Vegan Society of Japan
- Public draft copy for discussion -
The Vegan Society, the world’s first, was born in November 1944 after a lengthy gestation. As early as 1909 the ethics of consuming dairy products had been hotly debated within the Vegetarian Society.
In August 1944, Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, a conscientious objector (anti-war pacifist) and later to be acclaimed as the Vegan Society’s Founder, agreed the desirability of coordinating ‘non-dairy vegetarians’. This was despite opposition from prominent vegetarians at the time, who were unwilling to even consider adopting a diet free of all animal products.
In November, Donald organised a London meeting of six like-minded ‘non-dairy vegetarians’ at which it was decided to form a new society and adopt a new name to describe themselves – vegan derived from VEG-etari-AN.
It was a Sunday, with sunshine and a blue sky, an auspicious day for the birth of an idealistic new movement.
- History of the Vegan Society of Japan
Activities the Vegan Society of Japan
Proposed Legal structure the Vegan Society of Japan
Background to the Voluntary Sector in Japan
The Vegan Movement in Japan
The Future of the Vegan Society of Japan
Practical Aims the Vegan Society of Japan
Copyleft not Copyright
Following discussions with well established individuals within the original Vegan Movement in the UK, correspondence with Vegan Society officers and international vegan coordinators, work to establish the Vegan Society of Japan began early in 2008. The first application to be officially registered as a NPO Hojin was put forward to government offices in March 2009.
After various personnel changes, in October 2009 eight vegans from Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, the USA and the UK met in Kyoto and decided to continue work to develop a formal and international Vegan Society of Japan. It was also a Sunday, with sunshine and a blue sky, an auspicious day for the start of a new society.
It appears that the earliest discussions regarding the establishment of a ‘Vegan Society of Japan’ started in 2007 when Tomo Mizumachi, the brains behind the excellent Vege-Navi restaurant guide, approached Akiko Iwasa, of Kyoto Vegetarian Festival, to start one.
Unfortunately, these efforts failed due to personal conflicts between the two leading Japanese vegans. Apparently to issues relating to the financial failures of the early Tokyo Vegetarian Festivals and the Japanese Vegetarian Society of which Ms Iwasa is a director meant that the project did not start well.
The first “official” events of the Society were to be a Vegan Film Festival in Kyoto in July 2009, a Seminar to Promote the “Save the Japan Dolphin” Campaign in October 2009, potluck dinners and a stall at a local ‘Earth Day’ event.
Numerous smaller meetings between core members and interested parties have been held in Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo and Shikoku, and a mailing list established to promote ongoing discussions between members. Supporting websites including, Vegan Japan Info (a vegan knowledgebase) and Vegan Voices in Japan (a social networking site), a Myspace site and others are currently being established. Likewise, so are a range of Vegan Japan products being designed.
The theory behind the Vegan Society of Japan is very simple. See slideshow, (to follow).:
- Legally, to the accept the constitution and articles (working rules) of the original Vegan Society, as much as possible, establish a local group charter and carry on all the activities of the Vegan Society.
Inwardly, to establish a national organization which then creates materials and legal structures, to create and coordinate local groups quickly and easy in order to help veganism spread in Japan and avoid conflicts and the duplication of efforts.
Outwardly, to build bridges between Vegan Japan and the vegan movements in other nations, to enable networking, the sharing and translation of related information, and to assist internationally coordinated actions such as International Vegan Day/Month.
Charitably, to promote animal rights, national and international food security, health and environmental sustainability within Japan from a vegan perspective at all levels and to assist foreign vegans visiting Japan.
Establishing a charity in Japan is not without its difficulties, both social and bureaucratic. Doing so has few of the financial advantages of similar European or North American organizations. The entire concept of charitable NPOs is relatively new in Japan, dating back only to around 1998 and the “Law to Promote Specified Nonprofit Activities”. Prior to this, such groups face almost insurmountable obstacles legally and financially and were, in essence, state or establishment controlled.
From the Meiji era onwards, Japan’s development has been based on two pillars: government and for-profit organizations. The system did not encourage private nonprofit organizations to grow. On the contrary, it oppressed and limited their growth. Currently about 90% of Japanese NGOs have no legal status, most are based around neighbour groups. Despite the individual generosity and community-minded spirit of the Japanese people, charitable giving, non-commercial and non-local activities are not the norm. To give some reference to the scale of difference, it is estimated that in the USA there are 30,000 trusts donating charitable funds; in Japan there are about 600.
Traditionally, Japanese society is oriented towards helping people within clans or villages, and not to help individuals who exist outside one’s own clan. A concept referred to as “insider/outsider” mentality. As many vegans already find themselves as outcast from society by their choice of diet (literally losing employment, forced to compromise their principles or discriminated against), it is also necessary to avoid “insider/outsider” mentality from arising within the vegan movement.
Small unstructured groups brought together around passionate causes or leaders appear to suffer from social or personality problems which, if not addressed, can:
- Damage social movements and individuals internally.
Discredit social movements externally in the eyes of the general public.
Shortly after its birth, the vegan movement in the UK became, and continued as, a ‘democratic movement’ rather than a ‘personal dictatorship’ (to quote founder Donald Watson). Small groups can be, and have been, successfully run as ‘personal empires’. However, beyond a certain scale, this model has its limitations and certain ethical questions arise:
- Why should anyone work for anyone else’s business for free?
Why should certain individuals be the only ones to profit from a movement’s activities?
What happens when there are personality clashes, abuses and so on?
How to create a continuum so that when small groups collapse, all the good work is not lost?
The ‘vegan movement within Japan’ and the ‘Vegan Society of Japan’ are two separate concepts. It is not envisaged that the Vegan Society of Japan would ‘own’ vegan movement within Japan but merely perform a number of functions within it. The following relates to observations on the vegan movement as a whole.
Although Japan is perceived by the West as being a wealthy nation, this is certainly not true at an individual level; and especially not for those in the vegan movement. Experience shows that “quality of life” and available resources are in general at a much lower level than in the West, whilst the relative costs, social and employment demands are equal or much higher. These, along with the current economic downturns and political tendencies, pose challenges for the vegan movement.
At the same time, Japan is a world leader, the second largest consumerist society in the world after America and has a disproportionate influence upon other Asian nations. Transformed from a plant-based sustainable society during the Edo Period into a Post-War consumerist society, it now bears the responsibilities towards the world for the consequences of its consumerist society; waste, pollution, energy inefficiency and is starting to suffer the consequences of consumerism; obesity, ill health and the economic implications caused by unsustainable dietary change.
This puts Japan in a unique position from the point of view of the vegan movement. Due to its lack of natural resources, a move back towards a plant-based, or vegan, society is the only sustainable future for Japan which raises issues about the need for more international coordination and support from within the vegan movement.
As a developed nation, and a political, industrial and economic leader within Asia, Japan is also well placed to become a world leader in the movement towards a more vegan future. The Japanese people have proven themselves capable of rapid change and reinvention and are moved by concerns of food safety.
Already, there is good support for veganism within established events such as the Kyoto and Tokyo Vegetarian festivals; from primarily vegan/wholefood businesses such as Warabe Mura, Alishan and many smaller others; amongst the LOHAS and ‘back to the earth’ type organic farming movements all of which could be encouraged to ‘come out’ or aim as being vegan rather than obscuring the message as vegetarian. There a growing number of vegan cafes, perhaps even proportionately more than in the West where vegetarianism is more well established.
Vegetarianism and Veganism
The vegetarianism and veganism within Japan are currently very small and less well defined than in the West with individuals tending to less strict or dogmatic than in the west. Many prefer or are forced to be primarily flexible or ‘home vegans’. Largely the movements rests upon the work laid down by George Oshawa and the macrobiotic movement, many of whose followers are vegan, or primarily vegan, and older Buddhist traditions with a very few Western influences, e.g. Dr Ann Wigmore’s ‘living food’ movement.
Vegetarianism, a largely dairy based diet relating to Western agricultural models, is not historically natural nor sustainable for most of Japan. Dairy is not suited to a large proportion of Asians due to genetic lactose intolerance etc, whereas there already exist many vegan alternatives. There already exist schools and traditions of vegan food technologies, from religious (Shojin Ryori) and soya fermentation to scientific, e.g. vitamin B12 culture in vegetables.
These factors are very positive aspects for promoting veganism and having an international effect within Asia and beyond. It is suggest that by promoting veganism within Japan a far greater reward could be achieved more quickly than, for example, continuing to promote veganism within animal-food based societies.
Recently, columnist Maki Fukasawa even created a national media frenzy around the concept of the “herbivorous male” (soshoku-danshi). As much as it was a warning about how badly the vegan message can be misinterpreted, it was still good for the movement and is a good indication of how Japanese society is changing. An estimated 20% of males were considered to be categorised in this way, whereas real life experience suggests that the vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic movements are by far female dominated.
It was a lost opportunity to promote a positive impression of veganism because the lack of an equally professional national vegan voice.
Legal status is required for a national organisation in order to:
- Grow to a larger scale quickly and without the duplication of efforts where resources are limited.
Have its voice heard at a national level by the media and other agencies.
Avoid many of the social and personal problems which can arise.
Protect the vegan movement or concept from being exploited or diluted by corporate or government actions.
Therefore, the need for a ‘NPO Hojin’ (which translates literally as a ‘legal person’), is in order to administer it.
- Without legal status, any materials or enterprises would remain the private property and personal whim of the individual carrying it out.
Without legal status, it is impossible to rent offices, own a bank account, take donations, enter into contracts and so on.
Without legal status, it would be impossible to employ and protect workers and volunteers etc.
“Democracy” means far more than merely ‘votation’. It also means responsibility, transparency, accountability and shared values.
Related to the section above, the intention would be to work towards creating not just a national movement but an international movement, in many languages, reflecting the international and multi-cultural nature of the vegan movement; and a move away from current nationalist approaches, even within the vegan movement.
Beyond the obvious activities of a charitable vegan NPO, a number of specific aims and objectives are proposed:
- The employment of a full-time or a number of part-time workers (bi-lingual, native Japanese speakers).
Sending representatives to the UK to work/study and build good relationships with the original Vegan Society of England.
The establishment of vegan food and production standards and national food labeling system for Japan.
The translation or sub-titling of English language resources to Japanese, e.g. vegan documentaries such as “A Delicate Balance” (Australia).
The collation of a database of vegan foods, cosmetics, supplements, household products, businesses etc; see: Vegan Japan Info.
The social and legal recognition of individuals’ equal rights to eat vegan, e.g. children at schools, employees etc.
The promotion of Japan in a positive light for vegan and vegetarian visitors.
As a further challenge to the outdated system of personal ownership and copyright, all materials produced by the Vegan Society of Japan should be ‘copyleft’, a open license giving others ‘the right to take, use and adopt the materials for their own use’. To give anyone permission to copy and make other uses of the works without specific permission or a royalty payment.
If individuals are being asked to donate their time, money and energy to projects, those project should be not be owned by other individuals, not even the community, but donated to the general public as a whole.
See: Creative Commons.