would just defeat them.

Even in the USA where people have an awareness of veganism, a vegan would be a nightmare for most people to host...

I've known for host family situations to go VERY WRONG when vegans refuse to put it on hiatus (basically, they end up leaving). As the above poster mentioned, a lot of vegetarians put their lifestyle on hold while in Japan because it makes living less stressful AND food is a huge part of culture and many of them want to experience the full spectrum of Japanese culture. The Japanese are especially big on food culture and tend to value it more than siteseeing when they travel. But I guess everyone has to weigh these things against whatever principles they have and make these decisions for themselves.
by Rabbityama rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/19 18:11
That was very well said; thank you Rabbityama.
by Umami Dearest (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/20 01:50
Check out http://www.selectwisely.com/selectwisely/products/cards/vegetarian/fc0... where you can get a relatively inexpensive card that asks the questions you need answers to.

I visited in 2005 and had a little trouble, since most of the soups, etc., have dashi (fish stock) in them, but was able to get by with some vegan travel bars I brought along in cases of emergency!

Your choices might depend on where you're going, as well. Tokyo's a little tough--I wound up picking up random food items in convenience stores when I was uncertain about finding vegan food for the day. Kyoto's got many restaurant choices for vegans (most open from 11-6 though, so dinner might be problematic). Here's a good link of places to try in Kyoto: http://www.deepkyoto.com/?p=362

I was amazed at the Shojin ryori (i) (Buddhist temple food) food that I experienced in Kyoto. It is amazingly good and (almost) all vegan--I let them know I was vegan and they made sure not to offer anything I couldn't eat. I had a mock chicken dish that was ten times better than anything else I've ever tried! I often thought that it might be helpful to ask for this kind of food in other restaurants.

To say "I'm a vegan," you can say "Watashi wa kanzen saishoku shugisha desu."
by Deanna (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/20 12:21
My program has me staying within a dorm, so luckily I will not have to eat with a host family. A host family would be wonderful, but it's not in the cards for a vegan haha.

I agree that veganism is a challenge, especially for the Japanese. I would probably not be taken in on a home stay program because of that, and I understand. However, it honestly offends me when you say I should just put my values "on hold". It might not be convenient for others, but I'm not going to put my moral values on the side for convenience, actually the way humans treat animals is the selfish act, not me going to Japan intending to eat in a cruelty free manner. It would be selfish if I just threw it upon a host family, but if I were to somehow be taken in by hosts, it would be ONLY under the circumstances that they fully understood my vegan diet and were somehow willing to comply, but ONLY then.

If I could somehow not feel guilty abusing and murdering creatures, then yes, I would be more than happy to comply with the Japanese diet. I wish that I could, just for the convenience factor. My life would be 100x times easier, but that doesn't make it right. You wouldn't tell a Christian to pretend not to believe in God and stop praying just because they with a family of Atheists and because it would be more convenient, would you? It's not something I can just stop doing because it would make my life and others easier, it's my morals and how I live.

However, I will be in a dorm, which will make things much, much easier for myself and for any poor host families lol.
by HappySam rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/20 13:36
However, it honestly offends me when you say I should just put my values "on hold". It might not be convenient for others, but I'm not going to put my moral values on the side for convenience, actually the way humans treat animals is the selfish act, not me going to Japan intending to eat in a cruelty free manner.

First off let me say that Rabbityama put it very well. However I did want to make some additions that address the issues you raise.

Please don't be offended by the suggestion to put your values on hold. Obviously we understand that many people simply can't give up being vegetarian/vegan for moral or religious reasons, and if that is you than this clearly wouldn't be an option. No need to explain your moralization, just feel free to ignore that part of the advice.

As you know, being vegan is a lot of work, and being vegan in Japan is even more so. But you do have options. From my experiences working and travelling with vegans/vegetarians in Japan, there seems to be three approaches that people commonly take, each with its pros and cons.

The first is to take a sort "what I don't know won't hurt me" attitude when eating food. Do your best to avoid animal products, but understand that you will probably eat some unintentionally.

The second is to stringently read labels and only eat things that you can verify were not made with animal products. More than likely you will have an extremely limited set of things you can eat, especially if you don't read Japanese. I travelled with one vegan guy once who employed this method, and he basically ate kappamaki and edamame the entire trip. And he could read Japanese, which leads me to believe that you should just avoid most prepackaged foods and restaurants altogether.

The third is a little more involved, where you would buy/bring all your own food with you and cook your meals yourself. I hear halal tourists often take this route since halal restaurants are rare/impossible to find in Japan. Obviously, that's a lot of work for a short stay, and may not be possible at some accommodations.

Anyway, good luck with your studies. For a start you can look up some of the words like dairy, fish, etc. in the dictionary so you can study them and be prepared:

http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?1C
by yllwsmrf rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/20 13:51
I agree with everything Rabbityama said, except I would say "compromise" rather than "on hold". That's the way I look at it, otherwise, while in Japan, you can never go to a restaurant, anybody's house, attend social functions at work etc., without making everyone feel extremely uncomfortable. I get by still being essentially vegetarian, but have to compromise on things like fish stock and other ingredients, as long as they are in small quantities. Basically there are three options:

- Offend and annoy people.
- Have almost no social interaction with people.
- Compromise.
by Jimmy (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/21 23:21
hmmm very hard call to attempt this in Japan, don't underestimate the wisdom of others on this issue, it's not because they're against you, it's the reality that in these historically protein poor islands, fish has been central to almost every aspect of culture -it's all about survival mate. When you consider the history of Japan - even in my in-laws generation - during the immediate post war people actually starved to death on the streets of Tokyo, maybe then you'll understand why this valuable source of protein is revered. Study a bit of history and try & see the reasons why culture and habits are formed.
Unless your kanji is brilliant and you have your own kitchen to prepare your own meals it'll be tough for you. You can buy fresh tofu packs everywhere but if they give you sauce it's dashi fish stock - same with natto, edamame (fresh soy beans), salads ask for wafu Japanese dressing. As others mentioned Japanese put dashi stock in literally everything (more often made with fish rather than just seaweed or mushroom.)
But don't despair I'd suggest bringing plenty of cash & eating out: Check out vege-navi.jp for a list of vegan cafes & restaurants in Tokyo and other parts of Japan (search via nearest subway station to where you'll be staying.) You will be in heaven when you taste the fresh tofu and yuba available in Japan. (But tofu restaurants won't be vegan or vegetarian.)
BTW, I have had a couple of the best meals of my life at Shojin Ryori style restaurants in Kyoto, sublime, completely vegan but also very, very expensive. Just saw a recent post on Shizuoka gourmet's website, nice pics at a local vegan izakaya.
by Elle (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/22 02:15
It'll be very tricky, but if you are able to cook for yourself in the dorm, using primarily fresh ingredients and maybe some permissible dried goods you buy or being with you, I would think you could work with it. It wouldn't be the most exciting diet, certainly, but I doubt you mind that too much. I have a couple of vegan friends and from what I can tell, travel is always a minefield if you're not fluent, wherever you go.

It would probably be wise to research in advance what kinds of staple Japanese brand food (noodles, dried stocks, etc.) are vegan before you go. Some probably are, and the Vegan Society should be able to advise on that. It would be a more positive/efficient route than attempting to work out what's safe as you shop.

Dried soya mince and similar items would be fairly light to bring with you - you could even bring vegan stocks and bases, I would think, if they are dried and pre-packaged. You'd have to check with customs procedures that they're okay, of course, but if you had those items to combine with fresh goods you buy in Japan you could probably assemble some decently balanced meals.

Eating out is probably going to be your biggest problem, unfortunately, though again, maybe you can research in advance somewhat, at least with regard to chain restaurants.
by UKTraveller (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 00:42
I would just like to clarify that I said "a lot of vegetarians put their lifestyle on hold while in Japan" I did not say that you SHOULD put it on hold. It was just an idea I felt was worth putting out there, but I did add that you have to weigh it against whatever makes you vegan. You did that and decided it's not something you can do and that's fine. I did not mean to imply that you had to do what they did.
by Rabbityama rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 04:01
I am a lacto-vegan, ie, the only animal product I eat is some dairy, no eggs, meat, fish etc. and have never intentionally eaten meat in my life.
I have spent some time in Japan in the last few years, and yes it is difficult, anywhere compared to the UK in my experience is difficult for vegetarians (notably Hungary being by far the worst) but it is perfectly manageable.
I did feel like a bit of a broken record, repeating that I do not eat meat, or fish or eggs, and that shrimps are also meat and I don't eat those either. Despite this people were accommodating and did their best to help me find something to eat, even if they didn't really understand why.

Like many of the other people have posted, getting fresh food is the easiest option. But some onigiri from convenience stores are vegetarian too, though read the ingredients...

As for eating in restaurants, many Indian restaurants are quite good for vegetarian food, yes this isn't Japanese, but it is good for surviving!! (not Japanese curry though, some of the people I was with were under the impression I could just pick out the bits of meat)

Before I went I was under the impression I would have to compromise my diet somewhat, but It was easier than I was expecting, not that my expectations were high. I'm sure I did eat a couple of things with fish stock in, but if I knew anything had it in I did avoid it.
Obviously I can't speak for everyone when I say that everyone was very accommodating, but people just took it as one of the strange things that foreigners do, and tried to help me.

Good luck more than anything, just look up lots of kanji for potential ingredients, and check pretty much everything.
by J-san (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 08:00
Japan is the wrong country to come to if you're a vegan IMO

what's the point of visiting a country if you can't eat 99.9% of the food

there are other countries to visit like india that can handle vegans much more easily
by winterwolf rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 12:18
I have to agree with winterwolf.
What is the point of going to Japan, you are going to see fish and other seafood animals hanging on lines everywhere in Japan and seafood dead in rows at markets all over the streets & live sea animals in tanks at restaurants ready to be killed for a dinner.
by gardenia123 rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 12:36
you are going to see fish and other seafood animals hanging on lines everywhere in Japan and seafood dead in rows at markets all over the streets & live sea animals in tanks at restaurants ready to be killed for a dinner.

Wow, Tokushima must be one big fish market! The rest of the country is a little more subdued and we generally don't hang lines of sea creatures all about town ;)

Now while I'm big into culinary tourism, there's plenty to see and do in Japan that doesn't involve dead/captive animals. Obviously avoid places like fish markets, aquariums/zoos and grocery stores and you'll be fine.
by yllwsmrf rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 16:14
Oh yeah? I challenge you on that. I see dead creatures everywhere I go in Tokyo, even at the stations (not talking about the suited zombies) there are even dead critters hanging from the newspaper stand (dried n fried Ika snacks, etc)
by Elle (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Veganism in Japan? 2012/4/27 16:38
Haha, i guess you can expect to see a lot of fish and other seafood at places that sell food (go figure). Its just its easy to get the wrong idea if you haven't been to Japan before, and the earlier comment gives the impression that you'll see lines of fresh fish strung up between the lampposts, and rows of fishmongers lining every street.

Anyway, I'm sure vegans are already experienced enough with their lifestyle to know which places to avoid, and reasonable enough not to freak out at every glimpse a meat product.
by yllwsmrf rate this post as useful

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