Interview: We Talk Animal Rights and Veganism in Japan

Animal rights issues are close to our hearts here at Love Japan Magazine, so when Tokyo based animal lover Helen, (aka instagrammer @veggiesushiandthecity) got in touch about her work in the field, we jumped at the chance to find out more.  Our blog editor Akai caught up with Helen to discuss her work within various Japan based animal groups, as well as getting some helpful tips on sourcing vegan friendly products.

Your Facebook group Animal Walk Tokyo raises awareness and organises fund-raising events for local animal shelters. Can you tell us more about the work the group does? 

Animal Walk Tokyo is a small bilingual group of volunteers that focuses on raising awareness of TNR (trap, neuter, return), adopting (instead of buying from one of the many awful pet shops in Japan) and other Japan-related pet issues, such as the unregulated animal café boom which now includes hedgehogs and owls (wild animals, not pets!) through our Facebook page. We also organise and host 3-4 small events a year, from dog walks to pub quizzes, to raise money for local animal shelters. 

Walking shelter dogs 

Sanpo 2016 (image by Salt Mint)

What was the adoption process like when you adopted your dog Matilda from a local animal shelter in Japan? How does the process differ from other countries?   

It was relatively straight forward. I contacted an English-speaking shelter, Animal Refuge Kansai (www.arkbark.net) and filled in an application form about my needs and lifestyle so that they could match me with the right dog. Then I attended an interview to talk more in detail. When Matilda came in, they introduced me to her and it was love at first sight! Two weeks later, once I had paid a hefty deposit to my apartment company (unfortunately pet-friendly apartments are still a bit of a rarity in Japan), she moved in. 

Helen and Matilda 

Helen and Matilda 

Matilda

I think there are a few small differences with the adoption process compared to other countries. For example, foreigners are more open to the idea of adoption than the Japanese, but only a few shelters can communicate in English, so options are limited. Also, a lot of foreigners come to Japan for just a year or 2 and then go back home, so shelters are sometimes wary of adopting to foreigners in case they leave their pet behind when they go home.  Unfortunately, I often see unwanted pets being advertised on garage sale type SNS pages by owners leaving the country, which is not only sad, but potentially dangerous for the pet if they end up in a bad home.

Circus demo

Circus demo

Your Facebook group Animal Advocacy Japan shares information about animal rights groups, news, and events. Can you tell us more about how you started this work?  
 

Animal Advocacy Japan was the brainchild of my friend, Nadia, who is also the organiser of Tokyo Vegan MeetUp. We realised how difficult it was for people living in Japan to find out about and get involved with animal rights activities if they couldn’t speak Japanese. We were also aware that animal rights 'activists' abroad who didn’t understand the Japanese language or culture would often attack the Japanese people about Japan’s animal rights issues and accuse them of not doing anything.  We wanted the Facebook page to address both of these issues; share information so that foreigners living in Japan can get involved, and to connect overseas activists with Japanese activists so that they can work together instead of against one another. 

How long have you been a vegan? Were you a vegan before moving to Japan, and Is it difficult to find vegan options and animal friendly alternatives in Japan? 

I became vegan about 2 years when I was already living in Japan. I was vegetarian for 15 years before that.  Finding vegan and animal friendly options in Japan is getting easier and easier, and the vegan community is growing.  It is only in the last 50 or so years that meat and dairy consumption in Japan has really exploded (the Japanese ate mostly fish and fruit & veg before then, which I think explains why there are over 60,ooo centenarians in Japan), so there are a lot of traditional Japanese recipes that are easy to make vegan. I also like to exchange vegan parcels with people from across the world, and of course, I always squeeze some 'Free From' chocolate and Violife cheese into my suitcase to bring back when I visit home in England.  There are also some great Japanese brands that are cruelty-free; CAN MAKE (make-up) for example.  Some foreign and health stores sell cruelty-free household and beauty products (LUSH for example) and iHerb also delivers to Japan.

Vegan ramen at Sora-no-Ira

Lunch set at Itadakizen

Unfortunately, real fur is still very popular here, as are zoos and aquariums. I think it is important to continue to educate people on these topics and offer them solutions.  For example, we have a great post on AAJ about humane alternatives to zoos and aquariums in Japan where you can see wild animals going about their daily lives instead of imprisoned in an unnatural concrete cage.

Thanks to Helen for an enlightening and passionate interview!  If you'd like to connect with any of the groups mentioned in the interview, just make the jump via the useful links below.

Instagram: @veggiesushiandthecity
Animal Advocacy Japan: www.facebook.com/animaladvocacyjapan
Animal Walk Tokyo: www.facebook.com/animalwalktokyo
Tokyo Vegan MeetUp: www.meetup.com/vegan-389/ 
Vegan Japan Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/26787874309/ 
Happy Cow: www.happycow.net/asia/japan/