Before coming up here I had no idea whether eating vegan would be a challenge or plain sailing. I suspected it'd learn towards the tougher end of the spectrum so I arrived with two tote bags filled with snacks, burger mixes, vegan mayo, chocolate, and margarine collected from various health food stores in Tokyo. Despite there being no veg friendly restaurants in the vicinity eating here hasn't been difficult at all. Luckily the Japan Cat Network kitchen is tooled up with gas burners, a microwave, an oven and two kinds of blender as well as some more unusual items like a takoyaki pan, and Japanese supermarkets always, always, always have tofu, rice, and exciting veggies so I was never gonna starve.
There's actually a 7/Eleven just across the road from the shelter so I've been able to find inari sushi, plain onigiri, ume onigiri, ume and sakura onigiri, Chipstar crisps, plum crisps, sweet sugared sweet potatoes, edamame, and tofu very easily. If you're planning a trip to Japan check out my Pictorial Vegan Convenience Store Guide to find out what you can eat at 7/Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart stores all over the country. A couple of weeks ago these vegan Soy Joy bars appeared on the shelves of 7/Eleven which was pretty exciting. Despite the name the majority of Soy Joy products aren't vegan but these are and whilst I didn't love the pink wrapped bar, it tasted really artificial, I was very into the one in the white wrapper which reminded me a little of shortbread.
There are two supermarkets in Inawashiro and York Benimaru is the better of the two. It's always well stocked and has a great produce department as well as must have items like soy milk, Kewpie egg free mayo, nori, potato starch, pasta, noodles, and almond meal. I made a couple of almond meal based cheeses when my vegan cheese cravings kicked in a month into my stay here - both the parmesan and the baked almond feta recipes from the Maple Spice blog are delicious, easy to make and work out cheaper than buying nut cheese back in the UK.
If you're anything like me you're going to want to whip up some Japanese dishes whilst you're staying in Japan and I found everything I needed to make tofu ankake, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki at York Benimaru.
Alongside Japanese supermarket staples York Benimaru also stocks fun items like tots, accidentally vegan pancake mix, and vegan jelly.
There's a Daiso situated right next door to York Benimaru which is great for affordable sesame oil, vegan inari pouches (the ones sold at 7/Eleven contain fish), cheap(ish) nuts and, of course, cute stationary and hair clips.
If, like me, you plan to spend a long time in Inawashiro you might want to get yourself over to iHerb to pick up some necessities. There is no vegan chocolate to be found in this part of Japan so ordering some NibMor, Alter Eco and Vivani bars online was a must. I love how many reasonably priced Food Empowerment certified chocolate products iHerb stock. I also ordered Peanut Butter Puffins cereal, Tasty brand fruit gummies, Surf Sweets sour worms (which I'm saving until my Birthday in a couple of weeks!), conditioner, soap, nooch, Envirokids Choco Crisp cereal, and Clif bars. I only but their peanut butter bars, their chocolate containing bars are not on Food Empowerment Project's good list and I'm not such a big fan of their blueberry, apricot, or oatmeal raisin walnut bars.
One thing that I was surprised by when I arrived in Inawashiro is that the closest cafe to the shelter, Comaya Cafe, is a dairy free cafe. They do bake with eggs and sell meat, fish and honey filled items so questions still need to be asked but straight away I spotted that they sell vegan margarine which I didn't think I would be able to find outside of Tokyo or Sendai. Score! I didn't actually eat there because I need to save as much cash as possible for my Korean adventures (I fly to Seoul in a week!) but I'm sure they could make a vegan meal if you can explain what you can and can't eat in Japanese as no English is spoken.
If you need to spend time somewhere a little more bustling then the closest city to Inawashiro is Koriyama which is 45 minutes away by train. Koriyama has both a Starbucks and a LUSH in the station, Purikura machines to play with at the arcade above Tower Records, and Lawson and Family Mart stores if you need to switch up your onigiri game. The konbini opposite Starbucks in the station also sells the vegan Morinaga brownies and flapjacks which I'm a big fan of.
If you need to go a little further afield like Nick and I did when we took a little break from communal living you can get to Sendai from Koriyama in about an hour and a half by Shinkansen. Sendai is the nearest city with a vegan restaurant and it's well worth the visit. Anyone who's ever been to Tokyo has raved about T's Tan Tan and their Sendai branch is just as good.
They have a larger menu in the evenings featuring dishes like gyoza, soy meat ankake wth rice, and a few other things. I thoroughly enjoyed the soy meat ankake and it definitely inspired one of my cooking adventures at the shelter.
If you're considering coming to Inawashiro to volunteer at Japan Cat Network check out this post about my first couple of weeks volunteering and keep your eyes peeled for my next blog post to see some kitty pics and to read more about JCN. Have a great weekend!