International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo 35th World Vegetarian Congress
'Food for all our futures'

Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
July 8-14, 2002
Hosted by

The Vegetarian Society
of the United Kingdom

Three Main Vegetarian Influences in Japanese Cuisine

by Mitsuru 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 or cuisine.)

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. vegetarian cuisine.

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.