Three Main Vegetarian Influences in Japanese Cuisine
KAKIMOTO, D.D.Sc., Ph.D., M.S.A., B.S.
President of Japan Vegetarian Society,
Professor at Osaka Jogakuin College, Japan
Fringe Meeting, July, 11, Thursday, 2pm-3pm
A survey I conducted on 80 westerners including Americans, Englishmen
and Canadians revealed that approximately half of them believe that vegetarianism
originates in India. Some respondents assume vegetarianism takes its origin
in Japan or China, accounting for 8% respectively. It seems right to me
that the reason westerners associate vegetarianism with Japan or China
is Buddhism. It is no wonder, and in fact we, could say Japan used to
be a country where vegetarianism prevailed.
Gisi-wajin-den, a history book on Japan written in China around the 3rd
century B.C., says "There are no cattle, no horses, no tigers, no
leopards, no goats, and no magpies in that land. The climate is mild and
people over there (Japanese people) eat fresh vegetables both in summer
and in winter. It also says " People catch fish and shellfish in
the water." Apparently, ancient Japanese ate fresh vegetables as
well as rice and other cereals as staple food. They took some fish and
shellfish but little flesh. Several hundreds later, Buddhism came to Japan
and the idea of prohibition of hunting and fishing permeated among Japanese
people. In 675, the then Japanese Emperor Tenmu proclaimed an ordinance
prohibiting eating fish and shellfish as well as flesh and fowl. Subsequently,
in 737 of the Nara period, Emperor Seimu approved of eating fish and shellfish.
Over twelve hundred years from the Nara period to the Meiji Restoration
in the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese people enjoyed vegetarian-styled
meals. They usually ate rice as staple food, and beans and vegetables.
It was only on a special occasion or a celebration when fish is served
to entertain people. Under these circumstances, Japanese people developed
vegetarian, cuisine native to Japan: Shojin Ryori. (Ryori means cooking
The word "shojin" is a Japanese translation of "virya"
in Sanskrit, India, meaning "to have the goodness and keep away evils."
Buddhist priests of the Tendai-shu and Shingon-shu sects, whose founders
studied in China in the 9th century before they founded their respective
sects, have been handing down vegetarian cooking of Chinese temples strictly
in accordance with the teachings of The Buddha. In the 13th century, Dogen,
founder of the Soto-shu sect of Zen formally established Shojin Ryori
or Japanese vegetarian cuisine. Dogen studied and learned the Zen teachings
abroad in China, the Song Dynasty. He fixed rules aiming to establish
dietary habits of pure vegetarian life as a means of training of the mind.
One of the other impacts Zen exerted on the dietary habits of Japanese
people materialized in Sado, or Japanese tea ceremony. It is believed
that Eisai, founder of the Rinzai-shu sect, introduced tea to Japan and
it is the custom for Zen followers to drink tea. The custom preserved
in the teaching of Zen lead to a systematic rule called Sado. Believe
it or not, Cha-shitsu or a tea-ceremony room is so made that looks like
Shoin, a room where the chief Priest is at a Buddhist temple. Dishes served
at a tea ceremony is called Kaiseki in Japanese, which literally means
a stone in one's bosom. Monks practicing asceticism used to, put heated
stones into their bosom in order to suppress hunger. Then the word Kaiseki
itself came to mean a light meal served to warm up the body. It is needless
to say that dished served at Shojin and Kaiseki meals had great influence
on the Japanese dietary culture.
As an example of a Buddhist vegetarian in the modern age or later, I can
mention Kenji Miyazawa, a Japanese writer and poet in the early 20th century,
who wrote a novel titled Vegetarian-taisai, in which he depicted a fictitious
vegetarian congress. This reminds me of the congresses I.V.U. has hold
since its foundation. His works played an important role in the advocacy
of modern vegetarianism.
The teaching of the Buddhism is not the only source attributable to the
advancement of vegetarianism in Japan. In the late 19th century, a doctor
named Gensai Ishizuka published an academic book on a dietary cure. He
advocated vegetarian cooking with emphasis on brown rice and vegetables.
His method is called Seisyoku (Macrobiotics) and based upon old Chinese
philosophy such as the principles of Yin and Yang, and Taoism. Now some
people support his method hoping for the benefit of preventive medicine.
Japanese macrobiotics suggest we take brown rice as half of the whole
intake, and vegetables, beans, and seaweeds as well as a small amount
of fish. After World War II, Japan came under great influence of nutrition
introduced from the U.S.A. In the 1980's, just as the U.S.A., we experienced
a serious social problem of a high rate of incidence of the geriatric
diseases resulting from the supernutrition. S.D.A. vegetarian cuisine,
which is supported by scientific evidence, came to draw interest. Then
Japanese people adopted the S.D.A. vegetarian cuisine from the U.S.A.
style, and have come up with a new S.D.A. vegetarian cuisine in a Japanese
style. That is, Lacto-ovo vegetarian cuisine, where we take brown rice
in addition to corn flakes and milk.
As we have seen, now in Japan, there are three main influences in of vegetarian
cuisine which originates in Buddhist, Seisyoku(Macrobiotics), and S.D.A.
It has been about 130 years since Japanese people begun to eat flesh.
Recently Japanese people became aware of the problem of the geriatric
diseases caused by an excess intake of fat in flesh, and the possible
hazard pertain to agricultural chemicals and additives. They begun to
try to come back to Japanese traditional cuisine and seek natural and
safe food. In 1993, in order to shed light on, and cope with animal rights,
global environmental issues and famines in the developing countries in
addition to health. Japan Vegetarian Society(NPO) was established. Member
of the society who are eager to face these issues, are working hard domestically
and globally in order to advocate vegetarianism.