Updated: Jan 24
For these years, the terms, "vegetarian" and "vegan", have been often seen in Japanese women's fashion magazines and lifestyle publications. So now those words sound familiar in Japan. However, not only I but my friends and people around me do not really know their actual meanings and purposes of them. Relatively many of us have been considering them as something related to "a high sense of aesthetics", something with "a high cost" or "strong dietary restrictions", or "a part of a diet to lose weight".
I looked up the words and learned as follows:
A vegetarian person does not eat meat and fish. Whether he/she eats egg products and dairy products or not depends on the person. Types of vegetarian diets are subdivided into broader categories;
A vegan person does not eat any animal-derived foods including meat, fish, egg products, dairy products, and honey. In Japan, people call vegans "完全菜食主義者, kan-zen sai-shoku shugi-sha: a total vegetarian";
In addition to the vegetarians with a religious purpose, a purpose to maintain a nutritious and healthy diet, or an intention to animal rights for protecting the sanctity of lives, the number of vegetarians who are aiming to protect the environment seems to be increasing.
I would add the word plant-based here. It is more popular, still meaning the same thing as vegan, but people think this word is more centered on helping the Earth, and not so much about animals.
Now, we have asked questions to Amanda, who is vegetarian and one of the ambassadors of Comfort Japan about her life being vegetarian. Enjoy to the end.
―When did you start a vegetarian diet? Can you tell us what made you do that, too?
I started being a vegetarian in 2013. I was taking health classes at my university that was run by 3 doctors who told us that people who have more plant-based diets have less chance of developing long term diseases such as cancer, diabetes. There were also quite a few Netflix documentaries that helped me change my mind, Forks over Knives, Food Inc. and Cowspiracy. I watched them during this class. Also the animal rights group PETA came to my university and showed us how factory farming mistreats and abuses many animals. I also found out how bad it is for the environment to produce these large quantities of animals, because they are destroying many forests to feed and graze these large quantities of animals, and also it's bad how they take in so many resources and put out such a large amount of waste.
I had never been a fan of red meat ever in my whole life. So I decided with these many factors: my health, for animals, for the environment and because I didn't really enjoy it anyways, there isn't a reason to continue eating meat. I also stopped drinking cows milk, I also drink plant-based milk whenever I have the choice. I have noticed that cow's milk really can mess up my hormones and cause a lot of acne for me personally. But I do still eat eggs and milk when it is already inside food or drinks that I want to drink.
―You eat a small portion of salmon about once in 6 months. Why is that?
I understand how important fish is in Japanese culture, so sometimes I am in a position where I need to eat some type of fish, so I have decided that I am okay with sometimes eating salmon. I choose salmon because it is one of the healthier fish with so many Omega 3s and I really love the taste, but usually if I have a choice I will try not to eat any fish. I know how much the oceans are being overfished and how salmon are raised in overcrowded conditions with many chemicals pumped into them.
―What do you think are the good effects of being vegetarian on mental and physical health?
There are so many good effects of eating more vegetarian foods. One of the first ones people notice is the amount of energy you have. Eating meat takes a lot of energy for your body to digest so it makes you tired, whereas with eating more vegetables and whole grains, you notice you aren't as sleepy during the day.
Another one is that I never had any issue with too much weight gain, maybe I am also a very active person, but I say in general people who eat more vegetables are going to have a healthier weight. Vegetarians and vegans are much healthier in terms of their cardiovascular system. I have never had a problem with my cholesterol and I believe vegetarians have ⅓ less likely to die of heart disease than meat eaters are. Other long term health benefits are: reducing cancer risks, preventing type 2 diabetes, reducing blood pressure and promoting bone health. For my mental health, I just feel better that I am doing my best to not cause animals to die an unnecessary death. I also feel it is an act of peace, that I am doing my best to reduce violence in the world. I feel like a better person for this.
―In your early days in Japan, did you have any difficulty or trouble in terms of eating food as a vegetarian?
Yes, when I first came to Japan I was a little surprised at how few vegetarian alternatives there were at many restaurants or even at normal grocery stores in Japan. I also found myself eating from the kombini at first when I arrived, but soon quickly realized that there are very few options for vegetarians at kombinis in Japan. Now I try to bring my lunch and I do not like to eat at kombinis very often. I can find many small snacks, but there are not many filling lunches for me, besides egg salad sandwiches and natto onigiri. Also now I only try to shop at larger grocery stores that offer more international foods (vegan and vegetarian alternatives).
―On the whole, is it easy for vegetarians to live in Japan in terms of diet including eating out, buying takeaways, home cooking, etc.?
Overall it is not that hard for vegetarians to live in Japan, whereas being vegan is very hard in Japan. There are still going to be some restaurants where I am not going to be able to eat anything besides the salad or potato sides, but I usually try to always check before I enter a restaurant (more on this later). For home cooking, usually I can find all the ingredients that I need in some special grocery stores such as expensive organic grocery stores that usually have a lot of vegan and vegetarian foods as well, or larger grocery stores such as Aeon which carry many vegan items.
―The proportion of vegetarians and vegans in Japan is 3 to 4 percent, which seems to be lower compared to that in other countries. Are there many vegetarians around you (regardless of their nationalities)?
No, I haven't met many vegetarians or vegans by accident, but sometimes of course I meet friends in Japan via Instagram or at vegan restaurants or from groups that promote the vegan/ vegetarian lifestyle. I have also heard of some foreigners coming to Japan as a vegan and vegetarian and then giving up the lifestyle here because it is harder than in their home countries. I like to speak to people in vegan restaurants, we usually have a lot in common.
―Do you share information about restaurants and cafes with your vegetarian friends? (What kind of information do you share and how?)
Yes, with my vegan and vegetarian friends we always like to go to new vegan cafes together to try them out. I also like to share vegan recipes with common Japanese ingredients with my friends who have the same diet as me. I usually send my friends a new restaurant or recipe that I want to try with them over social media. Or sometimes we share information about vegan festivals or events going on. I follow many Japanese vegan and vegetarian groups on social media to get these new ideas and learn about new places to visit to eat.