Japanese government tucks into meat free menus

Two government agencies ask for greener canteen food in advance of Paul McCartney gigs in Tokyo

Cabinet Secretariat building with cherry blossom in foreground and two dishes served on Veggie Days

Staff at two Japanese government agencies will be looking forward to lunchtime today when they can tuck into the regular meat free menu on offer at their office canteen. The country’s Cabinet Office and Cabinet Secretariat are situated in the same building in Tokyo and have been enjoying a test-run of meat free Fridays in March before the official weekly menu kicks in today.

It already looks as though it will be a resounding success. “Many people have reacted very positively,” said Norio Kojo, Cabinet Official, who lobbied his director-general to get the meals introduced.

“It was discussed internally and then the company operating the canteen agreed to create a veggie menu. At the start of the year we discussed recipes, price, the schedule and the number of meals. We decided to start it officially this month because April symbolises a new start in Japan.”

The move was also in honour of Paul McCartney, who is in Japan performing a series of gigs this month. The MFM founder seems to be a force for meatlessness wherever he goes: in October, just as Paul was set to play two gigs in Sacramento, the city announced it was approving a resolution to join Meat Free Monday.

Kojo’s plan is to “keep pushing forward to two or three days a week, or even every day in the future.” The scheme’s popularity suggests that may well happen: all 50 of the inaugural Veggie Keema Curry meals sold out on the first day of the trial. Staff came from other government ministries to sample the food (catering by Nikkoku Trust, veggie products and recipe samples by GreenCulture and Vege Project Japan). “They were really surprised and impressed, and preparations are being made by vegetarian organisations to ask other ministries to do the same thing,” said Kojo.

The government’s meat free message is significant in a country whose diet has become increasingly westernised in recent years. Japan has seen a major shift in its diet, with urbanisation, rising incomes and trade liberalisation contributing to making meat more popular than the traditional fish. In a major shift, residents of Tokyo now eat far more meat than seafood, over 90g of it a day, compared with just 5g in 1947.

The Japanese media is already showing interest in the scheme, meaning news will spread even further, especially with the arrival of international visitors for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

‘‘It’s clear that more and more people are choosing veggie meals for the sake of the protection of the earth and animals, said Takashi Kawachi, Director-General of the Cabinet Office. “I heard that there were some vegetarian/vegan staff in our office and other staff were also interested in trying veggie meals. So after discussing the idea internally, and checking the feasibility with our caterers, we initiated a weekly vegetarian day.’’

‘‘With the Tokyo Olympic/Paralympic Games taking place in 2020, many foreigners including vegetarians and vegans are expected to visit Japan, so I think our move will contribute to bettering our country’s omotenashi (hospitality). And with Sir Paul McCartney returning to Japan in April, we’re happy if it also means paying tribute to Sir Paul who actively promotes the Meat Free Monday campaign.’’