When in Japan, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is no tradition if vegetarian cooking. Even some Japanese think that vegetarians don’t exist I Japan. Being a vegetarian myself, I have learned to expect a very limited choice when eating out in Japan. However, Shojin Ryori is a long tradition of Buddhist vegan cooking in Japan.
You can find a few places that prepare Shujin Ryori in the guide books, however, the cost of a meal is far beyond my curiosity budget. One day, I will find my way to one of these establishments because of the traditional setting with the tatami mat floor, shoji screens, garden view, etc that is included. I’m sure that it will an event worthy relating to one and all. In the meantime, I’m happy to be able to tell you of my little Shojin Ryu adventure during my recent sojourn in Kyoto.
First off, I have to give credit to the Digital Nomads, http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/. They are an English couple who sold up two years ago to travel the world. When I was preparing for my trip to Kyoto, I did a search for vegetarian restaurants that I could visit and came across their blog entries. These two fellow vegetarians maintain an informative good looking blog as part of their journey. I had landed in the right part of cyberspace.
There are a few places that they recommend in Kyoto. Shigetsu, within Tenryuji temple serves the traditional Shojin Ryori all of the ambience and high price that puts it in my ‘sometime in the future’ list. Then, there is Mikoan.
Mikoan was the Digital Nomads’ favorite place to eat in Kyoto. I followed the link to the japanese only webpage that contained directions and saved as a PDF. My guest house hosts printed it out for me and told me the nearest subway station. I figured that I had time before the beginning of the Shakuhachi camp at mid- day to have a quick meal. Well… it was a hot and sweating Kundan who gave up in uncertainty and grabbed an egg salad sandwich and ume onegiri at a 7/11.
Being of good samuria stock (well maybe in a past life), after the camp on my way to the opening of the World Shakuhachi Festival, I stopped in at the Kyoto Tourist Information office at the main train station. A very nice woman gave me a tourist map and marked the spot. She also told me which bus to catch and showed me the route. I love the ladies in the tourist offices in Japan. With map in had, I caught the bus and got off at the closest stop. Walking back, I found my way to what I believed was the correct street. An enquiry of a shop owner sent me six shop fronts up looking for a lane way. I got to what I thought was the lane and turned left. It didn’t feel right. Backtracked and discovered that I had walked right past the sandwich board and the lane way. This lane was slightly wider than shoulder width between two shops. In the back, I came upon a house that looked like it was out of the 70’s. I walked through the front door and entered another world!
Mikoan is the kind of place where I feel comfortable. Perhaps it’s because it is so un-Japanese and, at the same time, so Japanese. The right side of the ground floor has been turned into a bar/restaurant. From where you step into the room to with in a couple feet of the back wall runs a beautiful thick wooden slab of a counter.
The left side is this tiny kitchen/serving area and the right side is lined with stools. There is just enough space between the stools and a bookcase covered wall to slip by. When you arrive, the proprietress motions for you to move down to the far end where there is a bend in the counter to accommodate a couple more people. The whole length has maybe a dozen stools. Besides the fact that it would be difficult to maneuver past and occupied stool, the end of the counter closest to the door appears to be the mama-san’s office where she stands and studies papers when she isn’t cooking or serving. If the place fills up, she lifts a pile of papers off for the final customers. Unlike the usual Japanese establishment, the entire room has no bare space except where your food or drink may sit in
front of you. Along the serving side of the counter and on every other available surface there is what might be called clutter. I would say that it is merely an abundance whose order is fully known by one person.
I ordered a lunch set. One of the few things in English on the menu. It was just what I wanted. Brown rice and various types of veggies prepared in traditional Japanese ways.
The next day, I brought a few curious fellow shakuhachi players with me. They were thrilled.
The final night of the festival, I brought even more.
It was so gratifying to hear people enjoying themselves and thank me for finding this place. So, you don’t have to just take my word. Try it out yourselves next time you’re in Tokyo. It is one of those uniquely Japanese experiences.