Living in Japan as a Vegetarian, is it possible?
Being a vegetarian in Japan can be challenging. Being a vegan is even more difficult, especially if you don’t speak the language. Luckily, in Morioka, we have our very own macrobiotic restaurant; Usagi Botanica. I’ve been here a number of times, especially for the lunch menu, which features an entirely vegetarian (and entirely delicious) menu.
Usagi Botanica, A peaceful and healthy macrobiotic restaurant in Morioka
Usagi Botanica is located on a lovely little side street directly across from a popular shopping district called Sakanacho. While Sakanacho bustles with shoppers, if you cross Odori you’ll find a quiet street lined with various restaurants, tea shops, and local grocers, their colorful wares displayed outside their shops.
After passing the bulk of the restaurants and a small temple on the left, you can see the red signage for Usagi Botanica, a white rabbit on a red background. Usagi means rabbit in Japanese. The restaurant might be small, but the atmosphere is peaceful, and altogether in tune with the macrobiotic way of thinking about food.
Not sure what a macrobiotic diet is? Don’t worry, I wasn’t either, but I did some research. Macrobiotics is a diet, which attempts to balance the various elements of food. It focuses on using local and seasonal food, and balancing them according to the ancient Chinese idea of yin and yang. For example, foods with yang qualities are considered dense, heavy, or hot, whereas foods with yin qualities are considered, light, and cold. These terms are relative however, and often restaurants focusing on macrobiotics focus more on different aspects of the diet, such as the seasonal availability of foods, and the health benefits associated. Sagen Ishizuka, a Japanese military doctor, popularized macrobiotics in Japan following the publication of two volumes about the benefits of the diet, in the late 19th century. It has been claimed to help cancer patients, and increase the longevity of life, although none of this has been scientifically proven.
Regardless, the food’s delicious, fresh, and healthy, and an excellent option for vegans and vegetarians looking for a relaxing atmosphere and a place to find vegetarian meal options.
This particular restaurant, Usagi Botanica, does serve meat on the dinner menu, so if you are worried about meat or dairy products that may be used during cooking, make sure to tell your server, “nyuseihin o tsukawanai de kudasai.” This is one way to say, “please do not make this with dairy.” Or if you’re worried about meat, “niku o iranai de kudasai,” (please do not put meat in this.)
The dinner menu.
You could also go during lunchtime, when you can be sure that everything on the menu will be vegetarian. The menu is in Japanese, but each item has a photo next to it of what will be served. Each item on the lunch menu costs 1080 yen, which includes a ginger soup, two seasonal side dishes, the main dish, and your choice of tea or coffee after the meal. Depending on what you choose, you may get brown rice as well.
Forgive the glare on the photo, but in order from A set to D set, the lunch menu is as follows:
A: This month’s Macrobiotic Set
B: Gluten Turnip Bagel Sandwich
C: Tofu and Vegetable Curry for Beauty
D: Rice and Sesame Noodles
My personal favorite is the Bagel Sandwich, which is amazing, and the closest thing to a veggie burger I have been able to find in Japan to date. If I’m feeling especially hungry I will also opt for a side dish of tofu nuggets. Located exactly opposite of option A on the menu. They may look a bit strange, but they taste incredible.
Usagi Botanica is a 25 minute walk from Morioka Station. Alternatively you can catch any of the buses that go to Morioka Bus Center, or to Sakanacho, from Morioka Station.