A vegan friend is coming over to visit B, and he’s at a loss as to what to feed him.

“How can I ensure my friend does not starve? And do you know of any vegan restaurants in Tokyo?”

According to Hiroko Kato, who is responsible for an inspired Web site ( www.vegietokyo.com ), the definition of a vegan (from an article she wrote describing a vegan wedding in the U.S.) goes as follows:

“Vegans, or pure vegetarians, eat no foods derived from animals. In addition to meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and honey, they also shun leather, silk, wool and other animal products. People become vegan for various reasons, including health, ecological and religious concerns, compassion for animals and belief in nonviolence.”

This makes me an impure vegetarian because, although I eat no meat (including chicken, which many people appear not to regard as meat!) I do eat some fish and eggs (though mainly the whites). I’m pretty impure on the rest of the stuff too.

Kato notes that the Zen food of Japanese Buddhism — “shojin ryori” — is pure vegan, and very good it is too, consisting mainly of vegetables, tofu, nuts and fruit, but cooked and prepared in such ways as to defy the imagination. Temples often serve the public.

Tofu and tofu milk, and the many varieties of pulse (bean) that are used in Japanese cooking — traditional desserts especially — are packed with protein and very healthy. Also nuts can be incorporated into dishes in so many ways. A certain vegetarian daughter — far more purist that her mother! — incorporates fine-grated nuts into her toddler’s food and he’s as lively as a cricket.

For hundreds of recipes, go to www.chooseveg.com/vegan-recipes.asp.

For a list of 54 vegan restaurants and stores in the Tokyo area, visit www.happycow.net/asia/japan/tokyo/index.html. This site has addresses and contact numbers, customer reviews and an interactive map. Brilliant.

R eader CS is visiting Utsunomiya from mid-September to October and wants to know something about the place.

“I only know it’s a city far from Tokyo. Can you help?”

Far from Tokyo? No, very close to Tokyo, according to the pamphlet “Welcome Utsunomiya — Feeling Casual,” which you can pick up at train stations, the City Hall Commerce and Tourism Section ((028) 632-2437), the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau ((028) 632-2445) and the city’s Tourist Information Center ((028) 636-2177) on arrival.

Central Tokyo is 50 minutes by bullet train, or you can go the slow but cheaper route via Japan Rail or the Tobu Line (1 1/2 hours). There are also 10 highway buses a day between Narita International Airport and the city (three hours), plus one night bus to Osaka (eight hours).

As for things to see and do, fear not: There are three museums and a host of cultural assets including two churches, a street lined with chestnut trees, the oldest Buddhist relief carvings in Japan, the famed Futarayama Shine, and the Bronze Statue of Buddha of Three Soybeans. (Something for the vegans?)

You will miss August’s Furusato Miya Matsuri — the biggest festival in north Kanto, involving 80 portable shrines — but you may catch the Japan Cup cycling road race, which draws competitors from all over the world.

But what most locals seem to do is eat. And what they eat are “gyoza” meat dumplings — a passion allegedly brought back from China by an Imperial Army military unit once stationed in Utsunomiya. There are some 60 restaurants offering gyoza throughout the city, so you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Though sited amid flat rice fields, Utsunomiya is not far from mountains and the Nasu-Nikko National Park. In fact, with a World Heritage Site — Nikko’s Tosho-gu — on your doorstep, you’ll be in a pretty amazing place.

Send your questions, queries, problems and posers to community@japantimes.co.jp.

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