What problems will vegetarians have in Japan?
As a vegetarian in Japan
After the Yakiniku post, the people who know me probably wondered a bit, because I'm known as a vegetarian in Germany. So here is my story as a vegetarian in Japan.
When I came to Japan, I hadn't eaten meat or fish for about 3 years. I was a staunch vegetarian and had never doubted my decision. The reason I was a vegetarian is simply because I absolutely don't like the way animals are treated before they have to die to eat their meat. Animals are defenseless and good-natured beings and are tortured and exploited by us humans. It makes me very different when I think about people beating pigs and cows into some kind of transporter, bringing them cooped up to some slaughterhouse to be killed there. It is just unfair, in my opinion, to cause such harm to such good creatures. For me personally, the thoughts of this cruelty to animals just sparked a disgust for meat. I just didn't want to eat it anymore. I am not a do-gooder and I have never judged anyone who is flesh. I just didn't want to do it myself anymore. Granted, meat tastes good. It's great to prepare and it's a nice meal on festive days, for example. Still, I just wanted to do without it.
Now I came here to Japan and of course I told my host mother that I don't eat meat. It was absolutely no problem for her and so I always got something without meat. I've never been a huge fish fan, so it wasn't very difficult for me to do without it. Nevertheless, you can certainly imagine that it is quite difficult to get along as a vegetarian here in Japan. First of all, you can't read what's on the packaging, so you don't know what's in an onigiri, for example. Onigiri (rice balls) falls off the list of food. Getting sushi without fish is also very difficult because the Japanese love fish.
So it turned out that I went out to eat with friends and we always had great difficulty finding a restaurant where I could order something reasonable. Most of the time I got a side salad or miso soup. It was terribly uncomfortable for me to always give the others and my host mother such an effort. Then of course it wasn't nice to eat nothing while the others were eating curry, pasta or other delicacies. The main reason I decided to eat meat again, however, was that there is so much food here that I had never seen before and that I just wanted to try. I didn't want to be the foreigner who closes himself off and says 'no' to everything. As long as I didn't cause any problems as a vegetarian, I felt very comfortable with it. But here there were always some, I always had to be looked after and I didn't like that at all. I don't like to be a complicated person.
In addition, my Japanese friends and my host mother hardly had any Japanese food left to show me and I thought that was a shame. When you come to such a foreign country, you should be open to the people and to the entire culture. I started eating meat here again because I just wanted to be open to the food here and also to the culture and way of life, because for a Japanese, meat is simply part of life. There aren't a lot of vegetarians here.
Some of you may now think that I have betrayed my principles, but I don't see it that way. I only set priorities, because being open to culture is just as much a part of my principles as not eating meat.
How do I reconcile this with my conscience? I ignore the bad, we all know ignorance is bliss. That sounds ignorant now, it is, but I feel better here.
I don't often eat meat here, actually only with others and when my host mother cooks it for me. I don't buy it myself. I wouldn't even get the idea, it's probably still too much in there. Even with yakiniku, I don't always eat meat, but often order salad and go to the dessert bar very quickly.
It's not that I have gone without meat for years and saw this as an opportunity to finally be able to eat it again. Nothing has changed in my attitude, but I was ready to look beyond my principles to make things a little easier for the people around me and also for me.
That doesn't mean that you can't survive here as a vegetarian. My colleague, another intern at Quantize, doesn't eat meat either and is doing it here in Japan. For example, she couldn't eat the crab chips that we once had and otherwise she strictly refrains from eating them. I find that admirable, but for me it was more important to be uncomplicated and to be able to eat what I want, because for me food is part of the culture of a country.
I'll ask Zuri more about this and then there will be a second part for everyone who comes to Japan and wants to remain a vegetarian!
Tags: food and drink, life
category: General, Julie's travel blog
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