Experience Japan’s Zen temple cuisine with Kokoro Care Package’s shojin ryori box!

Photos by Sarah B. Hodge
Photos by Sarah B. Hodge

Experience Japan’s Zen temple cuisine with Kokoro Care Package’s shojin ryori box!

by Sarah B. Hodge
Stripes Okinawa

On my very first visit to Tenryuji in Arashiyama in 2011, I made a reservation for the Zen temple’s restaurant Shigetsu, which specializes in shojin ryori. This simple yet sophisticated temple cuisine was introduced to Japan by Dogen Zenji in the 13th century and is still eaten at temples across Japan today.

My first experience with shojin ryori was a challenge to identify and eat many of the unfamiliar textures and ingredients, but over the last decade, I’ve made a personal study through English-language cookbooks and with mentors including Mari Fujii, Kakuho Aoe, and a class with chef Daisuke Nomura of Sougo. Learning how to prepare shojin ryori has also strengthened my Zen practice, as preparing food is mindful work that can also double as meditation.

I’ve written several articles about shojin ryori and also assisted with an online shojin course for international instructors, so it was with great pleasure that my friends from Kokoro Care Packages informed me that their July box Nourishing Essentials box focused on shojin ryori and offered me the opportunity to try it.

What is shojin ryori?

Shojin cuisine takes its name from the characters “sho,” meaning “to focus” and “jin,” “to go forward.” The principles of shojin ryori include veganism (killing or harming animals is forbidden in Buddhism) and not wasting a single grain of rice or drop of water. Every part is used; vegetable peels and tops are repurposed as stock, pickles or tempura. The nutritional concepts are surprisingly modern, including a balance of nutrients (five colors, five flavors) and five cooking methods for a given meal. (Onions, garlic, and spicy foods are forbidden as they interfere with meditation.) The focus is on nutritious, balanced meals with local seasonal ingredients that nourish mind as well as body.

Typical dishes in shojin ryori include dried wheat gluten, fu, which is rehydrated and can be served a number of ways including “steak” (it also makes spectacular French toast), sesame tofu (which despite the name, does not include soybeans at all), and freeze-dried, fresh and dried tofu, including my favorite dish of yuba, or soymilk skin.

Zen and the Art of Mindful Eating

July’s Nourishing Essentials: Zen and the Art of Mindful Eating box includes sansai (mountain vegetables) from Arita (it’s a traditional topping in sansai soba and it’s also great on pizza, pasta, or mixed with rice), a fermented soybean mash that can be used as a dressing or dip, fried sendai fu from Miyagi (its small size makes it perfect for curries, stews, or you can even eat as a crunchy snack!), dried wood ear mushrooms from Kochi, golden sesame tofu with miso sauce from Wakayama, and kudzu noodles with sweet kuromitsu sauce from Nara, a traditional chilled summer treat. I opted to use the sansai to make sansai udon with fresh udon noodles, and the fermented soybean mash makes a fantastic dip for raw veggies.

The included booklet offers detailed information on shojin ryori, a wonderful essay by my friend Momoe Nishimura of Zen Eating on the richness that comes from empty spaces and how to eat with happiness, Zen, and mindfulness, product information, and suggested recipes including takikomi gohan, wood ear mushroom tsukudani, and Sendai-fu zosui.

To sign up for a Kokoro Care Package subscription, head over to the website (US and worldwide shipping available); the July Nourishing Essentials Zen and the Art of Mindful Eating box is available for order through June 30.

Eating with gratitude

Before sitting down to eat, Buddhist monks and priests recite the Five Reflections (Gokan-no-Ge):

Engage with the food. Consider how nature’s miracles and people’s hard work have culminated in the creation of the food you are about to enjoy.

Reflect upon your day and yourself. Contemplate whether your actions make you worthy of the meal in front of you.

Observe whether your own spirit is pure like the food.

Chew slowly and enjoy every bite. Good food is medicine. It is a way of rejuvenating and purifying your fatigued body.

Be thankful for all, and eat with gratitude.

It is from this tradition that “itadakimasu” before meals is said.


Where to enjoy shojin ryori:

Unsurprisingly, numerous temples in and around Kyoto offer shojin ryori, as do other cities with large temples like Zenkoji in Nagano. It can be surprisingly hard to find in the Tokyo metropolis; many temples that do offer shojin ryori may only have Japanese-language websites or reservation numbers, like Sankoin in Koganei (the former abbotess Soei Yoneda penned the definitive guide to shojin in English called “Good Food from a Japanese Temple” in the early 1980s).

In Kyoto, I highly recommend Shigetsu, Daitokuji Ikkyu, Kanga-an (Chinese-style fucha ryori), and Mampukuji in Uji.

North Kamakura is home to the exquisite Hachinoki, which serves traditional shojin ryori across from Tokeiji Temple.

To try Chinese-style Zen cuisine, called fucha ryori, be sure to visit Bon in Taito (the chef trained at Mampukuji in Uji, the head temple of Obaku Zen).

And to try impressive kaiseki-style shojin, Daigo (Vegetarian meal DAIGO (atago-daigo.jp) boasts two Michelin stars and expect prices to match (lunch starts at $130). Shojin Sougo (宗胡 SOUGO ーJAPANESE SHOJIN RESTAURANTー TOKYO ROPPONGI) in Roppongi was founded by the former executive chef of Sougo and offers new and playful takes on shojin, but note if you want a strictly vegan meal, you must reserve at least two days in advance. You can also sign up for shojin ryori cooking classes through their school Tokyo Cook (Tokyo Cook (tokyo-cook.com). And Michelin-starred Itosho is founded by a former chef of Kakusho in Takayama.

Expect to pay around $30 – 50 a person for a traditional shojin ryori temple meal (most temples offer a number of price points, with higher prices including additional dishes) and around $100 and up for kaiseki-style shojin ryori.


Try cooking your own shojin ryori from the comfort of home:

Danny Chu, “Shojin Ryori” and “Living Shojin Ryori

Grandma’s Shojin Ryori e-book by Akemi and Satsuki (you can also take classes with the sisters through https://www.ateliercafeculture.com/ in Kamakura)

The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan by Mari Fujii

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