International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Congress Logo 33rd World Vegetarian Congress
Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 4 - 10, 1999
'Vegetarianism is the Way'
an unforgettable visual, cultural and gastronomic experience

Vegetarianism and Vegetarians in Japan

A talk given by Mitsuru Kakimoto

A survey of 80 westerners revealed that approximately half of them believed that vegetarianism originated in India. 8% assumed that vegetarianism had its origin in Japan or China, and seem to associated with Buddhism.

A history book on Japan written in China around the third century B.C. cites that ancient Japanese ate fresh vegetables, rice and other cereals as staple food, and also took some fish and shellfish, but little flesh.

Several hundred years later, Budhism came to Japan and the prohibition of hunting and fishing were prohibited. Since then up to the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese people have enjoyed vegetarian-style meals, called Shojin Ryori. During this time, the Zen System has fixed rules aiming to establish the dietary habits of a pure vegetarian life as a means of training the mind.

The Buddhist teachings are not the only source contributing to the growth of vegetarianism in Japan. Doctor Gensai Ishizuka published an academic book on a dietary cure in which he advocated vegetarian cooking with an emphasis on brown rice and vegetables, called Seisyoku (Macrobiotics) which based upon ancient Chinese philosophy such as principles of Ying Yang and Taoism.

After world war II, Japan was greatly influenced by nutritional ideas introduced from the USA and in the 1980s, like the USA, we experienced a seriously high rate of geriatric diseases resulting from hypernutrition. Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) vegetarian cuisine began attract interest and Japanese people adopted the US-style SDA cuisine and came up with a new Japanese-style lacto-ovo-vegetarian cuisine in which brown rice is taken in addition to corn flakes and milk. Thus there are three main vegetarian influences in Japanese cuisine: Buddhist, Macrobiotic and SDA.

Japanese people started to eat meat some 130 years ago and now suffer the crippling diseases caused by the excess intake of fat in flesh and the possible hazards from the use of agricultural chemicals and additives. This is encouraging them to seek natural and safe food and to adopt once again the traditional Japanese cuisine. In 1993 The Japanese Vegetarian Society (NPO) was formed as a result of concern about animal rights, global environmental issues, third world hunger and human health. Vegetarian society members are eager to face these issues and are working hard both in Japan and globally.

Mitsuru KAKIMOTO D.D. Sc., Ph.D., M.S.A; President of Japanese Vegetarian Society; IVU International Councilor; Vice-president and Professor at Osaka Shin-Ai College.

He has been studying vegetarians from the viewpoint of medical science and dietics and plays a leading role in advocating vegetarianism in Japan.

He writes plenty of books and articles on vegetarians and vegetarianism, among which are "Introduction of Healthy Vegetarian" (published in Japan for Japanese readers), "Comparing Nutrition and Health of Japanese High School-Students: SDA Vegetarians and Non-vegetarians Nutrition and Health of Japanese