Sailor talks about life on Okinawa as a vegetarian

Photo by Jennifer Brown
Photo by Jennifer Brown

Sailor talks about life on Okinawa as a vegetarian

by Jennifer Brown
Stripes Okinawa

Editor’s note: At Stripes Okinawa, we love to share your stories and share this space with our community members. Here is an article written by Jennifer Brown, a hospital corpsman at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. If you have a story or photos to share, let us know at okinawa@stripes.com.

As my first duty station, Okinawa has had many perks. Living here has given me plenty of new cultural experiences. Perhaps the most unique one has been the change in food. As a vegetarian for over a decade, I have figured out ways to maneuver through stores, restaurants and social occasions with no problems.

However, since moving to Okinawa, I have had to figure out how to achieve and maintain a well-balanced vegetarian diet despite new language barriers, cultural differences, and food restrictions. In other words, I have had to develop new skills in order to be a successful vegetarian.

From English to Japanese

One of the hardest challenges I face is the language barrier. Before coming to the island, I was able to fully understand what everyone was saying, what was in the products I bought, and what kind of food I ordered at restaurants. Not surprisingly then, I have had to problem solve to figure out ways to understand products and menus. The easiest way I found to do this is to simply look at the pictures on labels and menus. Of course, this only gives you a snapshot of what the food is, and soon it was hard to tell if any products contained animal products. Likewise, using google translate has been helpful, however, the translations are not always perfect.

I decided to do my own research. After browsing the web, I was able to find a the “Okinawa Vegan’s and Vegetarian’s” Facebook group. After joining, it became the best way for me to learn about new vegetarian and vegan-friendly products. Many members post products they buy and important information like where they bought it and what the ingredients are. Not only does this let me learn about new products, but it also gives me a sounding board to ask questions and get people’s reviews. If you’re curious, check out the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/171053756313702/

Another great feature: all the vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant recommendations from other members.

From stateside to local and shipped food

The differences in Okinawan and American food culture is another transition I’ve had to navigate here. For example, next to Camp Foster, there are dozens of ramen noodle or curry restaurants. Unlike the United States, living in another country has required my body to accommodate to Japanese cuisine when I go out to restaurants, like soba, white rice, noodles, curry, and the unique vegetables available.

Likewise, while restaurants on island each have their own unique variety of products, I have found that the American food selections on base are more limited. For a vegetarian, shopping at the commissary means I find myself purchasing the same products over and over or figuring out what I can get off-base. Produce both on and off base is quite expensive and comes in smaller portions, so my trick is to go for bulk frozen fruits and vegetables. Another trick is to grab some ready-made meal products at the local SAN-A grocery stores or convenience stores and add my own vegetables and vegetarian protein products.

One of the Japanese grocery stores I enjoy browsing is inside AEON Shopping Mall. This large supermarket has a wide variety of produce, frozen foods, ready-to-eat meals, and much more. I always have fun just browsing through the different aisles discovering new things to try!

Another great store I like to go to is the Hamby Town’s supermarket. This market’s proximity to Camp Foster, makes it a convenient stop on the way home and it stocks a variety of produce, ready-to-eat meals and products. This is also a go-to when I’m heading to the beach or American Village.

Sustainable vegetarian living

If you’ve considered a plant-based diet but think it might be too difficult, know that there are options even if you’re living in the barracks. Coupled with living in a foreign country, being vegan or vegetarian does take some work. Let this guide lead you to some of the possibilities during your stay in Okinawa.

 

A few vegan/vegetarian-friendly spots in Okinawa

Esparza’s Tacos & Coffee
Address: 904-0115 Okinawa, Nakagami District, Chatan, Mihama, 3 Chrome 1-10 1F
This popular vegan and vegetarian restaurant has many different Mexican dishes and even has vegan cheese you can purchase for your own creations. Why not give it a try?

AEON Supermarket
Address: 901-2306 Okinawa, Nakagami District, Kitanakagusuku-son, Aza Rycom 1
I enjoy making a stop at this large supermarket inside this shopping center. It has a great variety of produce and frozen foods. 

Hamby Town’s Supermarket
Address: 904-0117 Okinawa, Nakagami District, Chatan, Kitamae, 1 Chome 2-3
This one is close to Camp Foster, so it’s a convenient stop on the way home or on the way to a beach picnic. 

 

Jennifer Brown is a hospital corpsman at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. Originally from Florida, she joined the Navy in 2018, and has been on island for over a year. During her free time Brown enjoys spending time with animals, running, rock climbing, and hiking. She is an alumni of the University of Central Florida, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

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