Japan’s Buddhist Vegetarian Food: Exploring Shojin Ryori Japan’s Buddhist Vegetarian Food: Exploring Shojin Ryori

Japan’s Buddhist Vegetarian Food: Exploring Shojin Ryori



Japan’s Buddhist Vegetarian Food: Exploring Shojin Ryori

One of the more unusual forms of accommodation in Japan is shukubo—staying at a Buddhist temple. There are many temples in Japan that accept overnight guests and they offer not only an introduction to Japanese Buddhist beliefs but Buddhist cuisine, known as shojin ryori. Often served in beautiful arrangements and settings, it’s a unique vegetarian culinary tradition of simple, healthy ingredients that differs from plant-based diets elsewhere. Shojin ryori is one of the most intriguing options to meet the culinary requirements of vegetarians and vegans visiting Japan.

  • 01

    Origins in Zen

    It may be surprising to learn that eating beef was unknown in Japan, the home of wagyu, until the 19th century. Six hundred years previously, Zen monks from China introduced shojin ryori to Japan, just as Buddhism itself had come to Japan from the Asian continent long before. Reflecting this religious tradition, the term “shojin” can signify not only adherence to a vegetarian diet, but also devotion and asceticism. “Shojin ryori,” then, might be best translated as “devotion food.” For adherents, shojin food not only clears the mind and spirit, it supports robust health.

    “I have been following Buddhist training and eating only vegetarian meals for more than 50 years, yet have never even caught a cold in all that time,” wrote the Zen monk and culinary author Sotetsu Fujii (1941–2006). “Life at a Zen temple is strict and demands much physical labor, but I can take it in stride because I have the power of seasonal vegetables on my side.”

  • 02

    The rule of five

    The shojin philosophy is based on a few simple Buddhist beliefs: it is wrong to kill animals, including fish, and to waste food, and eating simple meals made up of seasonal vegetables and wild plants is the basis for a sound mind and body. This means that yams are used as a binding agent instead of eggs, and that every edible part of a vegetable should be used. For instance, the greens and peelings of carrots can be used in soup, and other cuttings can be added to rice to make porridge. In his famous essay Instructions for the Cook, the Soto Zen school founder Dogen (1200–1253) admonishes: “If you only have wild grasses with which to make a broth, do not disdain them. If you have ingredients for a creamy soup do not be delighted. Where there is no attachment, there can be no aversion.”

    Another aspect of the philosophy is the rule of five. One meal is made up of several small dishes that represent the five tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The five traditional food colors—green, yellow, red, black and white—should be evident in the meal as it is presented. There are also five preparation methods for food: raw, boiled, steamed, roasted and stewed.

    These principles and devotion to austerity may make it seem like shojin cuisine is rule-bound and bland, but it’s actually delicious, inventive and healthy. Vegetables with a strong aroma and taste, such as garlic and spring onions, are avoided because they can overpower the palate. Instead, sake, mirin (sweet sake), sesame oil, vinegar, and konbu kelp are used to add subtle tastes and to bring out the inherent flavors in other ingredients. Indeed, appreciating the balance of taste, texture and appearance is one of the delights of shojin cuisine.

  • 03

    What to expect

    So what can you actually find on a shojin menu? There’s a wide variety of traditional dishes, but steamed rice, tofu, miso soup and seasonal vegetables are staples; tofu in particular can be prepared in many ways, including boiling and frying. In the summer months, cooling cucumber would be included, and hearty root vegetables in winter. Soybeans, however, are served throughout the year. Other dishes might include sansai mountain vegetables, nasu dengaku, or grilled eggplant with miso, gomadofu, or sesame tofu and green Japanese pickles, as well as yuba (tofu skin), vegetable tempura, simmered pumpkin, yam sauce, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, chestnuts, walnuts, butterbur, shiso and other herbs, vinegar mozuku seaweed and boiled beans.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to stay at a temple to enjoy shojin ryori. There’s a growing number of restaurants and cafes serving Buddhist cuisine throughout Japan, as well as temples where you can dine on shojin cuisine without spending the night; reservations may be necessary, though, so check before you go. Japan’s unique shojin ryori tradition is a cornucopia for the for the palate and manna for the soul. Vegetarians and vegans won’t want to miss it.

    Here are a few of our recommended shojin ryori spots around Japan:

    Tera café Daikanyama
    Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-nishi 1-33-15

    Tenryu-ji Shigetsu
    Kyoto, Ukyo-ku, Saga-Tenryuji, Susukinobabacho 68

    Wakayama-ken, Koyacho, Itogun, Koyasan 769

    Tokyo, Minato-ku, Roppongi 6-11-8

    Takao-san Yakuo-in
    Tokyo, Hachijoji City, Takao-machi 2177



    รีวิว 18
    ร้านชิเก็ตสึ (Tenryuji Shigetsu)
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Ukyou-ku Sagatenryujisusukinobabachou 68
    ร้านอาหารสไตล์โคยะซัง ฮานะบิชิ (Koyasan cooking Hanabishi)


    รีวิว 64
    東京都港区六本木6-1-8 六本木グリーンビル 3F
    no image
    takaosanyakuoin shojinryori
    Tokyo Hachioujishi Takaomachi 2177