Every time there’s been an ILC conference nearby, I worry about the vegetarians and vegans. What are they managing to eat? And what will vegetarian and vegan ILC researchers do when they live here?

To learn more, I talked to Christine Takisawa! I’ve wanted to interview her because she’s an active Google local guide who hosts meetups at her favorite vegan cafes, creates articles and reviews, and even created an overall map of her favorite vegan and vegetarian spots in Iwate!

Christine is from Ann Arbor, Michigan in the US and currently lives in Shiwa near Morioka City. She studied abroad in Iwate in college, fell in love with the place, and has lived here since 2010. She went fully vegetarian in college, and is currently a pescatarian so her Japanese in-laws have a better chance of figuring out what to feed her.

Christine and son

Christine’s Survival Tips

Start with Definitions

“One of the thing I recommend if you don’t speak Japanese is bring a card that explains what you can and can’t eat. One of the biggest challenges is people don’t know what vegetarianism is, and they don’t really think about what’s in their cooking. So you have to be really specific and go through every ingredient you can’t eat.”

Get Creative

Usually safe foods include pizza margarita at Italian restaurants, and onigiri rice balls with konbu seaweed or umeboshi filling. For the wide variety of cold noodles served here, like zarusoba, you can also bring your own safe dipping sauce (for example, mix this konbu stock with hot water and a little soy sauce and sugar). No restaurant has ever minded Christine doing this.

Find the Safe Spots

Explaining everything and working to find something to eat can be exhausting. (Though it can have side benefits, as explaining her vegetarianism at a café is how Christine met her husband!)

“That’s one of the reasons I started holding meetups. ‘These are vegan restaurants, you can walk into this restaurant and you don’t have to ask anything.’ Everything is safe. You get used to the emotional labor, but it is nice to have those restaurants where you don’t have to think about anything.”

Eating with friends

What can local governments and businesses do?

Education is the first step. “I would love people to know what vegetarian meant, if someone could go around local businesses, and at least say ‘hey, this is what it means if someone says I am vegetarian’ or ‘I’m vegan.” It would be helpful if businesses and local governments also grasped how common and normal it is for so many people worldwide. In India, over a third of the population is vegetarian. At least 10% of people in Taiwan are vegetarian.”

Some vegetarian meals Christine has eaten in Iwate

Some restaurants in Japan mistakenly believe that they are being asked to change their entire menu and business concept, but that’s not the case at all. Many restaurants accommodate vegetarians and vegans with a couple menu items without changing anything else. In Christine’s hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, every restaurant has a vegetarian option that isn’t a salad, even steakhouses. (Out of curiosity, I even looked up my tiny hometown of Silverton, Oregon, and it turns out my favorite Thai restaurant has a vegetarian menu section and vegan options.)

After tweaking one dish to make it vegetarian (or possibly, discovering a menu item was vegetarian in the first place) ideally restaurants would use a logo to show what menu items are vegetarian-friendly. “In India, they have a universal green flag. Everywhere in India, if you see that little green flag, it means this is vegetarian. Have a mark, like a green leaf, and spread that within Japan. Restaurants can say, OK, this menu item is vegetarian, so we can stick the vegetarian symbol on that. That way, there doesn’t have to be this long dialogue between the wait staff and the cook every time a vegetarian comes in.”

Vegan options available with the rest of the options at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST)

As locals work little by little towards a broader understanding of vegetarianism and veganism in Japan, I hope this article has helped more people enjoy Iwate and its food!

I for one have a date with a vegan Morioka restaurant with some tasty-looking fried options.


Christine’s map, Iwate Vegan and Vegetarian Eats

My Top 3 Vegan Eateries in Morioka” by Christine

Just Hungry printable cards for communicating dietary restrictions in Japan



奥州市 ILC国際化推進員