Remembering Fukushima, and Veganism Rising in Japan

Vegan CheesecakeMarch 11 will mark 6 years since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku (Northeast) region of Japan that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

In Tokyo, 150 miles away, we fled our homes and workplaces in panic to witness helplessly on tiny cellphone screens as the massive tsunami swallowed up entire villages. Ultimately, 16,000 lives were lost and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

Although my home had suffered only minor cracks, I feared going back inside for days as the aftershocks continued. As anyone who’s experienced a large earthquake knows, you cease trusting the ground beneath your feet. You want to run far away to escape what’s happened, but eventually—if you’re fortunate enough to survive—you must return to face the damage and start picking up the pieces of your life.

Just imagining how it must have been for those in the center of the March 11 quake…

  • Those who were swept away or came within imillimeters of losing their lives
  • Those who lost loved ones and all their belongings
  • Those who cannot return to their homes and communities due to the radiation.
  • Those who feel guilty because their lives were spared

…overflows me with sadness.

It wasn’t my dread for earthquakes–which I was reminded of by a rare temblor last month in Honolulu—that made me leave Japan one year after Fukushima. Rather, I left because I didn’t feel safe with the nuclear radiation in the air and water and soil and the food supplied from the region surrounding the nuclear plant.

Every trip to the grocery store I felt uneasy

Even if the food was labeled as not being from Tohoku (which was and still is the primary farming region), I doubted and suspected its safety. In the weeks and months after the quake, the news of the condition of the nuclear reactor became scarce, and I had lost all trust in the media.

I was shocked how quickly everthing returned to normal in Tokyo by the end of 2011. I understand people needed to feel in control. Yet I felt nothing would be normal again.

Sadly—after calling it my home for more than 20 years—Tokyo and Japan were written off to me

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Japan, and seeing people living there, I wonder if I was hasty to leave. Should I have stayed to support my Japanese neighbors? Many middle-aged or above say the radiation does not pose a danger to them, while young women and mothers are concerned for their bodies and their young children.

I felt that Japanese accepted (or buried) the risks of living with radiation in the water and air because with jobs and families and homes they had little choice but to remain. However–even today ,thousands of miles away in Hawaii–I don’t feel much better knowing the damage the planet has sustained and continues to suffer.

Encouraging Signs

I am returning to Japan this month for my first visit in two years and I am excited to be meeting old friends, making new ones, visting my favorite places and discovering inevitable changes, especially in the buildup to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo’s vegan community is growing stronger, judging from increasing frequency of activities of the Tokyo Vegan meetup groups’ 4700-strong membership, the number of new vegan restaurants, and well-attended vegan pop-ups by Alishan Cafe chefs!

I will also be visiting Kyoto, to find out if its truly the “vegan capital of Asia” as some people are claiming. Kyoto’s Shojin Ryoori (Buddhist temple cuisine) is certainly one of the original and best-known vegan cuisines, but how about Vegans Cafe‘s accessible comfort food that is changing peoples’ minds about vegan diets?

There has never been a better time for the planet, the animals, and your health to go vegan!

Vegan Food Tours of Japan

Looking to the future, I am planning to offer guided vegan food tours of Japan, and I will be scouting for vegan hotspots during my upcoming trip. Anyone who’s in Japan, or planning to be there, or has visited recently, I’d love to connect and hear your ideas. Please leave your comments below or contact me through mail.

One thought on “Remembering Fukushima, and Veganism Rising in Japan

  1. Monroe Davids

    Really nice mention of Fukushima, and what it means to someone who holds Japan so near and dear to his heart!

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