Part I …March 21, 2009
Well, Nihon. I’m going to have to post in parts, chunks, bits. The reason for this is that I observed many different sides of Japan and another flame of interest in me has been sparked (interests are awesome, but they suck all your time when you want to be pursuing other interests).
I saw lots of very cool stuff. I met people that amazed me with their kindness and their willingness to talk and put up with my daft attempt at speaking some Japanese. I saw and listened to brilliant musicians play. I also saw an amazing and different (but essentially the same) form of capitalism. I saw artefacts of Japanese culture that spoke to me from a whole new and interesting perspective. I listened to and attempted to speak the amazing language that can be subtle but on closer inspection very expressive and straightfoward at the same time. I saw some weird things. I saw some dark stuff beneath a rather polite surface. I could go on forever. So, the point is that I can’t just write about all this stuff in one post. Hence… the chunks.
Part I: Food
Food in Japan is interesting. For a vegan, it is both challenging and interesting. It varies, like in any country. Highlights:
– A little backstreet bar ‘n’ grill in Osaka. Grilled vegetables (zucchini, yellow capsicum, sweet potato and others) cooked by the guy behind a glass panel in front of you. All spoke a bit of English and we spoke a little Japanese back. We had a few beers (I liked most Japanese beers) and then a few nips of warm sake. Nice food and nice and interesting people. I think they were taking the piss a few times with us, but it was all in good fun.
– Hiroshima: Sweet potato cart on the side walk along Peace Boulevard on the evening of December 25th (the date when Japanese couples go on dates together). Old man selling hot sweet potato kept warm with gas. Wrapped in foil, a half sweet potato with it’s skin. You kind of eat it in the same way as a kebab, but it’s a really nice sweet potato taste! Perfect for an evening when you’re freezing your butt off ’cause it’s like -2⁰c. Really warm and tasty.
– Fresh noodles with a massive tofu piece on top pretty much anywhere in Kyoto. The tofu piece has a very strong soy taste and I did get sick of it after a few days, but it was great the first time. Fresh noodles with vegetable-based broth again anywhere in Kyoto. It’s easier to get these in Kyoto, where shojin ryori (buddhist inspired vegan meals) are served by monks in temples around Kyoto.
– Hhhmmm. Sapporo. Sapporo was an aesthetically beautiful place and the people were nice (it was also all cold and snowy – which was a novelty for me who’d only really ever seen snow in Tasmania and it was nothing like this), but the tabemasu experience for a vegan was very difficult. Seafood everywhere and in everything. Managed to get by eating, well, salad. One special mention though. At an onsen about an hour and half outside of Sapporo, we got this awesome vegan Nepalese curry. Yum.
– Tokyo: Three words: Fujino Tofu Restaurant! The area of Rappongi wasn’t really my cup-of-tea, but it’s worth going to once for an awesome set of desserts whipped up from tofu and soy-based stuff. These included sponge cake, cream cake, ice-cream cake, whipped cream and other stuff. Nice.
Assorted Pakistani, Nepalese and Indian restaurants in Shinjuku.
Nice Vegetarian/Vegan place about a 10 minute walk from JR Ochanomizu station in the middle of the book district (which is amazing!) serving an assortment of stuff like dahl and rice, steamed and boiled sweet potato, delicious pickled vegetables (I think some were pickled black-bean strips) and assorted stuff. One of the workers insisted on telling me several times that the coffee was definitely from Brazil. OK.
“Vegan Healing Cafe” in Shibuya. Backstreets near “Tokyu Hands DIY Department Store”. Nice organic simple food. Not the best vegan food I’ve had, but still nourishing (everything comes with a cup of steamed brown rice) and some leafy salads (and rather inexpensive).
Yeah, basically everywhere and anywhere. You find them by getting purposefully lost and looking around whilst doing so.
As for the carnivores, you’ll have no trouble finding places that serve up the fourth stage of the subjugation of animals, just like in most other parts of the world.
I’ll be back soon with part II: My impression of Capitalism in Japan.