Saturday, November 6, 2010

Vegan Tokyo

In the summer of 2008, I lived in Tokyo studying an intensive Japanese language course (4 hours a day) to finish my minor. I apparently took no pictures of the vegan restaurants and food I had there which is a shame. So, I am posting pictures from Google image search and my own personal photo's of the country and my experiences.

Living in Japan is tough as a vegan. Really tough. Sometimes you just had to try your best to make sure there was no fish broth hidden away somewhere in your meal, but it was oftentimes trying to do this. Language differences and your host/grocer's idea on veganism has a lot to do with this. So, I went out to find the restaurants in this vegan dining book to Japan I had.

In Harajuku, there were a number of vegan places. First, there is Brown Rice Cafe.  This place was my all time life saver in Tokyo. It was close enough to walk and they had a take out counter, so I could eat something that I knew was vegan. We could not cook in our dorms which was so horrible for any vegetarian or vegan. The only thing we had was a hot water maker for ramen, but 99.9% of the instant ramen in Japan is fish broth based. Brown Rice Cafe had a small cafe as the name implies as well as the take out counter which also had organic, natural products for sale. From my recollection, the food was very good. They have an English menu too.

Catty-corner from Brice Rice Cafe, there was a microbiotic/vegan and vegetarian-friendly/eco-friendly health food store and cafe. It is called Natural House. The health food store sells vegan products such as mock meats and cheeses.They also sell fresh produce. I was lucky to be able to talk to a sales clerk that spoke good enough English to realize why I was struggling and staring at the nutritional value of things like bread and using my kanji dictionary. So hard. Not fond of those memories! haha. She would tell me what had eggs or milk in them. Very nice of her. The cafe was good. I used to study and spend the afternoon munching on my lunch and drinking tea or coffee. They had a really good mushroom stir fry dish that I liked very much. Oh, and they have a vinegar drink! I LOVE vinegar. I have some crazy irrational love of vinegar and cornichons (fermented foods are my favorite...). So, this was MY drink!
Another Harajuku vegan place was der Akkord bakery. They have specifically marked vegan breads  there. Very good quality bread and freshly baked. Definitely worth checking out.

In Shibuya, there is the really awesome Vegan Healing Cafe. This is where I found my Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide book. A lot of Tokyo is small side streets where you weave in and out of them onto other small side streets until you are completely turned around and have to find a main road again just to figure out where you even are. On one of these side streets, a group of us were walking around the shops and suddenly I see a big sign that says, 'VEGAN". I literally squeaked out loud and went running to the sign. It was Vegan Healing Cafe. I was SO happy! I, at last, found veganism in Japan. This was the first vegan restaurant I found and thankfully, it was early on in my study abroad. I bought the book there and had many nice meals there through out my time in Japan. It was my first experience with texturized soy meat too. I had no idea what it was, but I liked it. I even brought some home with me because I didn't even know you could get it in America! Mmm. The owner was so nice too. She could tell just how I excited I was about her restaurant. She had vegan and animal right literature out by the cash register too (mostly PETA leaflets in English and Japanese). 

My 21st birthday was when I was in Japan. As this is a huge birthday in America, I wanted to properly celebrate it. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20 (they never card you anyways), so it wasn't big news there. In London, for my 20th birthday, I got a vegan chocolate cake at the brand new Whole Foods there at the time. In Tokyo... I thought I would be cake-less. To my surprise, I found vegan birthday cakes to order! Such a crazy thought, honestly. DevaDeva Cafe makes vegan birthday cakes to order (place your order 10 days in advance). The trip to get this cake was a great adventure. I had to take several trains waaaay on what seemed like the outskirts of Tokyo and then go on a hunt for this cafe. Street signs in Japan are not marked well (or at all sometimes). After wandering around for almost three hours on many side streets, I found this place. It was on the second level. Of course. I wasn't looking up for a sign; I was looking at the ground level. I remember I took a Starbucks break in this long hunt and ended up having an early dinner at DevaDeva because it just took so long to find! The cafe had quite a menu and they sold little snack foods (pre-packaged and baked goods they made) at the cash register. 

The picture of me is of my birthday party at our study abroad group's favorite dive bar by the dorm, Foods & Bar. Yes, it is called, "Foods & Bar". Amazing. Did you know they give you edamame, popsicles, and wasabi peas as bar food in Japan? Haha. Well, as many of you know, the Japanese sort of interchange their "r"'s and their "l"s. My name is Alexis. It sounds like Arexis in Japanese. Behold my mistaken cake. It was banana bread cake as we found out that night in the bar.
I had the amazing opportunity to go to New York Bar while I was in Tokyo. Have you all seen Lost in Translation? If you have not, you must! It says so much about Tokyo and the Japanese people. Well, New York Bar is within the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Throughout the movie, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson go to this bar in the middle of the night because they have bad jet lag. There they meet and become friends. The view is one of the most spectacular things you have ever seen. It was an epic birthday moment that I will never forget. Here we had very well crafted martini's and listened to live jazz.
This is a picture of part of my host family in Japan. We are at a botanical garden several hours outside of Tokyo.
Of course, no blog post on Tokyo is complete without picture of Shibuya at night. And here you are. Always busy, always alive. ♥ 
One of the nights in Tokyo, a group of us went to a ninja restaurant. Yes, you read correctly, a ninja restaurant. Only in Tokyo. It is called Ninja Akasaka. It is built with trap doors and you dine in a dungeon. You are each served like a 8-10 course meal. They accommodated my veganism very nicely too! I don't remember all what I had but it was really crazy food presentation. Oh, the waitresses and waiters were dressed up as ninja's and the menu's were on scrolls. The picture of the tree thing is not vegan, but that is definitely a dessert. The soil is chocolate, I believe.
Couple useful phrases:   
1. "Watashi wa bejitarian/bigan desu." - I am vegetarian/vegan.
2. "Taberarenai mono ha..." - I don't eat...
niku - meat
sakana - fish
shifudo - seafood
niwatori - chicken
gyunyu - milk
chizu - cheese
tamago - eggs
machimitsu - honey
bata - butter
mayonezu - mayonnaise
sakana dashi - fish stock
3. After finishing your meal: "Gochisosamadeshita!" - Roughly, thank you for the good food (hard to translate).
4. "Ie, sakana wa shokubutsusei dewa arimasen, sorera mo dobutsusei desu." - No, fish are not plants, they are animals too.

Lastly, if you are at a conbini (convenience store), look for onigiri (rice balls) filled with umeboshi (pickled plum) or konbu (thick seaweed). There should also be nori maki there and the vegetarian ones are easy to spot with cucumber and konbu. Pickled vegetables in small trays are available at most. If you dig on natto (fermented soybeans), you'll find it here too. Natto is really good for you, but it is an acquired taste and quite frankly, it's pretty gross.

And there you have it in a good gist. Vegan Tokyo!


Mark R said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this blog post. You've given me hope. My friend is currently in Japan and he just posted photos of his visit to Ninja Akasaka. It made me a bit depressed thinking about, as a vegetarian, how difficult it would be trying to have fun eating out at somewhere like that. So I did a search for "ninja akasaka vegetarian" and found your blog :)

Mark R said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this blog post. You've given me hope. My friend is currently in Japan and he just posted photos of his visit to Ninja Akasaka. It made me a bit depressed thinking about, as a vegetarian, how difficult it would be trying to have fun eating out at somewhere like that. So I did a search for "ninja akasaka vegetarian" and found your blog :)

Miss Lexy said...

No problem! I'm glad I helped someone abroad. :]

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