Nadia McKechnie: Making Tokyo Easier for Vegans

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Nadia McKechnie is the current head of Tokyo Vegan Meetup and Animal Advocacy Japan. She, along with many other dedicated animal rights activists, volunteer their time and resources to share information and spread awareness on animal welfare and veganism in Japan. Nadia caught up with us to talk about being vegan in Tokyo and current projects.

Could you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about what you’re doing in Japan?

I’m a British expat that’s been living in Tokyo for about 30 years. I work as a narrator and also write English language learning books for various publishers, although I originally came to Japan to study oriental medicine. At first, I was doing other stuff, like teaching and modeling (like everyone else), and that led me to a job with NHK educational radio. I married a local and have a 16-year-old!

You’re also involved in the animal rights movement and vegan community in Japan. You started Animal Advocacy Japan and you’re the current leader of Tokyo Vegan Meetup— which is nearly 7,000 members strong. How did that get started?

My main form of activism in Japan is the Tokyo Vegan Meetup. It had been going for some years already as just an English thing. When the old organizer left Japan a few years ago, I volunteered to take over. I love being vegan and holding parties so it seemed like a good idea. At the same time there seemed to be a big spike in veganism, so I decided to take on a Japanese co-organizer.

I found my fabulous co-organizer in Saori Kondo. Together, we made everything bilingual, and now we have events just about every week. We’re even moving into outreach. For example, organizers at Tokyo Vegefood Festa and Green Festa recently gave us booths, and we were invited to Paul McCartney’s Japan tour, along with a bunch of animal rights and veggie groups doing outreach for Paul’s Meat Free Monday campaign.

And Animal Advocacy Japan?

Animal Advocacy Japan’s main purpose is to share information in English and to let people know there is an animal rights movement in Japan. A lot of people abroad have no idea just how terrible the situation for animals is here, so the purpose is to try and connect Japan with the global community. Although I also volunteer with groups like the Animal Rights Center.

What is it like being vegan here? A lot of people assume it’s difficult. Even a salad is sprinkled with fish flakes.

Japan missed the big vegetarian wave of the last 30 years that the modern vegan movement is built upon. We are basically starting from scratch. Add to the fact that the press here doesn’t cover animal rights and almost everything has animal stock in it.

I also get the sense that vegan restaurants in Japan are in this “trendy” phase— meaning they’re quite expensive. How do you feel?

It can be a bit pricey, but all food in Tokyo can get expensive—not just vegan. There are older, but cheaper style places that serve miso soup, brown rice, soymeat, etc. But there are a lot of mid-range vegan places too.

What are your go-to vegan spots in Tokyo?

For lunch I like the vegetarian curry buffet at Nataraj Indian restaurants – usually three out of four curry options are vegan. I also love Nagi Shokudo– a cool little grungy place in Shibuya, and the pasta at Koso Café in Ebisu is great too. My absolute favorite place is Olu Olu Cafe near Setagaya Park. The couple that run it have almost magical vegan food powers. Another place not to miss is T’s inside Tokyo Station– amazing vegan ramen! I even get my birthday cakes at their Jiyugaoka store.

Also, download the Happy Cow app or search on Vegewel. Tokyo has more vegan places than any other city in the world, just fewer options in regular places because of the soup stock.

Is there anything else vegans should know?

Another big problem is that labeling is woefully inadequate in Japan. I’ve actually started a project to address it. As you can see, I like starting things. Laws here are very vague. Even things like inari sushi and vegetable onigiri may contain fish product, but it isn’t properly labeled. We’ve started a petition to change it, and we encourage people to contact companies to ask for better labeling.

What else are you currently working on?

We have a lot of plans for Tokyo Vegan Meetup, and we’ve recently started an information portal for vegans in Tokyo called VeganTokyo.org. We wanted to make it easier for vegans living in Japan – especially non-Japanese speakers.

I’m also currently writing a book titled Tokyo Vegan Survival Guide for that very same purpose. It’s not a restaurant guide, but I’m often asked, “What’s vegan in the super market?” so this book will be about how avoid pitfalls and finding the right information.

Oh, and any vegans looking for more information should definitely join the Japan Vegan Facebook group. It’s a huge community and very helpful.

This article originally appeared on breakerjapan.com and is republished here with permission.

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