Moving to one of the most vegetarian-UNfriendly countries in the world with the naïve expectation of maintaining a similar lifestyle to what I had had (especially in regards to accessibility and abundance) has not only provided many challenges and frustrations, but mostly many wonderful experiences and encounters I couldn’t have had without having chosen the “path less traveled” when it comes to alternative lifestyles here.
As you know, no amount of research you do before moving to a foreign country cannot give you adequate preparation for the lifestyle changes and adaptations you will need to make upon arrival, or soon thereafter if you are anything like me and despise making changes of some sorts. As all the travel blogs and expat threads will tell you, it’s all about “getting out of your comfort zone”, “submerging yourself in the culture”, and “making friends with the locals” etc, and ashamedly I have found all these clichés uncomfortably true and applicable to all aspects of my life in Japan, and increasingly when it comes to veganism.
Although Japanese are familiar with Buddhist vegetarian diets (shojin ryori), western-style vegetarianism is relatively unheard of, and veganism even further removed. When I arrived in Nagoya I was taken aback at the lack of vegetarian and vegan information available for such a big city, especially in comparison with the big 3 – Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. I found most of Japanese life to be like this – everything worth finding is someones best kept secret, and it all seemed to be tucked away in pokey little alleyways, hidden behind tiny little doors with minimal signage and advertising, and all without big glass windows illuminating the minimalist interiors – the complete opposite aesthetic of my home country. This quickly became one of my favorite aspects of Japan, every time something amazing was found, it was because it had happened unexpectedly or accidentally, and not through any advertising or recommendation guiding me there with preconceptions and a weighty expectation.
While I was initially overwhelmed with the lack of options available (I had come from a country with entire neighbourhoods devoted to vegan restaurants) I soon started discovering restaurants with vegan options available, restaurants without vegan options but with kind staff who were more than happy to accommodate for me and prepare something new, places I could go to buy foods not found in regular Japanese supermarkets (still on the hunt for 100% peanut butter HMU), vegan junk food and on the go foods (this came in handy when I could spend time actually eating said foods and not reading the kanji on the back), but perhaps most importantly I found Japanese foods that I could eat so I didn”t feel as entirely removed from the cuisine part of Japanese culture that is so widely revered.
Living in a foreign country gives you innumerable opportunities to explore and reevaluate your withstanding beliefs in a way that only a different context can provide. Regardless of your lifestyle choice (and Japanese language ability), I highly recommend and encourage you in the most non-cliché way possible to “step outside your comfort zone”, “submerge yourself in the culture” and “make friends with the locals”, as this way of thinking can make the most niche of hobbies/interests/lifestyles possible in Japan. Some of my most favored experiences have been thanks to the wonderful hospitality I have received here, as a result of the kindhearted and generous nature of the Japanese nation. I wanted to share this knowledge not only to help other vegetarian and vegans eat their way around Nagoya more easily, but to increase awareness and understanding of the lifestyle itself for those interested in learning about other cultures and alternative ways of life – most likely you, person-from-other-country reading this article!
I’ve created an Instagram account so you can see the aforementioned hacks and tips I’ve found and accumulated so far here in Nagoya, and you can see it at @vegansofnagoya.