Going Vegan in Japan

Going vegan seems to be the hottest new trend in health and diets out there. Recently, my husband and I watched the Netflix documentary, “What The Health.” While I do feel that some of the documentary was a little dramatized, there were definitely some great takeaway points and facts that I didn’t know prior to watching. I won’t go into detail, but you should check it out yourself, whether you decide to take the vegan plunge or not!

After watching, we were a little disturbed with some of the foods we consumed. There are definitely some vivid, lasting images in my mind that I can never unsee. As a physical therapist, promoting health and wellness is part of my role in life, so this all seemed like something I should definitely listen to and try. Seeing how dairy and eggs alone can lead to a higher risk of disease was enough to make me want to try switching to a vegan diet.

Over the last few years, I have come to realize firsthand the part that nutrition plays in my health. Two years ago, for about 3-4 months, I kept a food diary and completed an “elimination diet.” To break this down – I eliminated all major allergens and food intolerances that would be questionable (dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, etc.) and then reintroduced one thing (dairy), ate a lot of it one day, and then tracked how my body reacted the next 3 days. Then I would introduce the next thing. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and it definitely requires self-discipline. It was very much worth it though. Now I can “pick my battles” when it comes to food based on if I want to feel bloated that day, or if I want my allergies to act up, etc. It’s pretty interesting. Shoot me a message if you’re interested even more 😉

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With this history of eliminating many of these foods from my diet, I felt like I already had an upper hand on the whole “vegan” thing. I knew there were decent dairy and egg-free pizzas, cheeses, milks, yogurts, etc. I just had never gone without meat before – Ah!

The even trickier part to starting this is how limited we are with groceries in Japan. Neither of us can read Japanese, we can hardly speak the bare minimum conversationally, so we don’t know much of what we can buy at the grocery store besides your fresh items. Of course, we have the grocery store on the naval base, but again, it is a limited selection since only certain things are shipped from the US.

Scott and I agreed that we would try, but we also agreed to not give up hope if we couldn’t make it work in Japan. We will be in San Diego, CA in just about 2 months and we know it will be much easier to adapt to a vegan lifestyle there.

Oh and did I mention – in Japan, they don’t have ovens in their homes!? Yeah, so we can only use the stovetop and our microwave. We could buy a toaster oven and/or a crockpot – BUT we’re also in a predicament here. You see, all of my 1 bedroom apartment belongings (food processor, crockpot, George Forman grill) are all back in MD… so we obviously don’t want to buy too much more and have duplicates of items that we already have (and will be reunited with soon).

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So to get started, we did a lot of searching online. From Pinterest to Instagram to random other websites. I have my basic recipes, but we wouldn’t to make sure we didn’t get bored. I’ll post a few links below that helped us out, specifically the ones that were easy and tasty 🙂

Our general grocery list looks like this:

  • Bananas
  • Fruit that is on sale (blueberries, pineapple..)
  • Baby spinach
  • Potatoes (regular or sweet depending on what is accessible)
  • Onions
  • Green and Red Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Baby Carrots
  • Mushrooms (I know there are different kinds but we’re not that smart yet)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, mangos..)
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Fortified Cereals (Cheerios)
  • Granola
  • Ground Flax seed
  • Frozen fruits and veggies (whatever is on sale)
  • Granola bars (whatever we can find that is Vegan and somewhat healthy)
  • Almond milk (usually unsweetened vanilla.. but chocolate is also delish)
  • Tofu and/or some other “meatless meat” in the frozen section (hoping to eventually only rely on the frozen ones every once in awhile)
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Avocados
  • Salsa
  • Black Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Hummus
  • Pretzel crisps (or other chips for dipping/snack)
  • Spaghetti Sauce (to at least have around, even if you don’t use it right away)
  • Seasonings (we already have a few, but basic sea salt, ground pepper, garlic salt, chili powder are helpful.. others too – but again, we are on a time constraint)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Nut butter (we already had almond butter and peanut butter)
  • Vegetable broth
  • Coconut Water
  • Vegan Protein Powder (because we like to work out a good bit)
  • Enjoy Life chocolate chips (very optional but we love chocolate so..)

Okay so that is a basic list for the two of us for about a week (maybe more, maybe less). Of course sometimes we have to run out and get something else, but that’s usually only one thing and it changes all the time!

So for breakfast, we generally eat cereal/granola and almond milk with some sort of fresh fruit. I will also make smoothies (fresh and frozen fruit with some flax seed, coconut water, and almond milk) occasionally, oatmeal, overnight oats, I’ve even made vegan pancakes pending what we have in the cupboard. And of course, I’ll have a cup of coffee usually. Right now we’ve been drinking ours black, but I know there are almond, soy, and coconut milk creamers back in the US.. just none available to us here!

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When you think about not eating meat, the first thing you probably think about is a protein deficiency. There are plenty of articles that go into depth with this – but what I didn’t think about were other deficiencies, the main one being Vitamin B12. Okay, so you could buy a supplement (I love gummy vitamins, not gonna lie). BUT you can actually get B12 in Fortified cereals (Cheerios, for example) and nutritional yeast! This was something I definitely didn’t know until I did some research.

Easy Lunch and/or Dinner meals:

Smoothie Bowls (AKA make a smoothie and sprinkle whatever toppings you want on top)

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– Usually my smoothies consist of banana, frozen fruit, flax, coconut water, almond milk. I’m kind of plain and stick to that often, but feel free to make your own and switch it up! I’ve made green smoothies plenty of times with kale, spinach, and/or avocado!
– Toppings may be: granola, sliced almonds, coconut flakes, flax seed, chia seed, other fresh fruit.

Salads

Be creative with salads because they can get old quick!

Usually our salads include some sort of darker leaf (spinach), sometimes we mix other types of lettuce in (romaine, arugula). Toppings include things like: dried fruit (craisins), almond slices, tomatoes, onions, peppers, fresh fruit (strawberries), avocado, cucumbers, zucchini, garbanzo beans, vegan cheese … really whatever you have and seems to go together!

Rice/Quinoa Bowls

Quinoa bowl – The one below is a Spinach Quinoa “Risotto” that was sooo good. See the recipe here!

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Poke Bowl – This is just your basic “sushi bowl” … kind of. Use white or brown rice – whatever you prefer – and throw some raw veggies on top! We cut up some carrots, avocado, cucumber, and then threw some soy sauce on there! You can definitely top it with tons of others, it was just what we had at the time! Super easy!

Rice and Veggies – Simple cook your rice (or make it in bulk so you can use it for other ones above too) and then sautéed vegetables.. throw them together and voila! If you want to add a salsa or vegan cheese.. hot sauce..liquid smoke.. the options are endless!

Mexican bowl – Again, plop whatever rice and/or quinoa in a bowl. Throw in some salsa, black beans, if you want any seitan or tofu that is seasoned to taste, avocado, vegan cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions.. literally whatever!!

Tacos/Wraps

Tacos – For our tacos, we used seitan ground “beef” that we bought in the frozen center. We grabbed a taco seasoning packet and then made the “meat” according to the packet – super easy! We grabbed some tortillas, cut up some tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, vegan cheese, and added some salsa.. yum! You can also just make black bean tacos.. And I’m sure you could substitute the black beans for the seitan even!? Not sure, but it’s worth a try!!

Veggie Wraps –

You know all those veggies that are about to go bad? Well, we used leftover tortillas and all our leftover veggies, put them in a wrap together and put some salsa and vegan cheese on it. Or you can add hummus. Again, the options are endless and really depends on what you have! Super simple and tasty!! And helps us get rid of veggies that are about to go bad…

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Vegan Sushi

— This may be tricky, but as long as you get the sticky white rice, you should be good. You will need a bamboo wrap thing too (not sure what the fancy name is, just being real here). I didn’t do this one, my husband did. I’m a little more impatient so I think it was better for him to do 😉 Haha. We used this video to help us out!

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Chili

So for this, I ended up boiling some regular potatoes first. I put them in the Tupperware containers and then poured the chili over top so that it gave a little “meal.” I based everything off of this recipe – but I’ll be honest, I really changed it and kind of just “winged it” (how I cook most of the time, let’s be real). I also really want to try making pumpkin chili one time… I had it once in the past from a co-worker and it was amazing!

Pastas

Basic Spaghetti – Okay, this is for real the most simple. Grab a vegan spaghetti sauce and some noodles of your choice. What I ended up doing to add a little extra – I sautéed some spinach, onions, and green peppers together and then added them to the sauce and let it simmer a little. I threw in some chick peas then for a little extra protein! You can get creative with this, though! And if you want to make your own sauce – by all means, go for it!

Another easy pasta dish we tried (recipe below)…

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Creamy Vegan One Pot Pasta

Snacks

Hummus and pretzel crisps/veggies. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been doing this foreverrrr anyways, haha.

Banana “Nice Cream” – There are so many varieties of this you can look up. There’s even a whole Instagram account dedicated to it! I do recommend a food processor, my blender had some issues with grinding up the frozen bananas and it was a little frustrating.

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Oat balls – Amazing. I’m obsessed with both kinds. Peanut butter chocolate chip and almond butter with raisins. Note: I’ve had to change these both a little bit – I’m not sure if my proportions were off or what, but I usually end up with more dry ingredients…? Just as a heads up 😉

Complete Cookies (okay, we buy these). They aren’t too bad for you and they definitely help a sweet tooth! You may be able to find limited flavors some places, or you can order in bulk here.

I hope this gives you a good idea on how to eat vegan even with limited resources. Will it take time to learn – yes, definitely. But if you’re committed, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you!! You can do it! 🙂

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Oh and if you’re in Kamakura, Japan, I highly recommend checking out Vegetus – an all vegan restaurant that we visited for a night out. It was delicious whether you’re vegan or not!! We found it on Happycow.net — which is an amazing restaurant that can help you find Vegan restaurants (or options) near you!

Good luck if you want to try it out! If not, you can still try the recipes 😉 You might be surprised!

– Jen

(Follow me on Instagram – @jennstrack19 if you want to check my vegan progress!)

 

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Japan: To Yokosuka and Beyond

While I’ve traveled many places this past year, there’s one place I now call home – Yokosuka, Japan! Whether you are stationed here for the military, living abroad here (or nearby in Yokohama or Tokyo), or just traveling temporarily, I’m sure you will be looking for things to do!

I have been to a few places now in the local area, all at a relatively cheap price. One of the places we traveled to recently was Arasaki Park.

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Arasaki park is about an hour via public transportation from Yokosuka, even quicker by car, according to Google maps. It’s great for families and a great place to spend your whole day if you desire. When we arrived, there were tons of families with tents and picnic blankets camped out for the day, just enjoying the weather.

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You can either sit on the beach, at a picnic bench, in the grass, or go explore the beautiful cliffs!

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The trails weren’t difficult, except maybe one where there were chains provided. However, you don’t need to conquer these difficult paths to see the beauty!

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Another thing we recently did, available on the Yokosuka naval base, was rent paddleboards for a few hours. On base it was super cheap, my husband was even free. You just have to go to the Green Bay Marina to check it out.

Not in the military? Paddleboarding and kayaking are available at many harbors – google your town to see what’s available near you!

Another trip we took, just a short 45 minutes from Shioiri station in Yokosuka (possibly quicker from Yokosuka-Chuo as long as you’re on the limited express), was to Kawasaki. We have headed here twice now and plan to return again. Similar to Yokohama, Kawasaki is just a little smaller, but very modern and filled with tons of restaurants and shops.

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In the summer, the More’s Beer Garden is open. For 3800 yen each, we enjoyed a BBQ and all-you-can-drink! We easily got our money’s worth, not to mention it’s on the rooftop of More’s so it was a nice view. It wasn’t crowded at all around 4PM when we arrived, but once we started leaving around 6PM, people started to gather.

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Another place we ate at was J.S. Pancake Cafe in LAZONA. These pancakes were beautiful and delicious – seriously the maple butter ones might have been the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

Finally, a place we explore often… Yokohama! Yokohama is a 30-40 minute train ride from Yokosuka and has TONS of things to do. One thing you can do in the fall is go to Oktoberfest.

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Like many other Oktoberfest celebrations, there are tons of beer options, both local and from Germany, and lots of vendor food. It was a nice day to kick back and relax and enjoy some good beer (in some really big glasses…or not, whatever you decide).

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Another place we checked out in Yokohama is the Kirin Brewery. You can take a free tour of the brewery, taste hops and malt, and then you get 3 FREE samples at the end. And I mean legitimate samples — like FULL glasses. The catch is, you only have 20 minutes to drink them. Challenge accepted? 😉

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Just want to go for a walk in Yokosuka? Be sure to check out Verny Park, the park that runs right next to the JR Yokosuka station, very close to Shioiri station and AEON mall. It’s a beautiful little park along the water with tons of benches, plants, and space to do whatever you want! Yoga included 😉

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Looking for other things to do in Japan? I previously wrote two different blogs on places I have been in Japan, one on some general areas and another on our adventure up Mt. Fuji.

Be sure to check those out as well- and check out my blog on Simple Ways To Save Money (because we all know traveling isn’t cheap) to help you budget for your upcoming trip!

Until next time,

Jen

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Frostbite on the way up, Sunburn on the way down: Mt. Fuji Night Hike

Hiking Mt. Fuji is one of the main reasons younger tourists come to Japan nowadays. As my husband and I began our research, we found there were a decent number of blogs, youtube videos, and lots of Instagram posts describing each person’s experience.

While my husband had hiked it once before, I had not. And to be honest, he didn’t even remember much of it as he did it with a tour group. We looked up and researched as much as we could. We noticed the average time is 6-7 hours to hike up the Yoshida Trail, with about 3 hours down. We are fairly active people; however, just before our hike, we had a 2 week vacation in the states where we did almost nothing other than eat and drink a lot of horrible things. And by horrible, I mean, horrible for your body. Taking all of this into consideration, we assumed it would probably take us around 7 hours to get up the trail, especially with the altitude difference. Plus, we didn’t really see anybody writing about how “easy” it was to hike.

We decided to hike through the night so that we could see the sunrise when we got to the top. After reading and seeing a few Instagram posts, we noticed that it was dropping to the 30-40s at the top, so we made sure to pack adequately (hat, gloves, scarf, jackets, and I even packed sweatpants to go over my thicker leggings). We bought headlamps off Amazon for about $10 each to wear as we hiked, since it would be dark the entire time.

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Our journey to the mountain started off a bit rocky. We left from Yokosuka around 2 PM with an assumption to get to the mountain around 6-7, according to Google Map and the directions we had screenshotted from my phone. We decided to head to Shinjuku to catch the bus that takes you straight to the 5th station. Of course, after arriving to the station, we realized the bus was completely booked for the rest of the evening. Poor planning on our part for sure. From here, we had to re-screenshot directions and we ended up missing one train and waiting 30 minutes for another, which was the wrong train. Luckily, a super nice Japanese lady wrote everything down for us and told us when to get off so that we could get to the right train station (Otsuki). We ended up waiting another 20-30 minutes for another train, and after hopping on there, then getting off at Otsuki, we hopped on yet another train and made it to Kawaguchiko just before the last bus left for the 5th station. Basically, it was a whirlwind of a day. I, of course, was freaking out but luckily Scott kept it cool the whole time.

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From Kawaguchiko station, the bus ride to the mountain is about 45-50 minutes. We were exhausted, not only from traveling the whole day, but also from jet lag from the day before) and finally were able to catch a short 20-30 minute power nap. The bus left the station at 8:10 PM and arrived around 9 PM, which was definitely later than we were hoping. We were a little nervous we wouldn’t make it to the top for the sunrise (around 5 AM), but we were just happy to at least FINALLY make it to the mountain.

At the 5th station, they are able to lend you a lot of things and you can even buy oxygen for when you reach the higher altitudes. We didn’t end up buying or renting anything, so we can’t really speak to it, but it’s available!

We began our hike around 9:15 PM with hopes to make it by 5 AM, just a little less than 8 hours. The beginning of the trail is all pretty flat and even a little downhill. You actually start above the clouds already – I felt my ears pop on the way up on the bus! We arrived at the 6th station fairly quickly and took a very quick rest/bathroom break along with plenty of other hikers. Determined, we didn’t rest long and kept on our way. Between the 6th and 7th station (if I remember correctly) is basically just a lot of zig-zagging and walking up ash at a steady, slow incline. In our opinion, this was the worst part. I’m not sure if it’s because we like climbing more or if it was just the beginning, but we ended up stopping every 2-3 full zig-zags to catch our breath. We ended up making it to the 7th station by 11 PM…Only 2 hours!

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When we got to the 7th station, we realized we had been passing just about everyone and recognized nobody else around us. We heard others saying that it takes about 2.5 hours to get to the top from the 7th station. At our pace, that was probably accurate.. AKA we needed to slow down, especially as we climbed the altitude. It was starting to get colder at this time, so I put on my sweatpants and another jacket. We ended up taking a 50 minute power-nap/rest, again, with other hikers nearby, at this station. We decided it was only going to get colder at the top and we might as well just relax for a little because we were pretty confident in our ability at this time.

Once we woke up – around 11:50, we decided to begin ascending the trail again. We got to the next little mountain hut and saw they had cup of noodles and hot tea. We didn’t really want to stop again – but hey – what the heck! So we each got some hot, lemon tea. I swear it was the best tea I’ve ever had. That’s probably because I was so cold, but it was so worth it. We sat for about 10-15 minutes finishing our tea and warming up a little before we really began again.

Between the 7th-8th station is where we really “took off.” It’s basically rock climbing/really big rock steps that you have to climb up. We were passing people right and left. It was the booty workout anybody could dream of.. so much hip extension (nerd alert). But seriously, this part was fun. We got a little tired and would take breaks, but it was way better than the first part, in our opinions. We got to the 8th station pretty quickly, but I can’t remember the exact time.

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We took a solid 10 minute rest at the 8th station. Once you get past the 8th station, it’s almost like a combination of part 1 and part 2.. Long zig-zags with slow inclines but smaller rocks that aren’t really climb-able, if you know what I mean. It’s definitely tougher/more annoying, plus you start to hit 9-10,000 feet and your breathing starts to become more shallow. We took a 5+ minute break at each mountain hut, and as we got higher up, we took a break just about every 1-2 minutes.

While we didn’t necessarily feel nauseous, super dizzy, or pass out.. I can definitely say I had a headache when I first started; however, I tend to get headaches when the weather is colder, even in the 50s. Once I put my headband/ear-warmer on, I was fine the rest of the way. Our hearts started pounding with just a few steps when we got to the top, but again, we tended to move faster than others. We really started taking a lot of rest breaks because we knew we still had plenty of time.

We made it to the top just before 3 AM, so it took us a little less than 6 hours to get to the top. Don’t forget our 45-50 minute nap in the middle also! Overall, it was definitely tough, but it’s obviously doable in 5 hours if you’re in shape, especially if you’re more conditioned to higher altitudes (we flew from the east coast of the USA to Yokosuka, which is just above sea level.. then hiked).

Once at the top, we rested for a little. There is a mountain hut; however, it wasn’t open. We thought it may not open until 5, but it actually opened around 3:30 AM for food/drinks. It was kind of confusing and didn’t help because everybody swarmed in. You kind of just sat in a few rows and they took your order for simple things. I got a coffee for me and a corn soup for Scott. In case you haven’t had the corn soup before, it does come in a can. Some people around me were kind of weirded out by this. They actually sell the corn soup at train stations, which is where we first tried it.

Scott and I ended up taking turns getting up and walking around, because since we were up there around 3, we had a front row seat for the sunrise! We obviously didn’t want to lose our spot, but it was so cold that we had to get up and move a little. Once 5 AM rolled around, there were tons of people surrounding us, and the sun began to rise!

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It ended up being a little cloudy, but it was still such a beautiful sight. We were still freezing, but also mesmerized by a sunrise above the clouds. We hung out for about 45 minutes watching it rise until we walked further over to check out the crater.

We probably stayed up on the mountain until about 6:30 AM, then began the trek back down. Our fingers and toes were numb and everything else was just cold. It was a beautiful sight on the way down, though. Especially since we were unable to see the scenery on the way up in the dark. We took breaks walking down also, not because of fatigue, but because it was definitely tough on our knees/ankles (are we that old?).

You’re literally sliding down ash and rock in a zig zag pattern, but lots of people were actually slipping too. I think I would have rather climbed back up, to be honest.

It took us about 3 hours, as predicted, to get back down. There definitely were people who passed us, but again, I guess we just have old and achy bones.. Back at the 5th station, we checked out a few shops and then got in line for the bus to take us back to Kagurachiko station.

We were exhausted, I was legitimately concerned for Scott because he had barely slept on our flight over and the jet lag was pretty crazy. We got back to the station, went to grab some food, and then came back to make sure we got bus tickets for the next day. We were able to get tickets from Kawaguchiko to Yokohama station, which is so much closer to where we live. And way more convenient.

Finally, we headed off to our hotel. Check-in wasn’t until 3PM, but we got there around 1PM. We waited in the lobby for about an hour and they brought us our room key an hour early! They probably felt sorry for us, but hey, we took it.

The hotel was super nice and I definitely wish we could have spent a little more time there. We ended up showering and then going right to sleep. We woke up once around midnight, but then slept in again through until around 6 AM. We slept at least 12 hours total, it was amazing.

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The breakfast at the hotel was included in our stay. Everyone was wearing their robes from their rooms, it was pretty cool. I definitely would have worn mine if I had known. The breakfast was a buffet-style, but still pretty fancy.

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As it was a spa, resort-style place, they also had private and public baths that could be used. We checked them out but ended up just heading back to the room to relax a little longer instead. The hotel does have a shuttle bus you can schedule, and it’s free! We just didn’t know that ahead of time.

Our trip home was, luckily, uneventful and much quicker. It was a great trip overall! Very rewarding, fulfilling, and then relaxing. 🙂

Hope this helps you plan your future Fujisan hike!! Or I just hope you enjoyed reading this 🙂

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Until next time,

Jen