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V for Vegetarian Vendetta

October 12, 2009

What is there to talk about? Well, the past few days have been somewhat see-sawing between mundane and manic. In any case we (Keio exchangees) were allowed a makeshift holiday in the wake of Typhoon 18, and also had yesterday (Monday) off as it was a national holiday – The Emporer’s Birthday or somesuch – with my other home uni classmates didn’t get! Nothing wrong with an eensy bit of gloating right? Then of course Tuesday rolls around, and by some divine luck it is one of two days in the week my timetable is totally clear, making this an extra-extra weekend!

On Friday I had dinner out in Shibuya with my dorm neighbour and surrogate oneesama, another girl from our floor (who is lovely!) and her friends. We went to have okonomiyaki, which I believe in direct translation is something akin to “as you like it” (okonomi) and “grilled” (yaki). The essence of which is almost like baking a pizza/pancake right in front of you: there’s a table with a couple of hotplates as centrepieces, you choose your ‘dough’ of sorts, the kind of base you’re gonna put various meaty/veggie items on, not forgetting of course an array of sauces to top it off with. This seems to be a very Japanese thing. Sauces. Lots and lots of sauce. Zig-zagged, mixed, randomly inserted with chicken extract (even what claims to be Italian tomato sauce in the nearby supermarket is confusingly infused with carnivourous delights, an easy trap for any veggie).

We pottered about a bit after, eventually arriving at some kind of chain coffee store, where I learned that ‘Auld Lang Syne’ wafting from the speakers is, in Japan, a subtle hint to the customers to GTHO.

The following day met some old classmates from home aaat, you guessed it, Shibuya – thought it was my first time proper, in the day! Normally I’m far too shy to visit the area alone; it feels like the earth could swallow you whole and nobody would know. There’s a limit to desirable anonymity and being constantly reminded of your infantesimal existence in the face of the universe.

But, you know, it was totally cool since we went shopping.

We chatted in Starbucks (I know, I know,you travel half way across the planet just to go to Starbucks? Well folks really do love their Maccha Latte Frappacinos) for a while and sauntered over to a huge, huge department store, “Shibuya 109”. Debenhams, eat your heart out! Bagged a lovely long hippy dress for around 2400yen on sale, hurrah! A one size fits all that actually fitted – in Japan! Who’dda thunk?

Afterwards we checked out this “Irish” pub (methinks it a codeword for hideously overpriced with little choice) for the fun of it. Granted, I would only go back for the outside seating, overlooking a crossing from the second floor, but it was an experience nonetheless. (I mean, these guys served a Cosmo in a tall glass. Who does that?) The company was compensentory!

At my behest, pubbing was followed up by purikura’ing, something I am ever so slightly addicted to. It’s a photobooth. But ye of little faith, being a Japanese photobooth it’s one where not only do the brilliant lights make your skin pale (and you can choose to add a scale of tan), your eyes larger, but post posing you can scribble on your shots in sparkly, gingham, glowing writing, add characters, frames, blushes and yes, more sparkles. It’s like being back in primary school and being given a bucket of glitter glue.

Monday was far more sober, as The Room has been getting into somewhat of a state. It was also the day I decided I’d had enough of eating rice and noodles day-in-day-out: contrary to popular belief, as a vegetarian at least, it is ridiculously difficult to eat healthily here. Or at least, out in the sticks of Kanagawa – I don’t know how it is living in the heart of Tokyo. One would hope it’s a little easier.

Vegetables and fruit are firstly, expensive, and secondly, taste quite different from home. Things like apples, tomatoes…they all are huge to GM mutant proportions, but in the case of apples I’ve bought here, taste grainy and watery like a real nasty Granny Smith (mmm-mm). As more of a Pink Lady ‘gal, it’s somewhat a pain.

With regard to vegeterian options, whilst I now have my pick of tofu, there’s also the matter of random ‘extracts’ being put into foods you wouldn’t expect. A Veggie here has to be vigilant. Violently vigilant. I check everything before buying. And in fact I found some really good online resources for other folks considering coming on over, or who are already, and need a little help:

  • Veggie Japan
  • Happy Cow (veggie restaurant directory)
  • Japan Veg Guide
  • Bento.Com (whilst it isn’t specfically for veggies, this restaurant/bar/cafe directory is really comprehensive, well presented and search parameters are easily adaptable for those looking for organic/veggie friendly menus)

I’m hoping eventually to find some friends I can drag to some hotspots I’ve found, and maybe post reviews here on how dining out is for the Veggie a la Tokyo. So far it’s mostly been friends dragging me to places where all I can eat is the rice (yum).

But yes, be wary of anything in miso soup – dashi is typically made from fish flakes, although alternate options are available, whether the place your at is willing to accomodate it? Depends.

I’ve found myself to be quite sick of all these carbs though – the Japanese are most definately genetically inclined to stay thinner. How else could they devour so much rice, noodles and sauce slathered items without getting ridiculously rotund?

And the BREAD! Really, the bread is mad. You can buy what looks like half loaves, all chemicalled up white bread, with no end slices. It feels like being a kid again. And with regard to pastries – expect it to be sweet. Really, really sweet. I’ve found at regular shopping spots (my complaints probably don’t apply to more upscale supermarkets), their breads are pumped up with butter, full fat milk and an obscene amount of extras.

“Fruit” juices and bottled teas advertise themselves as having around 1-8% actual fruit juice. Some even advertise having none at all! So be careful to make sure if you want real fruit to drink that you check the packaging well.

Closing on the rant for now, Monday was the day I decided to get back into eating properly, and see how to fit that in with the resources available. Bought in some bran cereal, went to Hiyoshi, where there is in fact an organic food store (if something is labelled with “JAS” its organic) to buy toppings to go with it! Nabbed some regular veg from a nearby supermarket – but not the goma sauce because, for some stupid reason, there was both chicken and pork extract in it. In a small packet of peanut sauce. (Wait, thought I was meant to stop ranting…). Tidied up my room, tried to organise things, generally tried to slow my pace down and figure out where to put my feet – things have been on such a constant roll since class started, bouncing between form-filling and class and homework – I’m greatful for the break.

Today hopefully I’ll be picking up my Alien Registration Card, photocopying it for university, filling in bank forms and handing that all in tomorrow when I have to make visit to Mita for class. After which I’m hoping to visit this nice little veggie place called “Eat More Greens” in Azabu-Juban just a short stroll from our campus!

Also dying to check out the Deva-Deva cafe in Kichijoji, which seems to get good reviews aplenty…

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