Indian Vegetarianism in Japan: The Green Woman

The Green Woman stands over a pot. She is Mother Nature personified. The original medicine woman: she knows every herb, spice and ingredient with an intuition that no book could ever capture. She understands nature’s cycles and knows exactly when each plant is at its best. The Green Woman is the nurturer, the provider and the healer. She gives and gives. To lead a healthy and fulfilling life, we must heed her advice. 

A Tale from Our Modern World 

Last winter, my routine consisted of waking up at 6am and going to bed around 1am. I even mastered the art of taking a nap on the too-crowded-to-breathe rush hour train in Tokyo. I can even fall asleep standing. Not bad, eh? During the weekends, I was rarely home. I sneaked in writing and editing my blog when I had ten minutes here and five minutes there. 

Given my mad schedule, I didn’t have time to cook. I ate out a lot. I made it a point to get my greens in, but a restaurant meal is a restaurant meal. It can never replace the tenderness and thought that goes into preparing a home-cooked meal that’s meant to nourish you and your loved ones. Processed foods eek me out. It just doesn’t taste like food. 

Cooking is one of my passions. I’m a tactile learner and cooking is an incredibly immersive experience. You have to do, think, watch, feel, smell, taste, chop, season and God-knows-what all the same time. As a foodie and an aspiring chef, I’ve developed long-term relationships with some recipes. We all have our comfort foods, seasonal favourites and dishes that bring memories. 

I also grew up with a mother who was really health conscious and instilled in me the teachings of ayurveda from a young age. It’s an old Indian medicine system that stresses the importance of the mind-body connection and eating right for your type. Even as a kid, I understood that we eat for nutrition as much as we do for taste. Unfortunately, most of my mother’s recipes take HOURS (sometimes even days?) to recreate. Tasty vegetarian food isn’t easy to cook. And in Japan, it’s really hard to find all the ingredients I need. 

Pulses and yoghurt – the Indian vegetarian protein staples are almost non-existent in Tokyo. The vegetables here are also really different to the ones my mother uses. I’ve adapted so many recipes to Japanese ingredients that I don’t even have the guts to call it Indian food anymore. It doesn’t remotely taste like it does back home. 

But like the Green Woman in the Wildwood Tarot Deck, I experiment with what nature provides to create a whole bunch of recipes that didn’t exist before. I’ve become creative about how I use the spices and vegetables that are available here. I’ve adapted the food I grew up with in an entirely new context so I can enjoy quasi-Indian food in Japan. 

And thank God for the internet – I don’t know what I would do without it. I bulk order all my spices on Indojin. Whilst popular import shops like Kaldi stock ‘foreign’ produce, the portions are tiny and the prices are exorbitant. It’s a good place to go if you want to buy a nicely wrapped gift for a friend, but I wouldn’t go there for my daily shopping needs. The prices make no sense. 

And I haven’t even started on eating out. Explaining vegetarianism to people in Japan has been one heck of a challenge. Despite my semi-fluent Japanese – the concept is very hard for people to understand. Whilst this doesn’t surprise me, I’m a bit curious as to how the hospitality industry is going to manage during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Vegetarianism and veganism as lifestyle choices have gained popularity all over the world. Even many people who don’t practise it see the health benefits of such a lifestyle. As for me – I’ve decided to work less and cook more. There’s no point in career achievement if we’re not taking care of our health. No more taking naps on trains and eating out. 

Health must come first. Without our health – nothing else matters. 

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