The Vegan Society of Japan has been founded in 2009 to support the work of Akiko Iwasa, promoter of the Kyoto Vegetarian Festival (http://www.vegetarianfestival.jp/). Actually a purely Vegan festival,and the largest veggie event in Japan, it has been running for 6 years and attracts around 5,000 individuals.
Akiko Iwasa, is a qualified veterinarian and the co-founder of Café Peace in Kyoto and is dedicated to promoting animal rights and veganism.
Since opening in July 2002, Café Peace grew in reputation and influence around Japan, inspiring many other restaurants and individuals to become vegan. Although veganism and animal rights activism is still very much in its infancy in Japan, Akiko has visited slaughterhouses and animal factories as part of her profession and was deeply motivated by what she saw. She stopped being a vet because she believed that vets are ultimately for the people and not for the animals, and that vets in Japan are only encourage pet shops and the animal exploitation of what she calls "artificial dogs".
Akiko now focuses what free time she has on spread the word on animal abuse and believes that veganism is the best remedy for humans, animals and the planet. Her work has included a weekly half-hour radio program speaking on animal rights/veganism issues. She, and other vegetarian innovators like her, have been target of vocal criticism for disturbing Japan’s economic stability and challenging the factory farm industry’s viability.
Vegetarianism and veganism are not alien to Japanese culture. The oldest vegetarian restaurant in Japan (Daitokuji Ikkyu, Kyoto) is over 600 years old and serves vegan 'Shojin Ryori' (temple food), as do other temple inns such as those at Koyasan. During the 265 year period of peace called "Edo", before being forcibly opened up by America in 1854, Japanese society was primarily plant based, sustainable and deeply invested into recycling. Despite this, and having little to no carbon based fuels, it had the largest city in the world of that time, modern Tokyo, and experienced one of the most rare flourishings of culture in human history.
Prior to this, due to the influence of Buddhism, Japan had a tradition of a primarily vegetarian diet going back over 1,200 years, despite the efforts of Christian missionaries under Frances Xavier to introduce meat based diet in the 16 th Century. Emperor Tenmu prohibited the killing and eating of meat, including both farm animals and apes, in 675 AD. A law enforced by proceeding emperors. At Gyokusen-ji, there is a memorial statue to the first cow slaughtered for its meat, and milk drunk, dated to the late 19th century and the influence of the first American Consul General Townsend Harris (1804-1878). Only at this time, did Japan see the removal of the long standing social taboo against eating meat.
Unfortunately, since the Post-World War II "re-education period", the Japanese diet has become increasing Westernised and its food market the target of international meat industries and its fishing industry expand globally. Since the adoption of oil-based capitalism, and its economic booms, Japan's diet has become increasingly unsustainable, and animal based, provoking concerns of its "food security" and reliance on imports.
However, traditional original foods still exist as part of the staple diet and are availabe widely. They afford a rich, varied and nutritious sources for vegetarians and vegans. There is also a healthy undercurrent of organic, macrobiotic, LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), organic farming and 'alternative lifestyles' movements not usually reported in the international mainstream press.
Despite the impression given in the foreign media, the eating of whales is not universally supported, nor practised. It remains a largely sentimental attachment for an older generation who, suffering food shortages and starvation after the war, were the first to be widely fed it.