Rikuya Sonohara

A Way to Make our World Bright

The differences between the US and Japan about veganism

I’d never really heard of the word “vegan” or “veganism” before volunteering at The Raven Corps. I thought it was the same as ”vegetarian”. Although there are similarities, the purposes are different. Vegetarians avoid meat for reasons like health, the environment, religion, and so on. On the other hand, vegans avoid all animal products. They avoid not only eating animal products, including eggs and dairy products, but also wearing clothing made from leather, fur, and things like that. I did not know this, so I was amazed. The most surprising thing was that they are not acting just for themselves, but also for animals. I was really proud of this idea when I heard it.

In Japan,veganism is not a common “ism” compared to other countries. I mean, the number of restaurants for vegans are few. In addition, the reasons why Japanese people become vegan are different; mostly for their health, the environment, or religion. Most Japanese people do not understand the difference between vegetarian and vegan. 

A few reasons why veganism is not common in Japan

Japanese Food Style

Traditionally, most Japanese foods are made with animal products, especially fish. 

The Understanding

Japanese people tend to agree with the majority groups. In the US, people are comfortable having a different opinion, respect individuality, and accept each other’s differences. However, Japanese people are not good at encouraging others to think differently. It is said that Japanese people are so shy, and I feel that we are adjusting to stereotypes. This isn’t just true for veganism but also other ideas and biases. For example, gender equality, ethnic groups, LGBTQ, and so on. We can say that the reason why these are not accepted as much in Japan as in the US is that we are learning to disregard stereotypes throughout generations.

The number of vegan restaurants

There aren’t many of these shops in Japan. They’re only in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. However, the number of these restaurants is increasing year by year. It may be difficult for visitors to Japan to find vegan restaurants, but (good news!) ideas about veganism are spreading in Japan more than ever. On October 29, 2019, vegan festivals were held in Nagoya city to inform citizens. There were 60 vendors, and about 5,000 people joined. I did not know that such a festival was held in my city. I would like to join this year. It seems that these festivals are held more frequently than ever. I am sure that it is a good opportunity to understand veganism. (Pictures are of a vegan festival below, https://vegefes.com/)

Photo taken of a group of 5 at Japan's Veg Festival. The whole group is happy, smiling at the camera, holding a small vegan ice cream.
A happy family stands in front of their booth at Japan's Veg Festival. The booth has samples and posters about their products.

What I found in Portland

When I went to restaurants and ice cream shops, I found that there were specific menus for vegans. Even when there weren’t menus for vegans, restaurants offered to make items vegan. This surprised me when I saw the menus! These systems are good for vegans because people do not need to make sure whether their food is made with animal products or not. This make me think that veganism is pretty acceptable in the US. By the way, I went to a vegan restaurant called Veggie Grill in downtown with my friend, and it was so nice. I was happy to share this experience with my friend and go to such a restaurant in Portland.  

A vegan dish from Veggie Grill. The dish has spring rolls, falafel, cucumbers and tomatoes, kale, a red sause, and vegan cheese shredded on top.

What I did as a Raven in Portland

Grabbed lunch at Off The Griddle – January 11th, 2020

I visited a vegan restaurant for the first time. I tried macaroni and cheese. I really enjoyed it. It was so tasty! Many other Ravens came, and I shared information about Japanese culture and my opinions. 

The storefront of Portland's Off the Griddle restaurant.

A photo shoot – January 12th, 2020

A plant-based milk company, Oatly, donated “Post-Milk Generation” shirts, and then we modeled them! 

Group photo of 5 Ravens, all happily sitting on a couch wearing a shirt that reads "Post Milk Generation."
Group photo of 4 Ravens in their "The Raven Corps" t-shirt's holding up peace signs.

The Burrito Brigade – January 25th, 2020

I volunteered with a group called “The Burrito Brigade”. We made vegan burritos and distributed them to the homeless community downtown. This event was a pretty precious time for me to think about homeless people. I had never spoken with homeless people before. When I provided burritos to them, they were smiling, appreciating us, and saying “Thank you” and “God bless you.” I was really glad to hear that. The homeless problem is super serious in the US. This is very different from Japan. Even if the number of homeless people in Portland is not as much as other cities in the US, this is a problem that we have to think about. I am really proud that not only governments, but also some organizations like The Burrito Brigade, are acting for homeless people by providing food, giving them some facilities, and things like that. When I came to Portland, I was avoiding homeless people because I felt scared. However, I am feeling that I would like to contribute to homeless people now. I do not know the specific reasons why they live outside, but I know they are trying to live strongly. I am proud of them and want to do what I can for them.

Rikuya volunteering with another Raven making vegan burritos.

Got dinner at the Japanese restaurant, Yataimura Maru – January 30, 2020

Rikuya standing outside with 2 of Raven friends smiling at the camera, holding big bags of burritos.

As one of my projects, we went to a Japanese restaurant called Yatai Mura – Maru to eat Japanese vegan foods like udon, ramen, don, and so on. I ate udon, and it was so tasty. I was happy that I could share Japanese food culture with the Ravens. 

Bowl of vegan ramen noodle soup.

Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary – February 8th, 2020

We went to Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary to volunteer. I cleaned out the barn for the animals and was happy to help them. I was really surprised at the number of animals. It was over 400! I met many kinds of animals there; for example, cows, chickens, pigs, a bison, and more. They were super cute. I had never touched these kinds of animals at such a close distance. To care for those animals is not easy, and they need to be tended to every day. I am proud of those who are working for animals so hard. It was such a great experience for me to see them and work with them.

Rikuya posing with a donkey at a farm. It is an overcast day and Rikuya is wearing a blue rain with boots.
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Rikuya and his friend posing for the camera, smiling while raking hay in a barn.
Group photo of four people, a black and white spotted pig, a brown cow, and a bison.

What I learned and thought about veganism through my volunteer work

Through my volunteering at The Raven Corps for 6 weeks, I now understand what veganism is, why people go vegan, and the problems associated with eating animal products. I heard the words “climate change” many times from the Ravens. This is one of the biggest problems caused by eating animal products. In the world, climate change is getting worse and worse. It is hurting people and animals. All people need to think about solutions to stop climate change for our future. Because of this, I’ve decided to learn more about climate change at my university when I get back to Japan. I know that many animals like cows and chickens and fish are killed to be eaten by people. Conditions for these animals are very cruel. What I will do when I am back in Japan is share what I learned through my volunteering and think more carefully about our world to make the world better. Ravens are acting to protect animals, so I am proud of them. They are always thinking about what we can do to create a more comfortable, kinder world. I really agree with their ideas and hold them in respect because they each have wonderful opinions. I was really happy to work at The Raven Corps and spend time with the Portland Ravens. Thank you.