This month, we spoke to Maho, a vegan Tokyoite working for The Humane League Japan.
How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for nearly 20 years.
Why did you decide to go vegan?
I had already been vegetarian for a while, and then one day for my work as a translator, I had to visit a pig farm… It was a horrific experience and since dinner that day, I’ve been vegan!
How do you say “I’m vegan” in your language?
私はヴィーガンです / Watashi wa vegan desu.
What is the vegan scene like in your city/country?
Generally, people have very limited knowledge and awareness about veganism as a lifestyle here, so it’s very hard for the local people to understand why I don’t consume animal products.
Difficulty often arises during social situations when you’re the only vegan as the Japanese culture has a group mentality and tends to avoid any conflict. This concept is known as “wa”, literally “harmony”.
Do you have any tips for vegan travelers to your city/country?
There are some convenient tools you can use to find vegan food and restaurants; such as Tokyo Vegan Map, HappyCow, or VegeWell. Also, Tokyo Vege Project has started issuing vegan certificates to products, so you can look for the certificate logo to identify vegan food in local shops and supermarkets.
If you search “#veganjapan” or “#vegantokyo” on IG, you can find several IG accounts focusing on vegan food in Japan, and it’s also worth signing up to Tokyo Vegan MeetUp as they hold 1 or 2 vegan-focused events every week, from workshops to picnics.
Is there any local accidentally vegan food they should try?
Sometimes you can find vegan snacks or finger food at convenience stores. I recently found a vegan Japanese rice cracker called “Kabuki-Age” at a convenience store near my house.
Any restaurants or supermarkets you recommend?
My favorite vegan restaurant is a Taiwanese restaurant in Roppongi called Chien-Fu (some dishes are only vegetarian though, which is highlighted in the menu).
Also, there’s a great Israeli restaurant called Shamaim in Ekoda, which is not totally vegan, but they have a vegan option for their all-you-can-eat buffet.
Another excellent restaurant is Loving Hut, especially for their weekend lunchtime buffet.
Is there a traditional dish from your city/country that can easily be veganised?
Japan has a lot of traditional ingredients that are vegan; for example, natto (fermented beans), tofu, fried-tobu, yuba, brown rice, black beans, and azuki (sweet beans), also delicious seasonal and regional fruits and vegetables.
Famous dishes such as Okonomiyaki can easily be made vegan; just replace the squid with konnyaku and use seaweed or kelp for the broth.
What do you think the future holds for veganism in your country?
As more and more people from overseas visit Japan, vegan choices will increase (a shift can already be seen with the 2020 Olympics coming up).
I do think that veganism will be recognised more and more in the coming months and years, but I don’t know if it will ever be as popular as in the UK or US.
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