Strict vegetarianism is not popular in Japan. The only significant Japanese population which adheres to a strict vegetarian diet is Buddhist monks. The subscription to a vegetarian diet is common to many sects of Buddhism throughout East Asia and is not unique to Japan. The dietary practices of Buddhism “[are] based on the Dharmic concept of ahimsa (non-violence) ” (Wikipedia). The Buddhist practice of vegetarianism as it is known in Japan is called shoujin ryouri, translated “devotional cuisine” (Wikipedia).
Vegetarian dietary practices as they are understood in the West however, do not find in shoujin ryouri a Japanese analogue. Shoujin ryouri does not signify animal welfare, while vegetarianism as practiced in the West is usually conducted with the humane treatment of animals in mind. Interestingly, although in Japan vegetarianism in conflated with spiritual asceticism, ethical issues surrounding the consumption of animals are not important reasons for abstaining from eating meat (The Japan Times). Accordingly, serious vegetarian dietary practices outside the context of Buddhism are virtually nonexistent. Vegetarianism, if it is seen at all, is practiced by women for the purpose of beautification. The only semi-legitimate excuse people in Japan would have for their vegetarian diet is that of health improvement (The Japan Times). Indeed, an article in the Japan Times discusses the need for Japanese vegetarians to stay in the proverbial “closet” in order to mitigate intolerance among fellow Japanese who negatively stereotype and do not understand the diet. Moreover, the “closeted” analogy is apt since it emphasizes the insensitivity and lack of understanding that perpetuates the Japanese characterization of vegetarianism as a dietary anomaly.