Words and Photos by Sarah Hodge from BentoYa Friends

Introduced to Japan in the 13th century by Dogen Zenji (founder of Soto Zen), shojin ryori is a deceptively simple yet sophisticated vegan cuisine still served at Buddhist temples today.

I have studied shojin ryori for the last several years and in upcoming BentoYa articles, I will be sharing shojin ryori preparation methods, ingredients and recipes from Buddhist monks and chefs around Japan.

Based on the Buddhist precept of not killing living things, shojin ryori is completely vegan, and like Ayurvedic cuisine, also avoids pungent seasonings such as onion and garlic that are believed to interfere with meditation, which is central to Zen practice. 

The word “shojin” is made of two kanji,   sho (精), meaning “to focus,” and jin (進), “to go forward” or “to advance along the way.” Thus shojin (精進) evokes the process of constant reflection that is central to Zen philosophy.

Shojin ryori is based on the “rule of five”: five elements (godai), five colors (green, yellow, red, black, and white), five flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami), and five cooking methods (raw, stewed, boiled, roasted, and steamed). Meals are carefully prepared according to these principles with mindfulness and zero waste (peels and scraps are recycled into pickles, stocks, or even tempura). In additional to seasonal herbs and vegetables, shojin ryori uses many forms of tofu and wheat gluten.

Shojin ryori is not well known among young Japanese but is becoming more popular, especially with overseas visitors looking for vegan options in Japan. Buddhist monks and priests like Rev. Kakuho Aoe (who has published numerous bestselling shojin ryori cookbooks and hosted “Dining in the Dark” events at his temple Ryokusenji) and chefs like Daisuke Nomura of Sougo (one of 50 Plant-Forward chefs) are raising awareness and appreciation of this ancient cuisine for modern generations.

There are several cooking schools in the Tokyo and Kamakura area where you can learn to cook shojin ryori in English; why not give this healthy and nourishing traditional vegan cuisine a try? 

Shojin ryori classes in English:

Akasaka Teran (Jokokuji, Tokyo): https://akasaka-teran.net/en/index_en.html 

Chagohan Tokyo (Asakusa / Kappabashi): https://www.chagohan.tokyo/booking/shojin-ryori-buddhist-cuisine 

Tokyo Cook (Inside Restaurant Shojin Sougo, Roppongi): https://www.tokyo-cook.com/ 

Atelier Café Kamakura (Kamakura): https://www.meetup.com/Atelier-Cafe-Meetup-Kamakura/