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Thread: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

  1. #1
    Formerly the Hot One OatsCurrySummer's Avatar
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    Default Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Yes, I am one of those dreaded vegans (pls dont shit on me too much about it). Thankfully not the militant, kombucha-toting yogi type, but rather a junk food vegan (think: fries, bean burritos, PBJ sandwiches and mountains of oreos, which yes, are in fact vegan--not a drop of dairy in 'em).

    Needless to say, its going to be a bitch trying to continue that lifestyle in Japan, so I'll cut my losses now and compromise by going back to vegetarianism. I am a (very) late alternate upgrade and will be departing for god-knows-where in a month, and was wondering what the school lunch system is like, if they will allow for meat-free requests, and how easy is it to find vegetarian options. I'd love to hear what it is like in different regions, both rural and urban, so that I can be prepared no matter what placement I get. I understand that most stuff will have dashi in it, and I can definitely suck it up and eat it lest I should offend my new peers and colleagues, but knowing I have other options would be nice too.

    Definitely going to miss Toronto, as it was extremely vegan friendly (I am actually a vegan baker right now), but maybe I could use that to my advantage and start a baking club with my prospective students...or eat myself into a carb-induced coma. It remains yet to be decided.

    Ok, now you can start flinging shit at me. I can handle it.

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    Billy Big Bollocks Ini's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Dont have school lunch and bring your own or be prepared for a nutritious diet of milk and white rice everyday as everything else will have some sort of meat or fish in it.
    Great men of action never mind on occasion being ridiculous; in a sense it is part of their job.

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    Member Torinn88's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Be sure to share this information with you JTEs and fellow staff members as soon as possible. First, they might be able to arrange something with the cafeteria at school given enough time. Second, you don't want them to find out the hard way after they made reservations for your welcome party at Gyukaku.

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    Crustacean Sensation Ebi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Yeah, I agree with informing them ASAP. From what I can tell it's easiest to not be signed up for school lunch at the start. If you try to switch mid-year it will cause headaches for everyone. And Ini is right that pretty much everything comes with some sort of meat or animal product in it, except for the occasional pieces of fruit.

    As for making special orders, no one seems very accommodating in Japan. Even if all you want is "don't put bacon in the salad", a lot of places just won't let you make changes or will make the situation really awkward by running back and forth trying to get permission while apologizing the whole way. If you do make requests, be extremely explicit. I was with a vegan girl who ordered pizza without cheese (チーズ) and although the staff was bewildered, they agreed to make it. But they brought it out covered in Parmesan (粉チーズ) since that's not quite the same.

    "No animal products" or "no meat" probably won't be immediately understood. Most people just don't think about what products or foods have animal bits in them. Also, most people don't consider fish or fish-like animals (dolphin, whales, etc.) to be animals, so if you're opposed to fish then you'll probably need to explicitly say so.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Anna.Mod View Post
    Yes, I am one of those dreaded vegans (pls dont shit on me too much about it). Thankfully not the militant, kombucha-toting yogi type, but rather a junk food vegan (think: fries, bean burritos, PBJ sandwiches and mountains of oreos, which yes, are in fact vegan--not a drop of dairy in 'em).

    Needless to say, its going to be a bitch trying to continue that lifestyle in Japan, so I'll cut my losses now and compromise by going back to vegetarianism. I am a (very) late alternate upgrade and will be departing for god-knows-where in a month, and was wondering what the school lunch system is like, if they will allow for meat-free requests, and how easy is it to find vegetarian options. I'd love to hear what it is like in different regions, both rural and urban, so that I can be prepared no matter what placement I get. I understand that most stuff will have dashi in it, and I can definitely suck it up and eat it lest I should offend my new peers and colleagues, but knowing I have other options would be nice too.

    Definitely going to miss Toronto, as it was extremely vegan friendly (I am actually a vegan baker right now), but maybe I could use that to my advantage and start a baking club with my prospective students...or eat myself into a carb-induced coma. It remains yet to be decided.

    Ok, now you can start flinging shit at me. I can handle it.
    Bury your head in some roadkill and get over yourself. You'll never feel more arrive than when you're feasting upon a still-warm carcass.

    Rome wasn't built on a diet of mung beans.

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    Formerly the Hot One OatsCurrySummer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Ini View Post
    Dont have school lunch and bring your own or be prepared for a nutritious diet of milk and white rice everyday as everything else will have some sort of meat or fish in it.
    Just as I expected. As my boyfriend put it: "You're going to be that one picky kid at every Chinese family gathering that sits in the corner eating rice and soy sauce."

    Quote Originally Posted by Torinn88 View Post
    Be sure to share this information with you JTEs and fellow staff members as soon as possible. First, they might be able to arrange something with the cafeteria at school given enough time. Second, you don't want them to find out the hard way after they made reservations for your welcome party at Gyukaku.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ebi View Post
    Yeah, I agree with informing them ASAP. From what I can tell it's easiest to not be signed up for school lunch at the start. If you try to switch mid-year it will cause headaches for everyone. And Ini is right that pretty much everything comes with some sort of meat or animal product in it, except for the occasional pieces of fruit.

    As for making special orders, no one seems very accommodating in Japan. Even if all you want is "don't put bacon in the salad", a lot of places just won't let you make changes or will make the situation really awkward by running back and forth trying to get permission while apologizing the whole way. If you do make requests, be extremely explicit. I was with a vegan girl who ordered pizza without cheese (チーズ) and although the staff was bewildered, they agreed to make it. But they brought it out covered in Parmesan (粉チーズ) since that's not quite the same.

    "No animal products" or "no meat" probably won't be immediately understood. Most people just don't think about what products or foods have animal bits in them. Also, most people don't consider fish or fish-like animals (dolphin, whales, etc.) to be animals, so if you're opposed to fish then you'll probably need to explicitly say so.
    Thank you both, this is all great advice! In the end, I'd rather be liked by my colleagues than sit alone at home eating rice and anko from a bag, so I'll definitely have to make compromises. I don't expect to be catered to, so maybe I'll just have to set aside my beliefs on social occasions. Thanks again for your help!

    Quote Originally Posted by mrcharisma View Post
    Bury your head in some roadkill and get over yourself.
    There's the attitude I was expecting! To be honest, I'm a bit scared at this point to see how my body will react to a low-fibre, high protein diet. Exploding intestines is my guess.
    Last edited by OatsCurrySummer; December 19th, 2015 at 12:29.

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    Member Torinn88's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Tofugu.com has a few good posts and links to a vegan cookbook that might be of interest to self-flagellaters.

    How To Eat Like A Buddhist Monk, Part 4: Get Cooking! - Tofugu

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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Torinn88 View Post
    Tofugu.com has a few good posts and links to a vegan cookbook that might be of interest to self-flagellaters.

    How To Eat Like A Buddhist Monk, Part 4: Get Cooking! - Tofugu
    62016773.jpg

  9. #9

    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Ebi View Post
    As for making special orders, no one seems very accommodating in Japan. Even if all you want is "don't put bacon in the salad", a lot of places just won't let you make changes or will make the situation really awkward by running back and forth trying to get permission while apologizing the whole way.
    Is this what they call omotenashi?

  10. #10

    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    I have a couple vegan/vegetarian friends here who carry business cards around with a simple explanation of what they don't eat. Apparently it helps at restaurants. Even though I mock them for being card-carrying vegans... (Luckily I met them a long time ago and live on the other side of Japan from them.)

    I have another vegetarian friend who lives in Shiga who was automatically enrolled in kyuushoku when he came (dropped right in the predecessor's place.) He's stuck with it until April, eating only one or two things a day, except on a couple of lucky days when there's a vegetarian entree. And it all comes from a kyuushoku center, so there's no special ordering available. For me, I could stop kyuushoku any time (the kyuushoku overseer/coordinator thinks its a waste because I don't eat fish...)

  11. #11

    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    We're expecting a late upgrade here and we just lost a vegan girl... longshot maybe, but that'd be kinda funny if you were taking her spot. She had a suuuuper hard time with her veganism... I think the only compromise she'd make was dashi. And yeah regarding the ordering stuff, she'd try to make order like sans cream on top of Indian curry or something and they'd still do it lol.... so yeah, definitely don't expect special orders to always go your way. There are a couple vegetarians here who are really relaxed about it and make sacrifices where they need to. Honestly, I think that's the smartest way to do it. Do what everyone's saying, don't sign up for school lunch, etc. (though one of the vegetarians does school lunch and they actually compromise with her to make it veg which is super nice of them). Just try to be open to compromises/making sacrifices with your diet. You'll be able to cook vegan meals no prob, though. Just not many options when you go out.

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    Senior Member mothy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Yeah, unless they're willing to not mind occasionally breaking their diet, I really don't see how vegans survive in Japan without completely isolating themselves. I can see being able to do vegetarian, but all the way vegan? That would be real tough. I think you'd pretty much never go out to eat. And since that's how so much socialising is done in Japan...
    But it's not like people don't do it. I've known a couple. I just don't see how they managed it. And like most people living a non-mainstream lifestyle, the closer you are to a major city like Tokyo or Osaka the easier it will be.
    Good luck to you.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by mothy View Post
    Yeah, unless they're willing to not mind occasionally breaking their diet, I really don't see how vegans survive in Japan without completely isolating themselves.
    Bingo. That's exactly why we're getting an upgrade. And I know it partially had to do with the diet... she was getting sick a lot because she wasn't very flexible. And it's a big diet switch as it is even if you are planning on staying strictly vegan - it's so different in the west and so much more accessible. I'd try to make small changes before coming here if you can so you don't get sick right off the bat.

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    Senior Member mothy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Also, and this may be obvious and the OP may already know Japanese, but if you have any dietary needs, better start studying food kanjis ASAP.

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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by webstaa View Post
    I have a couple vegan/vegetarian friends here who carry business cards around with a simple explanation of what they don't eat. Apparently it helps at restaurants. Even though I mock them for being card-carrying vegans
    That's actually kind of brilliant. Definitely don't want to get caught by the vegan police and have my vegan powers revoked



    Quote Originally Posted by weepinbell View Post
    We're expecting a late upgrade here and we just lost a vegan girl... longshot maybe, but that'd be kinda funny if you were taking her spot.
    Oh god could you imagine? What are the chances?! At the very least I'm open to making compromises because having no social life is a sure way to earn yourself a bad case of culture shock.

    Quote Originally Posted by mothy View Post
    Also, and this may be obvious and the OP may already know Japanese, but if you have any dietary needs, better start studying food kanjis ASAP.
    First thing I learned was how to ask if a restaurant has vegan dishes (though correct me if this is wrong): ビガン りょうり は ありますか?But yeah, good advice all around, thanks for your help!


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    Quote Originally Posted by webstaa View Post
    That's the best thing about having books on your phone etc. You can read without having to be self-conscious of what you're reading
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    We're in a country where salarymen read doraemon on the train, I wouldn't worry either way.

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    Gizmoduck - blatherskite Gizmotech's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    While I commend you on researching that question, it won't help you at all. You need to be clearer when you say NO MEAT AT ALL as they may or may not understand what began means, and even if they give you a knowing nod they're probably rushing to the back going "some foreigner just asked for a virgin dish, we can make that right?"
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    If I was vegan in Japan I would just prepare all of my meals and drink my meals when I went out.
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    Frigga please.
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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Gizmotech View Post
    While I commend you on researching that question, it won't help you at all. You need to be clearer when you say NO MEAT AT ALL as they may or may not understand what began means, and even if they give you a knowing nod they're probably rushing to the back going "some foreigner just asked for a virgin dish, we can make that right?"
    Yeah I figured as much, I should learn how to really explain it in detail. A statement like: "no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy" would do I suppose. But more likely I'll just eat whatever I'm served bc I don't like to make people cater to my whims (I always hated that about certain people with niche-lifestyles. They tend to get all huffy when the rest of the world doesn't bend over backwards to accommodate them).

    Or I can try to find one of those super strict Buddhist restaurants that the monks frequent. Are those common at all in Japan? Being vegan in Thailand was a breeze because of them.


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    Quote Originally Posted by webstaa View Post
    That's the best thing about having books on your phone etc. You can read without having to be self-conscious of what you're reading
    Quote Originally Posted by Jiggit View Post
    We're in a country where salarymen read doraemon on the train, I wouldn't worry either way.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Anna.Mod View Post
    A statement like: "no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy" would do I suppose.

    poor, naive fool......
    Great men of action never mind on occasion being ridiculous; in a sense it is part of their job.

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    Default Re: Vegetarian or Vegan in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Ini View Post
    poor, naive fool......
    Elucidate, if you'd be so kind?


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    Quote Originally Posted by webstaa View Post
    That's the best thing about having books on your phone etc. You can read without having to be self-conscious of what you're reading
    Quote Originally Posted by Jiggit View Post
    We're in a country where salarymen read doraemon on the train, I wouldn't worry either way.

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