Things that changed or not changed after I became a flexi-vegan 9 months ago.
Today, I’m going to share experience as a vegetarian in Japan, in terms of changes in health, diet, money, and some thoughts on how to maintain this lifestyle.
I’m taking gradual steps to become a vegetarian.
In July 2017, so about 1 year ago, I stopped eating meat or fish at home but still ate eggs and dairy at home and had no restrictions outside, and became a “flexible” vegetarian.
In Jan. 2018, so about 9 months ago, I became a vegan at home, meaning I stopped eating not just meat and fish but also dairy and eggs at home. Outside, I try to be vegan but where unavoidable, I eat fish, eggs and dairy so I’m currently a “flexible” vegan.
In terms of changes in health, in Japan, it’s commonly believed that being a vegan/vegetarian is super unhealthy and that you get tired easily and become anemic or that you will suffer from skin problems and hair loss.
On the other hand, there are vegetarians who say that their bodies have become lighter and stronger.
In my case, I’m average height as a Japanese woman and when I became a vegetarian, I wasn’t overweight or too skiny and I was very healthy overall.
So the question is, “Since I became a flexible vegan, have I been able to maintain my good health?” rather than “Have I become healthier?”
The simple answer is yes, I have been able to maintain my good health. I don’t get tired easily or have become anemic.
In my case, since June 2016 so about 2 years ago I’ve been practicing yoga daily.
Since Mar. 2018, so about 7 months ago I started practicing physically-demanding ashtanga yoga so I have a pretty rigorous practice for 1.5 hr almost every morning. Thanks to that, I’ve lost 3-4 kilos since the beginning of this year and have gained a lot of muscle.
I’m not sure if it’s only due to ashtanga yoga practice or it has also to do with the vegetarian diet. But one thing I can say for certain is that vegetarian diet has been sufficient for me to maintain a daily and physically-demanding exercise routine.
Other than that, I no longer have constipation like before, and my sweat doesn’t stink that much…!
So, you might say, “Is it a lie then that being a vegan makes you unhealthy?”
But I don’t think it’s so simple. I believe that when it comes to diet, regardless of eating or not eating meat, you need to be very careful about what you eat in general to become healthy and maintain good health.
For me, I didn’t simply subtract meat and fish from my diet, and I’ve been extra careful to have a balanced diet.
Specifically, for every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner), I take some kind of beans for protein and rather than just eating vegetables,
I make sure to eat raw vegetables, seaweed, mushrooms, fermented foods, nuts, etc. at least once a day.
I don’t take any supplements and I rarely eat ready-made products, including vegan foods.
This is not related to being a vegan, but I also avoid processed foods or white foods so I eat brown rice instead of white rice, and instead of white sugar, I use amazake made with brown rice koji for cooking.
What clearly changed for me after I became a flexi-vegan is the frequency of eat-outs. For me, I like eating at home because I can eat a lot of healthy foods in a balanced way. I do eat out sometimes, but I go to vegan restaurants mostly for a research purpose because they tend to be high on cost and low on volume…
Actually you may be surprised that at many of the regular restaurants in Tokyo, if you ask them to take out meat from certain dishes, with exception for soups and stews, they would gladly cook a vegetarian version for you. Even at restaurants that serve only chef’s choice menu if you call them in advance and request properly, most of the times, they can do vegetarian.
In Japan, it’s also commonly believed that being a vegan costs more money.
That may be true if you go to vegan restaurants a lot in Japan. Also, you will consume a lot more vegetables at home so if you want everything organic, that would be expensive.
Also, store-bought vegan products are not cheap in Japan so I tend to make everything at home like tempeh and okara konjac. So I don’t have a feeling that since I became a flexi-vegan, I’m using more money on food.
By now, you may be thinking, “Wow being a vegan must be tough in Japan!”
But I think the key to maintaining this lifestyle in Japan is to have fun! I enjoy the challenge of making everyday food vegan and making it delicious without using only plant-based foods.
Even if you are not into cooking, there are so many easy-to-make vegetables dishes, and even a simple salad can be delicious when made with care and high quality ingredients. Have fun and enjoy the process!
Once you stop eating meat, you will start to know the real taste of vegetables and you will be amazed that if eaten fresh, raw or slightly steamed vegetables with a bit of salt taste wonderful!
If you eat out mostly, you can also enjoy the process of finding new restaurants or stores that serve vegetarian foods. It would be a new and fun challenge!
In terms of being a vegetarian in Japan, unlike the U.S. or Europe, people generally don’t understand vegetarianism and a lot of people don’t have a good impression of vegetarians. If you are a strict vegan in Japan, you could unintentionally offend people at dinners or you could find raw vegetables as the only option at a restaurant in Japan.
So, of course, it would be the best if you could be vegan whenever and wherever you are, but for me, I try to do the best I can in the situation that I’m in.
Finally, personally, what has helped me maintain this lifestyle the most is understanding and support from my family.
When I told my husband last year that I’m thinking about doing vegetarian at home, I honestly didn’t know how he would react, but he said, “Sure! As long as we can stay healthy, I’m fine!” My husband eats meat outside but at home he’s having a vegan diet with me.
For me, making two separate meals would have been a hassle but more than that, I didn’t want to not only meat but also cook meat so I was relieved.
I grew up in a meat-loving family, so I also wasn’t sure how my mom would react. In the beginning, she seemed a bit annoyed that I didn’t eat meat anymore but now she seems to be having fun finding restaurants where we can both enjoy.
In Japan, it’s not always easy being a vegan/vegetarian because of the negative impression that people have so I think it’s really important to find supporters from the closest circle.