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Vegetarian and Seasonal Foods of Japan

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The country of Japan consists of a group of islands that does not have large parcels of flat land to grow grains to support large amounts of meat from animals - this along with Buddhism has led to a high use of vegetables in the diet. Fresh vegetables, tofu, rice, and sweet and savory sauces form the basis for many Japanese culinary traditions.  In daily meals, vegetables have generally constituted the main ingredients of dishes and soups accompanying rice. Also a variety of sea plants that have been used since ancient times and remain an important part of Japanese cooking today.

The vegetarian diet in Japan is known asr sho¯jin-ryo¯ri.  This diet relies on soybeans. These include tofu, abura-age (fried tofu), ko¯ri-do¯fu (freeze-dried tofu), and yuba (paper-thin processed tofu), as well as mushrooms, sea plants, sesame, walnuts, and vegetables. Fu, which is produced by condensing wheat gluten, has also been a popular foodstuff. The Japanese vegetarian diet is both well balanced and quite healthy. It supplies protein from tofu and similar products, fat from sesame, walnuts, and vegetable oil, vitamins from vegetables, and minerals from sea plants.  A cookbook providing 100 different recipes for tofu cooking was published in 1782 and became so popular that a second volume, containing another 138 recipes, was issued the following year. Many of these recipes were devised by Buddhist monks, who abstained from eating meat for doctrinal reasons and relied heavily on tofu as a source of protein.

Japan is also known for its seasonal diets of locally produced food. Fall brings mushrooms, chestnuts, potatoes and local fruit.  Winter offers hot pots and stews, along with a variety of pickled vegetables and red miso. In Spring, the Japanese favor leafy vegetables (often bitter), and in Summer cucumbers, cold noodles with eggplant, soybeans, and grated fresh vegetables as garnish are enjoyed.

The cuisine of Japan is shaped by its four distinct seasons and by regions and by tastes and cooking methods. It also has a great emphasis on fresh ingredients. It is a cuisine that first and foremost delights the senses .

Popular Japanese Vegetables
are highly prized in Japan.  Matsutake is a mushroom that grows only in Japanese Cypress forests.
Ginger is widely used in Japan as it is in other  parts of Asia. Used in pickles, as a condiment, in cooking, to flavor tempura, cutlets, etc.
Radish (daikon)  It may be sliced and added to soups, or pickled and served as an accompaniment to almost any meal.  It is mashed and used in dipping sauces for sushi and tempura.
Spring onions are used in soups, noodle dishes, as a flavor in foods like cutlets and as a garnish.
Lotus root is common in pickles and tempura.
Green beans
Bean sprouts
(very popular in noodles)
Bamboo Shoots
(bell pepper to Americans)
(especially in soups)


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