Thursday, April 29, 2010

The First Annual Vegan Earth Day @Kyoto (Sunday, May 2nd 10-5): Interview with Chiko

  • May all living things being able to live in a world of peace and harmony.

  • That we prevent our environmental problems from getting worse so that our children may be able to keep living on this earth.

  • May we live lives in health and with beauty.
These three ideas are the inspiration behind the logo for the first ever Kyoto Vegan Earth Day to be held in Kyoto during Golden Week this year on May 2, 2010. Organized by the same people that bring us the largest vegetarian festival in Japan year after year, the Kyoto Vegetarian Festival,(see post on 2009 Vegetarian Festival) the Vegan Earth Day will focus on the relationship our diets and Mother Earth:
As you know,the world already produces more than enough food, plant sourced for everyone. We would like suggest the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the world's livestock, among the most serious contributors to global warming. We should care about climate change because if we don't, we can’t leave our children and their children sustainable earth.

Our vegetarian festival committee have hold vegetarian(vegan) festival since 2003 every October. a rare event bringing together vegan & vegetarian-, environment-, and peace-mind people from all over the country. An event for all ages, the festival gives you place to enjoy vegetarian food and listen to music while learning about vegetarianism, the environment, and more.
According to the Vegetarian Festival website 18% of greenhouse gases originating in the livestock industry. When one beef rice bowl requires over 2 tons of water to produce, versus 120 liters for a bowl of udon, the benefits to the earth of reducing meat consumption are quite obvious.

To find out more about how Vegan Earth Day was brought to life, Kyoto resident Jennifer Teeter interviewed Iwasa Akiko (a.k.a. Chiko), who has been organizing the Vegetarian Festival since 2003 (email correspondence translated from Japanese to English).

Can you tell us a little bit about the Vegetarian and Vegan scene in Kyoto?

9 years ago, when the first Vegetarian Festival was first held, people had only heard of the word vegetarian and many thought "vegetarian" simply meant vegetables. Also, many people thought it was strange for people to chose to lead a lifestyle where they didn't eat animals for religious purposes.

However, as the years have passed, judging by the people who come to the VegFest, questionnaires, the number of vegetarian restaurants and the media attention vegetarianism has garnered, we can see that the image of vegetarians has changed.

Perhaps Kyoto and Tokyo can be considered the easiest places for vegetarians to live in all of Japan. Kyoto is well-known for the vegetarian cooking of Buddhist monks called shojin ryori, and in addition, Kyoto attracts many foreigners, so the number of restaurants in Kyoto that are conscious of the diet of vegetarians has grown.

How did the Vegan Earth Day festival come to life?

The vegetarian festival started 9 years ago, but it was already an ALL VEGAN festival. Tokyo Earth Day, the largest open-air event in Japan, is quite famous, but many of us felt a little uncomfortable at the event. Despite the presence of many wonderful booths at Earth Day selling recycled plates and silverware, eco-bags, et cetera, we wondered why was there so much food with meat in it. There were only a few vegetarian shops on the premises and it felt as if there wasn't any vegetarian food at all but just long lines for restaurants selling animal products. It was a very strange atmosphere. While it is impossible for everyone to all of a sudden become vegan, couldn't we, on Earth Day at least, go without food made from animals?

So, now that people in Japan understand what it means to be vegetarian, we hope that the next step will be that people understand what VEGAN means. We have received requests that we have a Vegetarian Festival twice a year from the many people that come and stalls at the Vegetarian festival. It is from these requests that Vegan Earth Day was born.

Over the year, do you feel that the Vegetarian Festival has had an influence on the vegetarian scene in Kyoto?

I don't think we have influenced the vegetarian scene. It is more the hard work of vegetarian restaurants, the influence of celebs from overseas, and the health boom. These and other factors have played a part and and people in Japan are increasing their understanding about vegetarianism.

What changes have you seen over the years?

Now, there is more of a positive response when people say "I am a vegetarian." You hear more often people responding with "Wow, that's cool" and "Teach me some recipes." Also, we receive lots of messages telling us how people have become vegetarian after coming to the festival and learning about environmental problems and the devastating situation of animals for the first time. A great part of this open-air event is that while eating delicious food and learning, people can have a great time and reflect on their own eating habits and ways of thinking.

Do you have any advice for people that are thinking of becoming vegetarian or vegan?

It is not that difficult. First you have to give it a try. After two weeks, your body will feel great and you won't be able to stop.

The media presents a variety of ways to be vegetarian, from macrobiotic diets to the raw food diet. But, everyone is different so you need to find the way that works for you and enjoy your vegan life. Also, be confident in how wonderful it is to find vegan friends and together expand the circle of vegan friends for the future of the earth.

Finally, what is your favorite vegan food?

I guess I am a Japanese person after all, so my favorites are miso soup with tofu and brown rice, and I like eating lots of in-season fruit.

Chiko also explained the logo for Vegan Earth Day:

The logo has three green sprouts branching out from the center. They represent:

1. All living things being able to live in a world of peace and harmony

2. Preventing our environmental problems from getting worse so that our children may be able to keep living on this earth

3. Health and beauty (this is purposefully the smallest sprout:)

We created the logo to incorporate these ideas.

Thank you Chiko for your inspiring answers! From this interview, it is clear to see that this event promises to be thought-provoking, educational, and fun. Hope to see you there!

- Jen Teeter

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