Japan: Finding Vegan Food ..Easy?

Let’s face it, in the land of sushi and sashimi being a meatless and fishless eater was bound to be a bit of a challenge right?.. I would love to say, Nah it was easy, but no it is not easy. In fact, it was more of a challenge than I thought and many times I ended up eating only bread, not ideal for any number of reasons!

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Kyushu Jangara Ramen Harajuku fantastic bowl of goodness

The Japanese are famed for their longevity and healthy diets. So I will add this disclaimer…. I love Japan, its food, culture, people, and history, but I find a lot of food to be very processed and over packaged. A home cooked meal was high on my priority list after a week of eating, what I felt to be a mostly unhealthy diet. A trip to the market was interesting of course but so disappointing to find single items of food such as a tomato, or a ( singular) potato in its own package, and expensive to boot. Eating out seemed to be a cheaper alternative.

My Didi in Tokyo, who owns the fabulous chain of Indian restaurants gave me some insight into this. Vegetables are very expensive and are often a money losing dish at a restaurant as the general view held is that ‘why should veges cost more than meat…’  I found this sad and frustrating, to say the least.  Of course, people with some insight into the cruelty of animal farming get it, but to the general population, it seems animals are seen as food. That subject is not where I want to go with this post but rather to assist you on a visit with what to do! I must say though how is it then that the Japanese diet is hailed as one of the most healthy on earth. I wonder if this will be the case in the upcoming years as the western diet pervades the traditional way of life.  Any comments welcome please!

On a daily basis, my search for vege food became almost an obsession. I thank God for apps such as Yelp and Happy Cow which stopped me from starving. Okay, okay I am embellishing this slightly for effect! I tended to use Yelp due to the fact it lists places that have vege options whereas Happy Cow tends to be only those places that list with them and identify as veg only. If it wasn’t for the kindness of Funky Love Bunny ( yes that is his real name at Zen Japan in Coffs Harbour, Australia who has this awesome conversion card I surely would have eaten bread for two weeks.  He has sized it so it can be printed on a business card- wonderful idea. Please go visit Funky and his wife Emi at their fantastic Izakaya, well worth the trip.Vegan Convesion Card

I read up on many places to visit but once in a country full of more restaurants than people ( feels like it at times) I found trying to get to these places a bit overwhelming. A few in Tokyo are worthy of mention and relatively easy to find. Kyushu jangara is easy to find, but rather than give directions here, check it on Yelp and follow the map. Also worthy of mention is ramen at Tokyo station called T’s Tan Tan 

On the upside, Japanese food does not contain as much dairy as the western diet so I found that trips to the local convenience store were great. Lawsons stores have a great variety of takeout food and most people understand the word vegetaian. The rice onigiri parcels were the most consistent in terms of selection and even managed to find brown rice offerings. there are always salads and vege sushi available.

Compassionate cooking, vegan, plant based what ever you identify with is on the rise, especially in Australia. Other parts of the world have their traditional meat free dishes which are usually side dishes, and there are plenty of tasty ones in Japan, but on the whole, I found Japan not easy and certainly options were often limited to salad, so be prepared to be viewed as a weirdo for wanting to not eat meat. But hey whats new huh!

TOKYO: Sipping wine under a bridge and plastic burgers.

TOKYO IN THREE DAYS

No I am not a wino, but I am a fan of small dive bars (and upmarket ones too), hard to find places and creating interesting memories. Tokyo could keep me writing for months. there is literally so much to see and do its hard to know where to begin. I am fortunate to  have had the benefit of having visited many times before. Each time I try and do something different. Its a city I never tire of, and whilst it has changed enormously  in the 30 years I have been going there,  in some ways it is still the same. At least I don’t get stared at like a she devil any longer and I manage a smattering of Japanese, although English is widely spoken, don’t rely upon that. Its always good to have a few basic polite phrases in store, and of course the essentials such as where are the toilets, and do you have coffee and wine!

NB: Any links I have added here are purely for assistance and in no way are advertising for these sites.

Wine under the bridge

Wine under the bridge

I was reading recently on one of my favorite travel blogs Nomadic Matt , his blog post on experimental travel and the fact this is a BS term is well worth a read.  “when you travel you eat the local food, soak up the local culture, take public transportation, and talk to people. Just travel….” I totally agree and I don’t get sucked into new and interesting ways to spend my money, rather I research,  and read blogs such as this and start making plans based on new discoveries.

So my time in Tokyo this time was much more one of immersion rather than sightseeing. Travel shapes who we are and time spent observing, learning and understanding all adds up to a greater understanding of life itself and people and ultimately oneself.

TWO DAYS IN TOKYO.

Of course if you haven’t been to this magnificent, modern and diverse city most Google searches will render the  ubiquitous top ten things to do list so I wont regurgitate that here, but rather I  tend to look for some more unique things to see in the city. However I do recommend a site  called Truly Tokyo written by a Lonely Planet guru that is super helpful!

GETTING AROUND –  A Japan rail pass is a great , easy way to get around, but do your sums as if you are only going for a few days it may well be cheaper to do the sectors individually. For me, I was only going between Tokyo and Kyoto as the major piece of internal travel and after much research I opted to use the Passmo card for all my city trips and then purchased a shinkansen ticket to get to Kyoto. The Man in Seat 61 was a wealth of information, although very comprehensive I was looking for more immediate answers and found the Tokyocheapo site to be excellent . I took their advice and went on the Platt Kodama train which was both fast and cheap!

WHERE I STAYED  – I chose to stay the first night close by to the airport, if you are flying into Narita beware, as it can be a long haul into the city. Narita village is only ten minutes from the airport and the hotel I picked also had a free shuttle. It was very reasonably priced- around $50 per night and I felt completely refreshed to then get on the train and enjoy the view into the city the next morning.

The train was easy enough, just be a bit patient as it can be confusing trying to understand where you need to go and how to get there, but everyone is so willing to help, relax and enjoy the unique city that lies in wait.

Taito- Ku, on the Hibiya line was a super convenient spot. The Hibiya line has stops for most of the major spots on the sightseeing route, making Taito-Ku a central, affordable area to stay.  I was rapt with my choice, a large apartment on top of a soba noodle shop    ( that is only open weekends so he doesn’t rent it out then) and it was truly eclectic. Thanks Airbnb

DAY ONE

The time difference is awesome! so I am up at 5 am ready to go, which I love incidentally.

KAPPABASHI- or Kitchen Town

Love gadgets and knives? this place will have you sorted. Whilst many shops cater to the commercial trade end of town many are stocked with individual items such as the famous Japanese steel, Kappabashi is a long street located between Ueno and Asakusa easily accessible and can be part of a day trip to all there areas. Read here for a useful article and perfect directions on how to get here. As a caterer I LOVE to spend time here each visit and come home with colorful and interesting pieces every time, The knives I bought here 30 years ago are still my pride and joy.

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The street is basically one large , long street and this guy is on top of a building at the entrance, you cant miss it!

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Colorful pottery is everywhere in Kappabashi

A restaurant venue this area is not.  There are not many places to grab coffee , let alone lunch, but out of the blue we found this  Italian restaurant that has been in the area for over 30 years, it was extraordinary, we discovered it completely from my friends memory and voila, ended up talking for ages to the owner whose daughter had been a student of my friend all those years ago. Seriously good Italian food. So far I have spent all day not eating Japanese food… we will need to fix that! Check out the creation below, not my lunch but a plastic window creation. You can even do a mini course at a shop called Ganso Sample and make your own mini takeaway food. Ill put that on the list for next time.

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A humongous plastic burger!

OMOTESANDO- Is a wide tree lined avenue leading to Harajuku. It is full of elegant high end shops. Sat down for a coffee but honestly balked at the price of Y900 ( approx $10 AUD) and by now I was hankering for ramen. Being a vego, eating good Japanese can sometimes be challenging to say the least, so almost at Harajuku station I saw a vegan Ramen sign , in English I walked almost in a trance like toward it.

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Kyushu Jangara Ramen Harajuku fantastic bowl of goodness

HARAJUKU After a wonderful bowl of steaming hot ramen we are off again. A trip to Tokyo for me always includes a stroll through Harajuku. Here you will find all manner of weird and wonderful , cute and quirky. I am talking about costumes, gadgets, cat cafes and even hedgehog and owl cafes. Personally I am totally against any manner of animal exploitation but there you have it, Japan really does not do things by halves.

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Any given day in Harajuku!

 

DAY TWO The first order of the day was to get my ticket for the next stage of the trip, so a visit to Tokyo station was in order. As you may recall I decided on the Platt Kodomo shinkansen and you actually have to go to the ticket office to purchase this. Follow the directions given on the website link above and all will be well. I always think getting around a train station is part of the adventure anyways.

UENO I love Ueno for its sprawling park , which was originally part of Kaneiji Temple,  one of the city’s largest and wealthiest temples and the family temple of the Shogun ruling Tokugawa clan during the Edo Period. I studied Japanese history so I am fascinated by this era, which in part was what this trip is about, well certainly the next leg….

ASAKUSA  Apparently the areas past was more of a red light district full of Yakusa ( gangsters) geisha, actors and the like.  Today it is a bustling  tourist spot, famous for the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple. I also found this a good place to pick up  souvenirs , on Nakamisi Dori- the street leading to the temple, strangely not overpriced. Asakusa is also home to Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park founded in founded in 1853. There is loads of street food here, sweet potatoes and mochi. Green tea ice cream was the most popular food this time as it was hot.  However I go there for cold soba noodles, a dish I have grown to love. The last time I was here i was just about to tuck into my meal when a young boy ran through the restaurant,  grabbed the food out of my mouth and ran off! still makes me laugh and I go back for more every time.

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The cloudy skies add drama at Sensō-ji Temple

MARANOUCHI – is Tokyo’s financial district located close to the  Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. Tokyo Station is the hub for most of the long distance shinkansen , and it was here I needed to go to purchase my ticket to Kyoto. The area is full of upmarket shops with all the big label names. We went to dinner at what I swear is the best Indian food in town. My Indian Didi has a suburb chain of restaurants throughout Tokyo and they are well worth visiting.

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Maranouchi comes alive at night

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Best Naan in town!

So how did we end up under a bridge drinking wine? well, after our banquet we decide a walk was in order . Remembering this place we found on our last visit, we set off to our bar under the bridge. Only a short walk from Maranouchi is a spot known in Japanese as Gado-shita, from “below the girder”, there are numerous great bars, izakayas and sushi joints alongside pizza and tapas, all with lots of beer and wine. These slightly gritty and lively bars stretch about 700 metes under the tracks of Yurakucho Station.

Tokyo is full of hidden spots, alleyways, bars, clubs, jazz rooms… you name it, it is there. I am in awe of the people all out late at night, most still on their way home from work, stopping in at these places, eating, drinking and laughing. Check this article for more on these places, and don’t miss it on a trip to Tokyo. Sitting underneath a bridge sipping wine… perfect.

Thanks for reading, off to Kyoto next.