info for vegetarians
| November, 2000 |
Tokyo Vegetarian-friendly
Restaurant Guide
Diary - Living in Tokyo
as a Semi-Vegan
Recommended Readings
Written in Japanese
Articles about Vegetarianism
written by Hiroko Kato
Online Vegetarian/Vegan Handouts
Shopping Guide
Good News & Good News
Links for Vegetarians
August: Healthy vegan snack, vegan peach cobbler, stray cats, and so on.
September: Vegan pizza and brownie as well as experiences at several vegan restaurants.
October: New soymilk product and vegan ramen noodle, and so on.
November: Stories about the meeting with Japan Vegetarian Society chairpersons, vegan wedding meal, and experiences in Kyoto and Vietnam.
December: Attended Japan Vegetarian Society's meeting, delicious vegetarian food in YOKOHAMA China town, wasting time and money on staling foods, and trip to Penang.
January: Experimenting some vegan breakfast recipes, receiving an e-mal from the reader, pondering bug's life, and so on
February: Tried a macrobiotic restaurant in Tokyo, and the trip to Laos.
March: Struggling to get a vegan flihgt meals at Malaysian Airline.
April: Having vegan wedding plates again, business trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, and busy days.
May: Nayonnaise discovery and some food disasters.
June: Life is going on.
February: Attended a meeting on refugee issues in Japan held by Amnesty International Japan
March: Fresh soy milk and fasionable fake leather sneakers, etc.
April A conversation with my husband over a TV show and "Meatarians vs. vegetarians."
May A trip to the U.S. for research. Had an opportunity to attend a fantastic vegan wedding of my friend's.
July A thought on eating whale meat.


Besides some macrobiotic groups, the only vegetarian organization in Japan is Japan Vegetarian Society (JPVS) in Osaka, the second biggest city in Japan. They founded JPVS more than ten years ago but have gained only over 500 membership by now. I became a member two years ago to get information about vegetarianism in Japan but have always been wondering why they were not so active in promoting vegetarianism. Once you see their web site, you may be able to understand what I am saying.

As a journalist who is interested in vegetarianism, I contacted with the chairman of JPVS several times. He wanted my help to publish books on vegetarianism and I could make it to go to Kyoto, thirty minutes from Osaka, to do some research, I made an appointment with him.

The office was in women's college because the chairman, Dr. Kakimoto, is also the chair of the college. Well, that is one of the reasons why JPVS can't be active enough: The main staff are doctors, professors, presidents, and the directors of hospitals and are too busy to work for JPVS. They publish four-page newsletter four times a year, hold events five or six times a year, and running web site. I was told that only five people are involved in those activities.

While I was helping a vegetarian organization based in Baltimore, I heard the complaints that they never get answers from JPVS. Now I understand why.

But things are gradually moving in Japan, Dr. Kakimoto said. There are many inquiries from food companies including major ones about vegetarianism. One of restaurant chains has recently begun to add vegetarian menu. Dr. Kakimoto himself feels raising concerns about the relationship between health and vegetarian diet by hearing questions at number of meetings.

Dr. Kakimoto told me that it was hard to respond to foreigners' questions because of lack of time. I asked him how many those e-mails JPVS got and the answer was around five a month! Piece of cake. I offered Dr. Kakimoto that I could help them.

Two weeks past after the meeting, however, they never sent e-mails even to me!

Kyoto is a thousand years capital of Japan. Officially current Japanese capital is Tokyo but Kyoto is still the center of most traditional, good-old Japan. With old temples and shrines, wooden houses, peaceful ZEN gardens, and young GEISHA girls wearing gorgeous Kimono, tourists find beautiful image of Japan that they kept embracing.

In addition to those classic remains of Japan, Kyoto is famous for its exquisite culinary mainly coming from tea ceremonies and Zen Buddhists that had been taking major part of Japanese traditional culture for thousand years. If you are a vegetarian, you must be blessed much more than in any other cities in Japan: Kyoto has plenty of Zen-vegan cuisine.

There are many to try. Tofu, Yuba, Hiryozu (a kind of deep fried tofu product), fu (Japanese style wheat gluten), and variety of vegetables. You could have Zen-Buddhist style vegetarian cuisine in several temples but one disadvantage is its cost. Generally you should expect more than 3,000 yen (almost $30) for one course. Being myself is a needy free-lancer, I would like to tell much more reasonable way of enjoying being vegetarian in Kyoto.

First choice is Niken Jaya, a casual traditional cafe inside Yasaka Jinja shrine. Along with some Japanese sweets (they are vegan too) and green tea, my recommendation is DENGAKU, tofu skewered by bamboo stick and grilled over charcoal fire topped with paste made of green vegetable and miso. If you are not a tofu lover, you can't be helped to change your mind after tasting the silky, mousse-like texture of Kyoto's tofu. The cost is 700 yen (almost $7) for a plate of three DENGAKU.

The second recommendation is NISHIKI market. You will see variety of foods particularly produced in Kyoto. Among a hundred small shops, there are many vegetarian delights. Besides tofu products, fu, and Kyoto vegetables, you can taste pickled vegetables or take some vegan sweets like Fu manju (a kind of buns with azuki bean paste) to your hotel. Unfortunately most of them are perishable so the souvenir you can buy there is limited. I would like to recommend dried Yuba and miso that are specialties of Kyoto. Miniature basket made of deep fried Kombu would be fancy gift too.

As other areas in Japan, the problem of being vegetarians in Japan is fish, especially DASHI, the soup made of fish extracts and used in most dishes. However, the restaurant I had dinner in Kyoto told me if I called them in advance they would prepare vegan DASHI instead of fish DASHI. The restaurant, TOSAI, serves mainly organic tofu dishes as well as has the English menu. Actually I didn't make reservation as a vegetarian but enjoyed full of dishes there: Nama Yuba sashimi, Nama fu isomaki (deep fried fu rounded with Nori seaweed), Yamaimo Tanzaku (salad of a kind of yam), Hiyayakko (raw cold tofu), and Mochi (rice cake). And the cost is less than 2,000 yen (about $20)!

Still, with just one night stay, I couldn't try all treasures of Kyoto's vegan cuisine neither its historical tourists' spots. But I could go there again only to taste that magnificent texture of tofu! (I am planning to write an article of my Kyoto experience for Vegetarian Journal too.)

It was a special wedding to me: It was I who introduced the bride to the bridegroom two years ago. And the wedding day has come at last. I should ride in a plane to Vietnam early in the next morning, but how could I miss such a wonderful event?

Another great thing was the restaurant that the party was held in asked if the guests had any special requests for their meals. Of course I had! Therefore I requested that I wanted meatless meals. Since the restaurant was French, I did not expect that they could serve vegetarian foods so that I just said "meatless," compromising on fish and fish is still okay for me anyway. What amazed me was the restaurant, Chez Matsuo Salon, suggested completely vegetarian menu without meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.

Here is the detail: "Variety of Salad (carrots, avocado, tomato, white mushrooms, and asparagus)," "Fricassee of mushrooms (lightly sauteed variety of mushrooms)," "Gallete of potatoes and leek with truffle," "Mint Sorbet," "Vegetables braised in herb wine sauce (carrots, asparagus, turnip)." All of the plates were arranged exquisitely in Millenium way and my tastes bud thrilled to enjoy the delicate, fresh flavors. Without saying, all the guests but me enjoyed their meatful meals as usual weddings. I don't know what they thought of my vegetarian dishes but one thing was clear: Their plates were not as beautiful as mines!

If I skipped wedding cakes and ate only fruits for dessert, it would become perfect vegan wedding. But I wanted to feel to join the celebration by eating the cake together. Moreover, there was the story behind the chocolate cake. On the couple's first Valentine Day, the bridegroom baked the chocolate cake though he had never experienced baking before. (Love is power, indeed.) So the couple was eager to serve their guests the cake coated with chocolate as well as their Valentine memory. Well, say again, how could I resist accepting such a treat?

11/05/2000 - 11/12/2000
Traveled to Vietnam. It was a business trip with my friend photographer to make a book he plans to publish. The theme of the book is colonial hotels remaining in Asian countries such as Thai, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. I help him as a writer as well as an editor and got the chance to go to Vietnam with him.

First experience as a semi-vegan traveler always starts from the flight meal in the plane. This time, luckily enough, I was able to have delicious one: Tomato sauce with mushrooms over baked tofu, steamed broccoli and boiled potatoes, fresh asparagus, tomato, and mushroom salad with lemon, a fruit platter, and crispy French bread. The photographer (let me call him "Mr.M") who seated in business class complained his normal meal was terrible so that I, stayed in economy seat, felt victory-like. I knew that Vietnamese cuisine is deeply connected with fish as in Japan. Especially, the fish sauce called "Nuoc Mum" is supposed to be hidden in every meal. But reading Vegetarian Journal's article about Vietnam, I didn't worry much and I was right. Thanks to their Buddhist tradition, people in Vietnam understand vegetarianism much more than Japanese and they themselves eat vegetarian way several times a month to service for their ancestors. In the restaurants, especially in big city like Ho Chi Minh City, the vegetarian items were included in the menus and the servers easily take my order to take away meat from my dishes. One time, a waitress explained to me that the item I picked contained chicken broth though they could serve it vegetable toppings. They must got accustomed to vegetarian guests!

In Vietnam, vegetarian meal is called "com chay." Because Mr. M and I stayed in international hotels and ate in those hotels' restaurants almost every time, I didn't need to use that word. Originally Vietnamese dishes contain plenty of vegetables and I enjoyed variety of vegetarian cuisine. My favorite was vegetarian pho (Vietnamese style rice noodle soup). Vegetarian spring rolls topped on fresh lettuce and basil also pleased my palate. Tofu and tofu products like yuba were used a lot in those dishes and I couldn't stop thinking that common wisdom through Eastern Asian vegetarianism: Take protein from soy!

Speaking of nuoc mum, it seemed that they substituted tamari soy sauce for that fish sauce in vegetarian meal. At a Chinese restaurant in Ho Chi Minh, I saw that the bottle of tamari with the label of vegetarian fish sauce placed on the table along with real nuoc mum.

It might be difficult to find vegetarian meal at street vendors where you can see and smell a lot of seductive food. But the good chance is on the days of service for ancestors. Fortunately I encountered nuns selling com chay foods in the market. I bought some of the products such as dried fake prawns and fish. I also got fake meat but it became stale before I come back to Tokyo.

Another regret was that I missed to buy vegetarian cup noodle sold in the airport shop. I don't understand why I didn't grab some packages at that time.

Mr. M was a meat lover. He said to me, "I admit vegetarian meals are delicious but as a physical labor I can't maintain my condition without eating meat." But what actually happened to us was that my vegetarian plates always looked more tasteful than his meat dishes. One time, rib steak he ordered smelled like wet dirty cloth!

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Copyright (C) 2002 Hiroko Kato, Tomoko Kinukawa(designer).All rights reserved.