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Vegetarianism in Beppu: A Survival Guide - ADMISSIONS BLOG | APU Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

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Vegetarianism in Beppu: A Survival Guide

Ăn chay ở Beppu: Hướng dẫn sinh tồn

I remember like yesterday, a conversation I had with my English Literature teacher back in high school, about how excited I was to go to Japan— especially for the food. Aware that I am a vegetarian and himself being a “partial-vegetarian,” he told me that through his experience as a traveler in Japan, it can be a bit different when it comes to food restriction. After coming here, it is fair to say that Japan has an abundance of vegetable-based dishes, however, many of these dishes do contain different sorts of meat, seafood, or fish.

My first obstacle as a vegetarian was the language, especially when trying to identify the ingredients when shopping for groceries. I became aware that language could be a barrier, especially when it came to dietary restrictions, so right at the start of my first couple months here in Beppu, I made sure to learn how to identify individual characters for meat (肉), chicken (鶏肉), and fish (魚). Furthermore, learning food vocabulary was one of my priorities. I did that not solely because I am a dedicated Japanese learner, but because I wanted to make my needs as a vegetarian understood and know what on earth I was buying when getting my groceries. Thus, to save time when I’m grocery shopping, I immediately check the ingredients list and stay on the lookout for any of the characters mentioned above.

After learning the characters, explaining my dietary preferences was my second priority. The first time I went to a rustic, family-owned restaurant in Beppu on my own, I ordered okonomiyaki (pan-fried savory pancake). As you may or may not know, traditionally one of the ingredients is meat and, for some, seafood. The issue is that with my Japanese level at the time, I was only able to explain ingredients that I cannot eat. Easy to say that the list was long but at last, I got a “Wakarimashita.” (“Understood.”) followed by the question, “Are you okay with eating eggs?” and if she could replace the meat with vegetables.

The heart of the matter is learning a few easy sentences will make your life (and the person’s on the other end) easier. Of course, there are plenty of websites that can help you learn a variety of vegan or vegetarian vocabulary, but these basic expressions will help ensure that what you’re eating is indeed meat/fish free.

- I am a vegetarian. Watashi wa bejitarian desu. 私はベジテリアンです。
- Does this contain meat? Kono ryori niwa niku ga haitte imasu ka? この料理には肉が入っていますか?
- I can’t eat meat or fish. Niku to sakana ga taberaremasen. 肉と魚が食べられません。
- Kindly remove the meat/fish. Niku/sakana nashide onegaishimasu. 肉・魚なしでお願いします。

Now, changing to a more physical aspect that might concern many vegetarians: health. Making sure that my body and mind are healthy is my top priority. Moving to Japan changed the dietary options available as a vegetarian compared to my home country. I wasn’t completely aware of how this change affected me until after a health check-up I had in March around seven months after I had arrived in Japan. The results showed that I had anemia caused by iron deficiency. The doctor was so shocked by the results that they even asked me how was I able to stand and go about my daily life. Although a vegetarian diet can meet all the nutrient requirements as an omnivorous diet, my doctor prescribed and recommend iron supplements as a useful shield against this deficiency.

Though protein intake is another concern among the vegan/vegetarian community, it was never a problem for me because before I would always make sure I had other sources of plant-based protein and fortified foods. Now that I live in Japan, I have to keep up with the same mindful diet and adapt it to choices based on the different products accessible and available here. Also, now that I’m more familiar with some ingredients of Japanese cuisine, I actively add them to my homemade meals. Many of them are rich in minerals and nutrients and of easy access. These include daikon radish, seaweed (one of my favorite ingredients), matcha (green tea), natto (fermented soybeans), konnyaku, etc., but if you’re like me, it might take time before you slowly begin to appreciate the taste. (Note: This blog is not a substitute for medical advice—please talk to a health professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.)

Lastly, answering the question that many may have when reading this blog, “How difficult is it being a vegetarian in Beppu,” I would say that it’s difficult until you find places that will cater for your individual needs. Many of my friends with different food restrictions find it easier to cook at home. But I am a sucker for everything new, so I still find it refreshing to go to new restaurants and learn about their options. I also like having my go-to spots that serve the best of vegetarian cuisine all while keeping the essence of Japanese food.

Photos featured are courtesy of APU Student Social Media Unit member Alex Phuong Thao.

■ Các bài viết gần đây của Drusila

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Drusila Gomes là học sinh APS đến từ Angola. Cô đã sống ở ba quốc gia khác nhau, điều này đã cho cô cơ hội khám phá sở thích của mình là đọc sách, du lịch và viết thơ. Cô ấy mô tả mình là một người đi du lịch với tâm hồn thanh tao.
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