Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vegetarian in Japan? Yes You Can!

While making dinner the other night I was contemplating the possibility of living here in Japan, specifically Okinawa, as a vegetarian. I myself am not a vegetarian nor do I have the desire to become one however I do have an understanding of what it is to be a vegetarian and have had vegetarian friends here on Okinawa so I think it's a safe topic to at least give you my thoughts on that way if you happen to have made the lifestyle choice of being a vegetarian you know what to expect once you get here.


Fresh Produce Please

One of the great things about living on Okinawa is that there is always fresh produce. Whether it comes from the main island of Okinawa or one of its outer islands grocery stores and farmers markets are always stocked with what's fresh at reasonable prices. This makes the local grocery stores and farmers markets the place to be if you're a vegetarian. Although there are large supplies of fresh produce available it's important to consider that being in Japan the selection may be different from what you are familiar with. There will undoubtably have to be a slight change in your diet if your main source of nourishment is vegetables making it more in line with what you can find here.

Another thing to consider is that sometimes the fruits you may be familiar with from back home such as watermelon, berries and applies can come with a hefty price tag. This makes things such as a good old fashioned fruit salad a pretty rare dish for those of us living here on Okinawa.

TIP: Just because you can't make yourself a bowl of fresh fruit salad doesn't mean you can't enjoy it once in a while. Some grocery stores sell fruit cups at an affordable price. They are perfect for an "on the go" snack or to put in the fridge and much more affordable than making one yourself. 

Totally Tofu

If you're the type of vegetarian who really likes tofu you're going to be in tofu heaven. There are various styles of tofu in all price ranges and sizes at pretty much every grocery store out there. Oh and go ahead and throw what you know about tofu out the window. This is not that nasty flavorless stuff that you can't stomach unless it's mixed and seasoned 10 ways to Sunday.

TIP: The best tofu out there is the local stuff which is fresh and delivered multiple times each day to the local grocery stores. Usually you can find a sign showing what times the tofu is delivered each day. If you're lucky and get there as the shipment arrives you can get tofu that's so fresh, it's still warm. This is by far the best tofu I have ever had. 

Eating Out - Absolutely No Animal Product 

For those who have chosen a completely animal product free vegetarian (or vegans may also find this information useful) lifestyle eating out in Okinawa is going to be a challenge. The reason for this is because in many cases some sort of animal product is being used in order to cook your food. Most often this product is fish based such as miso soup or even the fish cakes which are put into your bowl of ramen. Eggs are also often used in many dishes.

Unlike in the US specialized orders aren't very common either. I suppose you might say that it is an unwritten rule that menu items are non-negotiable which can make it difficult if you're just wanting to avoid one simple item. The good news is that there are restaurants out there which offer vegetarian menus, however, they are far and few.

I do want to make it clear, however, that just because you choose not to consume animal products does not mean that you would have to retreat to a cave while the rest of your friends and coworkers are out on a Friday night at an izakaya. Even at the most non-vegetarian places in town there are options which would allow you to enjoy your time with your friends and hold you over until you could get home and have a completely animal free main course.

TIP: Some restaurants offer a special menu which was designed to offer muslim tourists the chance of eating Ryukyuan food without the use of traditional animal products such as pork and other meats. 

Eating Out - Some Animal Products Are Ok

If you are one of the many who are a bit more lenient with the vegetarian lifestyle and allow yourself to consume some animal products such as eggs, fish and milk you will find that you have a great deal more options then if you were to keep animal products out of your diet all together. For example allowing fish into your diet, even if you were not to eat a fillet but allowed yourself to consume broth made from fish, you would be opening a number of opportunities.

Is Being A Vegetarian In Okinawa Realistic

Yes. You can realistically be a vegetarian in Okinawa. However, there should be a clear understanding that the vegetarian lifestyle (especially the one that is completely void of all animal products) is not something which is common here in Japan. This being said you're going to find yourself in a position where you are doing more work to sustain the lifestyle then you might have to do in places like the US where options may be more readily available.

Are you a vegetarian living in Japan or Okinawa?

What are you experience?

What do you think?

Let us know in the comments below!

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