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When An Indian Vegetarian Went Travelling To Japan #GuestPost


By Divya Dixit


Japan is a country of an endless discovery. You can spend a month in Japan and would have still managed to just scratch the surface. I was blessed to get a chance to visit Japan for 10 days. It felt as if I was thirsty all the while and was able to drink only a sip from the ocean. The ocean was still there waiting to be explored but I had to depart; to a far-off land with a promise to return. Well! I would say a probable promise to return. Ironical, isn’t it? But this is what Japan does to you. You want to return but you can’t make an inviolable assurance because you never know where life leads to.

Great Buddha statue also called as Amitabha Buddha (Kamakura)
Fun fact: The bronze statue probably dates back to 1252 and is one of the most famous icons of Japan. (C) Divya Dixit
The Asakusa shrine or the Senso-Ji shrine
Fun fact: The two names are written using the same Chinese characters but pronounced differently, ‘senso’ being Chinese pronunciation and ‘asakusa’ the native Japanese. (C) Divya Dixit
Moso Bamboo
Fun fact: Hokuku-ji temple also known as the ‘Bamboo temple’ famously after its bamboo garden. About 2000 moso-bamboos (the biggest species of bamboo) bring serenity and power to the place. (c) Divya Dixit

As I discovered Japan layer by layer in my limited stay, I also discovered myself, bit by bit. It revealed to me I am not me. Of course, there is me but, there is something other than me. I wasn’t quite able to decipher the ‘something’ part adding to ‘me’ until the end of the journey.

I always stock biscuits and dry fruits and chips because I am a writer. And the hidden reason, I am a binge eater. I eat when I am bored. I eat when I am excited. I eat when I am sad. Practically, for all reasons and purposes, I eat. If eating was an exercise, I would disappear. However, as luck has never been on my side, eating is not an exercise and I am not disappearing anytime soon.

Buddhist vegetarian cuisine lunch or Shojin meal
Fun fact: It is called ‘Shojin Ryori’. The word ‘Shojin’ means devotion to pursuing a perfect state of mind banishing worldly thoughts and making efforts to keep striving for limitless perfection at each stage. (C) Divya Dixit
Japanese cuisine on display en route to Enoshima bay island
Fun fact: Has none! (C) Divya Dixit

I do not eat whatever I see, thank God for that. I too have rules which were weighed upon me by my parents’ courtesy the religious lifestyle I was born to. Thus, I inherited vegetarianism. It is a good lifestyle if you are in India. The moment you fly away from the motherland, you must definitely think about liberalism. Otherwise, you end up cooking daily. The thing about cooking is, once in a while it is therapy and every day it amounts to slavery. People can argue here, but there is a good fifty percent junta which is forced every day to think, “What should I cook today?” And this is one of the most nightmarish questions a person can be subjected to. Coming back to flying off to a different land, Japan.

I wasn’t going to cook in Japan. The hotels wouldn’t allow me to and even if they would, I wouldn’t. If I would cook then when would I explore? I had for emergency purposes kept a good bunch of biscuits and chips. I never knew ‘this’ emergency stock would be my only comfort in the next 10 days. Being in Japan eliminated the myth of vegetarianism. Almost any restaurant I would go to and ask for ‘pure veg’ meal they would give me a look which only an alien deserves. First of all, there is nothing like ‘pure veg’ in Japan. Egg and seafood are integral in the diet of Japanese people. For them, vegetarianism is an inclusive concept and includes fishes and eggs. Thus, one would never find a ‘pure vegetarian’ meal in Japan. Unless of course, you hit upon an Indian restaurant.

Another sit of vegetarian meal (C) Divya Dixit

Finding an Indian restaurant can be easy and complicated at the same time. Easy if you are able to find it by 10 PM in the night and complicated if you are trying to find it around 9 PM in the night. Per Murphy’s Law finding an Indian restaurant is indirectly proportional to the number of rats in your stomach. Therefore, if you have a huge team of rats jumping through your intestines, almost eating them up, the chances of you finding an Indian eat out is extremely low. Hence, for most of the days, I would rely on ‘Family Mart’ for food. My food basically translated to Bread, Butter, and Banana. Everyday eating bread, butter and banana can make you either hate these or worship. Hate would never make me survive my days in Japan, the only practical option was to worship them. It also made sense to eat the edibles I worshipped. I am a Hindu, I eat whatever is offered to Almighty in the pretext of calling it ‘Prasad’. So don’t be scandalized.

Fun fact: If ignored, behaves like a cat. If loved, still behaves like a cat. Cat is her soul animal (C) Divya Dixit

After eating for about 3 days, I got bored of my daily rituals. It only made sense to now search an Indian restaurant and eat there. As usual, it was 9:30 PM and I was struggling to reach on time. ‘Khaanapeena’ a restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo was all I needed. The restaurant would close in 30 minutes and there was no way I would reach in 30 minutes. And then there was a spark in my head, I called up the restaurant. Bhandari-ji the ‘chief chef’ of the restaurant (I am assuming this) said he would take the order over the phone while we reach the restaurant. Isn’t this trusting and loving? Bhandari-ji didn’t know me, yet he decided to take the order and wait for me. For all he knows, I could have been a crook or a prankster. Yet, he decided to take a chance. And of course, I didn’t disappoint him. I had one of the finest Indian meal away from India. ‘Khaanapeena’ is highly recommended and if you go there after reading this blog, do remember to tell him about a random lady who called and placed the order, just in the nick of time.

Sake barrels
Fun fact: When displayed near a Shinto shrine, sake barrels are called kazaridaru, which means “decoration barrels.” The barrels on display are empty, at least in physical terms. Spiritually, they’re chock full of significance. (c) Divya Dixit

But such tryst with destiny happens once in a lifetime. You would want to go to the restaurant again and again, however, you don’t plan your trip around food unless you are a foodie who loves pasta and pizza and is in Rome. Hence, it was almost all the time Family Mart. There are vending machines in Japan. From hot mashed potatoes with gravy, beer, panties, almost anything can be found in a vending machine in Japan. Everything which is sold in a convenient store, the Japanese have stuffed inside a vending machine to satisfy their 24-hour culture. The problem is you must know Japanese to operate a vending machine. How difficult would it be to take food from a vending machine? The answer is awfully easy except if you are not a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian limit your options to bread, butter, banana, and biscuits. How awful, they all start with B.

Mt. Fuji
Fun fact: Mount Fuji is a female goddess and there is a Shinto shrine too. In Japan, the combination of Eagle or Hawk, Eggplant, and Mount Fuji is symptomatic of good luck. An Eagle or a Hawk represents bright future, an eggplant is suggestive of achieving something great and Mount Fuji is a symbol of good luck (C) Divya Dixit

Thus, when everyone is eating a delicious meal of Tsukemen at the Tokyo subway, you are forced to see the other way. Nonetheless, at least you got the 4Bs of survival and survive you will!

By the end of the trip, I realized how much I love Banana. I ate it with salt. I ate it with sugar. Sometimes it was sandwiched between pieces of bread. It is amazing how innovative one can get with Banana and not just what one thinks of Banana! In fact, one doesn’t even need roses to say ‘I love you’ to me if someone ever decides to. All that is required is a banana. And I would know. This revealed to me, the ‘something’ part adding to ‘me’ is a minion. Only a minion would understand what a banana means. At times, I even found head moving left-right-left and going B-A-N-A-N-A on seeing one in Family Mart. Japanese gathered I am crazy. Well! I should be crazy to be a vegetarian in Japan.

On my return flight, it is said I was muttering Br-Bu-Ba and an occasional Bi in my sleep. I know from where the minions got their language from.

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1 Comment

  1. Whatever I am reading these days is full of food; well food is so integral part of my life, suddenly.

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