Welcome to Shojin World: The Time of Shojin and the Power of Vegetables
Philosophy of Shojin “Devotion to Vegetables”
By Toshio Tanahashi
The origin of shojin started in Japan in the 6th century when Buddhism was brought to Japan from China, becoming widespread with the development of Zen Buddhism from the 13th century onwards. Shojin is more than just a form of vegetarian cuisine. There are philosophical and historical aspects in addition to practical cooking techniques. Shojin doesn’t merely select vegetables as ingredients but it gives an opportunity to seek for the “truth” to people who earnestly wish to discover it.
Shojin is based on the teaching of Buddha. We must encounter vegetables truthfully and patiently to receive their life – both visible and invisible – to enhance our own body and soul. Taking time and effort to prepare and cook vegetables, fruits and grains with our hands is a form of training that purifies our body and soul. Preparing meals, eating them, and excreting them smoothly… this is the natural way of life.
Actually, using only vegetables may be inconvenient in cooking. Some say that vegetables and cereal grains can’t cover all necessary nutrition and cannot fully satisfy our appetities. However, in reality, it is vegetables and cereal grains that reflect the soil and climate where they were grown and that possess plenty of wisdom and creativity of human beings.
Today we are facing a number of crucial issues on this planet – food problems, population problems, health issues, energy problems, and more. I believe pursuing Shojin and focusing on vegetables will lead to finding solutions to all these problems we have today. Being conscious with all the 60 trillion cells in our body and using all five senses (taste, hearing, eyesight, smell, touch) while cooking and eating, we then naturally come to discover that our body becomes healthy and so does our soul.
Shojin is not simply a means of obtaining pleasure through eating: it is a rigorous discipline in which extended study leads one to an understanding of the profundities of Buddhism. This is one of the most precious forms of culture that Japan is proud to share with the world. And shojin is the oldest but also the newest form of novel food culture of Japan. It is a cuisine which goes beyond daily custom and concept and creates new experiences. The technique of this exciting cuisine, which makes your body happy, and also shows respect for the soil and terroir is the Shojin spirit.
Profile of Toshio Tanahashi
At the age of 27, Toshio Tanahashi (born in 1960) decided to serve as an apprentice at the Gesshinji Temple in Shiga Prefecture (east of Kyoto). Gesshinji Temple is a nunnery which was famous for its abbess’ excellent shojin cooking. Tanahashi trained himself there for three years and was fascinated with the shojin cooking.
In 1992, he opened his restaurant, Gesshinkyo, in Tokyo. He was invited to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to present and perform his shojin cooking. In 2003, he gave lectures and demonstrations at the Japan Society in New York and Boston. Many internationally and domestically acclaimed newspapers and magazines have featured his shojin cooking and philosophy (AERA Magazine, Waraku Magazine, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Japan Times, The Financial Times, Telegraph Magazine, etc.). Tanahashi published “Shojin” (Bunka Publishing Bureau; 2002), a book of beautifully photographed recipe book. After closing Gesshinkyo in 2007, he appeared on NHKTV program ” Chinese food history of 4000 years Shojin Ryori cuisine” and “Jyonetsu tairiku” by Mainichi Housou. He provided culinary guidance for the TV drama “Honmamon”, which was a popular morning serial drama. He launched his own culinary academy, Zecoow Culinary Institute in 2008 and started to teach at Kyoto University of Art and Design.
Regarding overseas activities, Tanahashi has held numerous events across the globe, sharing the beauty of Shojin Ryori with guests worldwide. From the local farms of Thailand to the kitchens of the Grand Hyatt hotel in São Paolo Tanahashi has held successful events for a variety of guests including cooking for Google and Evernote. Tanahashi was also invited by Alain Ducasse, the world known French chef, to take part in his menu development. This enabled Tanahashi to explore the possibility of “Shojin French”.
Now he is looking to establish a “Shojin Dojo”, a training foundation for individuals to learn and study the soul of Shojin.