Shojin Ryori Recipes and Cooking

Shojin Ryori Recipes and Cooking

Shojin ryori is the ancient and traditional cuisine of Japanese Buddhist monks. It can be found in many Buddhist temples and also in traditional shojin ryori restaurants in Japan. This unique type of Japanese cuisine is generally vegan in nature, with some exceptions.

The typical shojin ryori meal focuses on soybeans, vegetables in season, root vegetables, as well as wild herbs and plants. This style of eating served as a precursor to Japan’s more elaborate and lavish cuisine, commonly referred to as ‘kaiseki.’

History of Shojin Ryori Cuisine

Shojin ryori food is believed to have been brought to Japan from China around the 6th century, along with Buddhism. As Zen Buddhism spread across Japan and became more popular in the 13th century, shojin ryori cuisine also became more commonplace.

Zen Buddhism traditionally prohibits the killing of animals and fish because it goes against the teachings of ‘asima’ or compassion. Eating meat and fish is also believed to cloud the spirit and interfere with meditation practice, so Zen Buddhist monks in Japan cooked food that centered around a seasonal plant-based/vegan diet. It also precluded the consumption of strong-tasting and pungent vegetable ingredients like garlic and onions.

The Meaning of Shojin Ryori

Sho (精) means to concentrate or focus.

Jin (進) means to move forward or advance.

Shojin (精進) means to reflect or focus constantly.

Ryori (料理) means cuisine or cooking.

The Basic Characteristics of Shojin Ryori Cooking

Despite the omission of strong-flavored ingredients like onions and garlic, shojin ryori food is far from being boring or bland. On the contrary, the food is refined and flavorful because it is generally cooked delicately and the ingredients are local and fresh.

Shojin ryori food is typically characterized by the ‘five rules’. Every meal generally consists of five colors: yellow, green, black, red, and white. The cuisine also utilizes five main flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (or savory).

The five rules also apply to the way shojin ryori food is traditionally cooked. Five methods are commonly used: boiling, steaming, roasting, stewing or braising, and raw.

When cooking shojin ryori food, the fresh ingredients are allowed to shine by extracting their natural flavors using the various cooking techniques mentioned above. Strong herbs and spices are generally not used. The ingredients are local, seasonal, and organic.

Another feature of shojin ryori meals is the presentation. The food is painstakingly and artfully presented, often in lacquered bowls and plates. Colors and textures are varied and contrasted, creating a feast for the eyes.

Because shojin ryori uses seasonal vegetables, the ingredients vary with the seasons. For example, wild greens and herbs such as rapeseed (nanohana) and butterbur (fuki) in the spring, eggplants and cucumbers in the summer, sweet potatoes and kabocha squash in the fall, lotus root, daikon radish, and other root vegetables in the winter.

Another characteristic is that shojin ryori cooking tries to not waste anything. Vegetable peelings are added to soup stock, as is the water that has been used to wash the rice. Thicker vegetable peels, like for daikon, are made into pickles. The cuisine is economical and respectful of the ingredients.

Traditional Shojin Ryori Ingredients

The main ingredients used in shojin ryori are plant-based and almost always vegan (eggs and dairy are very seldom used and only in certain more liberal temples). Rice is a staple, along with soybean-derived ingredients. Fu, or wheat gluten, konyaku, seaweed, and natto are also common, along with leafy vegetables, root vegetables, mountain herbs, mushrooms, etc.

Here are some common ingredients used:


Abura-age (fried tofu)

Natto (fermented soy beans)

Koya tofu (fried tofu)

Fu (wheat gluten)

Sesame seeds

Sesame oil

Soy sauce

Shiitake mushrooms

Wakame (a type of seaweed)

Daikon radish




Kombu (a type of seaweed)

Yuba (tofu skin)

Nori (roasted seaweed sheets)

Potato, rice, and arrowroot starch

Lotus root

Soba (buckwheat noodles)

Sweet potatoes

Kabocha squash

Common Shojin Ryori Dishes

Goma dofu, made from sesame paste, water and starch. It resembles tofu in texture, but is really more like a pudding. This is the most iconic shojin ryori dish.

Kenchinjiru, a clear soup made from kombu dashi. It traditionally contains root vegetables, mushrooms and tofu. A soup is always part of a complete shojin ryori meal.

Shira-ae, a salad made from mashed tofu. Its name comes from the Japanese words 'shira', meaning 'white', and 'ae', meaning 'to mix'. Vegetables such as carrot, hijiki, or spinach are included.

Our Favorite Shojin Ryori Recipes

Shojin Dashi


Goma dofu

Ganmodoki (tofu and vegetable patties)

Sansai gohan (rice with mountain vegetables)

Green bean shira-ae

Nasu dengaku (miso glazed eggplant)

Rice porridge, daikon kinpira, pickled daikon skin (video)

Dashi, eggplant miso saute, simmered yuba and okra, goma dofu (video)

Rice, miso soup, simmered daikon, kombu tsukudani (video)

Tofu and taro 'unagi', marinated cucumber, suimono soup (video)

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