Shojin ryori (Vegetarian dishes) (精進料理)

We will introduce two kinds of Shojin ryori here; one are Shojin ryori derived from Buddhism and the other are Shojin ryori that are categorized as one of Japanese cuisine.

Shojin ryori mean vegetarian diet which are prepared as the charity for monks using only vegetables, beans and grain since the five commandments of Buddhism prohibit monks from killing and under Mahayana Buddhism, even meat eating is prohibited.

Under early Buddhism in India, three kinds of pure meat, other than the ten kinds of meat that the commandments of Hinayana prohibited, were allowed to be eaten (called the 3 meats of Kenbungi). In this case, monks were allowed to eat either the meat of animals if they had not seen the slaughter, meat of animals which they didn't know were slaughtered for them, or meat of animals with no suspicion of the above two case, and the production of dairy products was also allowed as Shaka attained enlightment while receiving the charity of chyle. Currently, in countries with Theravada Buddhism, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, Shojin ryori which vegetable is mainly served have not developed since monks are allowed to eat three kinds of pure meat (the notion of Shojin ryori itself exists).

On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism prohibited meat eating itself later on and therefore, vegetarian dishes have developed in cultural areas of Buddhism including China and Japan. In China and Tibet, however, use of eggs and dairy products are sometimes allowed and no clear standards exist.
(It seems to have been thought in Japan that drinking milk was equivalent to killing because milk is supposed to be drunk by calves)

Although there are some people among the believers of Hinduism and Jainism in India who eat only vegetables as a practice of ahimsa, the term of Shojin ryori is basically used in connection with Buddhism.

One of the characteristics of Shojin ryori is the necessity for time-consuming precooking such as removing harshness and boiling because precooking had been required for vegetables and beans until the practice of eating fresh vegetables as a la cart cuisine, namely salad, took root in Japanese food culture. These complex cooking techniques and notion of foodstuffs exerted a large effect on many cooks, as well as cooking scholars, and contributed to the development of the overall field of cooking. Further, as the cooking of Shojin ryori required use of simple foodstuffs under a lot of constraints, the necessity for various primary and secondary processing is also one of their characteristics. Thanks to this background, together with the objective of long storage and not tiring people, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, soybean curd, dried bean curd, soybean milk, natto (fermented soybean) and deep-fried bean curd were created. These techniques were developed and accumulated by temples which required Shojin ryori, as well as by the nearby residents.

Another example is so-called 'Modoki' cuisine which is seen especially in China. This is a cooking technique to make cuisine resemble animal-derived food with the use of vegetable origin materials. For example, making ham-like food by processing dried bean curd (Chinese ham), shaping prawns or cuttlefish using konjac or making something like abalone soup or fried abalone using shiitake or other mushrooms.

Shojin ryori were indispensible food for monks, and taking meals was emphasized as part of ascetic training. At the same time, Shojin ryori were also cooked by private citizens in homes or restaurants on ceremonial occasions or during the Bon festival. Shojin ryori at restaurants are sometimes cooked with the aim of providing dainty food that is in contradiction to the Buddhist notion of a meal. In China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, there are many restaurants and Japanese-style restaurants whose specialty is Shojin ryori.

Japanese Shojin ryori
It is believed that Shojin ryori already existed in Japan when Buddhism was introduced, but full-fledged development started in Kamakura period. Especially, the introduction of the Zen sect during the Kamakura period contributed to the development of Shojin ryori. Before the Heian period, Japanese cuisine, although using fish and birds as ingredients, did not have much taste and required after-cooking seasoning to eat and in this sense, it was undeveloped cuisine. On the contrary, Shojin ryori of the Zen sect, although their ingredients were vegetable in origin, had strong taste and warriors and ordinary people who had to drive themselves and needed to take supplemental salt, were satisfied with such strong tastes. Seasoning, cooking devices and cooking techniques used for Shojin ryori, like fermented soybean paste, earthenware mortar and Nishime (traditional Japanese stewed meal) with root vegetables, were introduced into Japanese cuisine. Foodstuffs like been curd, freeze-dried bean curd, konjac and Hama-natto (Shiokara-natto) are thought to have been introduced as indispensible foodstuffs for Shojin ryori.

Under the Soto sect in Zen sect, cooking and the taking of meals is especially emphasized because of the anecdote that when Dogen, its founder, went to Sung (Dynasty) to study Buddhism and met with the temple chef of Mt. Aikuo, he learned of their daily activities, including cooking and taking of meals, which represent the substance of Bendo ascetic training. After returning from Sung, Dogen wrote "Tenzo Kyokun" (Instructions for the Monastery Chief Cook) and "Fushukuhanpo" (The Dharma for Taking Food) which are said to be the origin of Shojin ryori of the Eihei-ji Temple school. At Eihei-ji Temple, preparing meals is one important part of ascetic training and Tenza, a chef responsible for Kuin (Kitchen), is a member of the senior monks.

In the Edo period, the Obaku sect, one of the Zen sect, was introduced from China following the decline of the Ming Dynasty. Chinese-style Shojin ryori were then introduced (so-called Sosai) and are called Fucha-ryori cuisine. A unique style of eating, namely four persons sit around a table (rectangular table) and share food served on big plates, dish by dish, and was regarded as a curiosity. Many Chinese-style dishes, such as sauted vegetables called 'Unpen,' Goma-dofu (crushed sesame seeds boiled in water and chilled like tofu) and 'Modoki' cuisine (Kabayaki of yamaimo (Japanese yam)), are found in the category of Fucha ryori cuisine. As sesame oil was used in Chinese-style cooking techniques, such as sauteing and frying, the use of oil in cooking which had not been prevalent in Japan, was promoted. As "Fucha" means " diffusing tea," Fucha ryori cuisine contributed to diffuse Sencha (natural leaf tea).

Fucha ryori cuisine was enjoyed not only by monks at temples of the Obaku sect, but also by civilians, especially intellectual people, and was served at restaurants as a means of savoring exoticism, rather than Shojin ryori. With the reciprocal effects of Shippoku cuisine (a delectable melange of Western, Chinese and Japanese cuisine)from Nagasaki, Fucha ryori cuisine in civilian society often used tablecloths, vitreous wine glasses and decanters that were precious at the time, and also other western tableware. In the Edo period, a book that specialized in the cooking of Fucha ryori cuisine, "Fucha-ryori-sho," was published. Although it was gradually Japanized, Fucha ryori cuisine was brilliant and lively compared with traditional Shojin ryori and contemporary Fucha ryori cuisine has developed to be unique, and one that has brilliant appearance.

In the Edo period, there were many restaurants that supplied Fucha ryori cuisine to temples as outside contractors or which cooked for writers and artists, with no relationship to Buddhist activities. Shojin ryori of Daitoku-ji Temple, Kyoto, are examples of the former, and those of Hida Takayama are examples of the latter and both have created artistic dishes which are different from those of temples by reintroducing the technique of Kaiseki ryori (tea-ceremony dishes) that had been split off.

As described above, Shojin ryori exerted effects on Japanese cuisine and contributed to its development. Shojin ryori of Eihei-ji Temple school are considered to be the origin of Honzen-ryori cuisine, which prevailed from the Muromachi period to the early Edo period. Kaiseki ryori are also derived from Shojin ryori. Although contemporary Kaiseki ryori (sometimes confused with Kaiseki cuisine (dishes served on an individual tray for entertaining guests) because of the same pronunciation in Japanese) is luxurious, the original one was plain, and used seasonable materials and adopted the spirit of Shojin ryori. Fucha ryori cuisine was imported from China, although the cooking techniques of Chinese cuisine was Japanized, and food such as Kenchin-jiru soup, Noppei-jiru soup and simmered, sauted or fried food using powdered arrowroot became prevalent. Other than the above, there is a practice of Tenshin (Chinese dumpling). This practice was introduced from China during the Muromachi period and under this practice, buns with bean-jam filling, Yokan (sweet bean jelly), Udon (Japanese wheat noodles) and/or Japanese vermicelli were served. Although this practice was originally prevalent only among nobilities and warriors, it diffused among ordinary people in the course of time and became the origin of the current practice of lunch.

Shojin ryori in contemporary Japan
There are quite a few Buddhist temples that lodge worshippers in the Shukubo (priest's quarters) and provide Shojin ryori with the aim of having them experience a part of the ascetic training of Buddhism. There are many such temples among those belonging to the Tendai sect and the Shingon sect since worshipping is deemed to constitute the important part of faith under the doctrine of these sects.

Some Shukubo provide meals and lodging only. There are many Shukubo at Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano Prefecture which lodge worshippers and many of them provide Shojin ryori for dinner. Shojin ryori provided by these Shukubo vary from authentic ones, such as Honzen type cuisine, to modern ones similar to Kaiseki ryori (tea-ceremony cuisine).

On the other hand, many temples in Kyoto relied on outside restaurants for preparing Shojin ryori for important guests and as a result, advanced Shojin ryori are available at such nearby restaurants rather than at the temples. Around Daitoku-ji Temple, there are some well-established restaurants that specialize in Shojin ryori.

The above is also applicable to Fucha ryori cuisine and there are many restaurants which serve Fucha ryori cuisine around Manpuku-ji Temple, the head temple of the Obaku sect. Varieties of Fucha ryori cuisine range from the ones which are prepared at restaurants in the style of Kaiseki ryori (tea-ceremony cuisine), and are quite similar to Japanese cuisine, to the ones which are close to the original ones prepared at Zen temples in Nagasaki or the ones which are quite similar to Chinese cuisine that adopt contemporary Sosai (the fact that there are many ethnic Chinese among supporters of Zen temples in Nagasaki and they receive many visitors from China and Taiwan during the Obon festival, could be the background).

[Original Japanese]