Matthew Frame on overcoming anxiety to illustrate India

Matthew Frame on overcoming anxiety to illustrate India

Matthew Frame plunges us unapologetically into the jungles of India from the turn of a page.

His illustrations in Speaking to an Elephant and Walking is a Way of Knowing, published by Tara Books, have gained critical acclaim: described by The Times of India as “visually celebrat[ing] the teeming richness of the tropical forest and its many creatures.”

Every illustration is decadently overgrown. It immerses you in native plant life, tumbling fruit, larger-than-life crickets and snarling panther jaws. It’s ready to swallow you whole and spit you out in the speckled shadows of a forest floor.

Matthew 2

It’s difficult to believe that this artist could ever question his incredible talent. However, Matthew reveals that he spent the months leading up to his six month residency at Tara’s headquarters “worrying that I would be ‘found out’, that I couldn’t draw, that I was totally talentless and that there had been some sort of terrible mistake in inviting me there.”

This “perpetual state of anxiety” can be read in Matthew’s drawings, which are precise and overwhelmingly detailed. No space to ask questions. No room for error. Each piece of work – from the 8-storey mural commissioned by Zap Architecture, to the album artwork for Pete and the Pirates – share the same barrage of information. As a recent client Dr. Piyush Pushkar put it: “You see the strokes of Frame’s marker pens, and then feel yourself pushed backwards as far as possible to grapple with it all.”

Matthew 3

However, in Matthew’s newer illustrations we discover a distinctly looser style. In fact, some of the drawings featured in Walking is a Way of Knowing and Speaking to an Elephant are taken straight from Matthew’s sketchbook.

Matthew’s experience in India where he illustrated the two books – working with limited tools from his bedroom, getting ink all over the floor and enduring the worst monsoon Chennai had seen for 100 years – sparked a new, liberating perspective in his abilities. “I […] realized that my artwork isn’t about the things I have around me – I don’t need anything to be able to work effectively, I just need me.”

Since returning to the UK, Matthew has worked on many ambitious commissions, including a mural titled The Marisolysian Fields which celebrates the joint Indian and British heritage of baby Frederic Pushkar. He is now starting a new chapter as a professor of BA Illustration at Portsmouth University and MA Illustration at Falmouth University.

Matthew says: “My one bit of advice to anyone reading this would be to be constantly putting yourself in situations where you feel slightly out of your depth […] Nothing will compare to the sense of achievement you get when you have completed what you thought to be an impossible task.”

Matthew 4

This article is one from my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists whose work I love. Let me know what you think to the article and Matthew’s illustrations, which you can find more of here!

– Karis

Cyndi Speer and the Artist’s internal conflict

Cyndi Speer and the Artist’s internal conflict

Prepare to be thrown off balance. Cyndi Speer making her artwork both progressive yet accessible is a balancing act as dizzying as her paintings.

This Suffolk-based artist re-imagines local countryside into a waltz of the senses: her paintings bridging the gap between the familiar and the fantastic. One moment you’re turning your collar up against a frosty moon, the next you’re soaring up with swallows, only to tumble down meadows into the pale arms of a sandy beach. The animals depicted flow with the same energy as their habitats: climbing impossible slopes and settling in the nooks of fictional valleys.

Green-Pebble-CS1-33-18-A-Day-To-Remember

Breaking new ground is a deliberate choice for Cyndi, avid to keep her practise fresh and innovative through artistic growth. “In a way it’s not a case of me choosing art – art chose me,” she says, adding: “I don’t want to just create work that is expected of me, because that would stifle me – I want to keep progressing. If you don’t push anything forward, nothing new will happen. And if we did that, all art would stagnate.”

Driving this progression is Cyndi’s experimental techniques. Blending water-based and oil-based mediums, she often starts by pouring a puddle of paint on a canvas, tilting it to form her signature curves and swirls, and letting the result dictate the final composition. Never static, Cyndi works on multiple artworks simultaneously due to the lengthy drying time of each layer of paint. For her, this recurrent discovery is the most exciting part of the process.

Cyndi 3

Although her paintings have widespread appeal, Cindy describes how difficult it can be staying on the straight and narrow in terms of advancing her style. “There is a constant battle for all artists between trying to be true to themselves and their practice, and trying to make a living making work they know will sell well. Lots of tourists come here [to my studio], and it’s tempting to be drawn into creating landscapes which I know they’ll like.”

To combat this, Cyndi is bringing in a touch of portraiture alongside an inspiring new body of work to her next exhibition Dream and Reality in Quay Gallery, Snape Maltings, Suffolk this October.

Green-Pebble-CS1-11-14-Bird_s-eye-view

Cyndi’s yearly schedule is choc-a-bloc with exhibitions and sculpture trails – including making two pigs for the prominent Pigs Gone Wild art trail organised by Wild in Art, where a passel of painted pigs took to in Ipswich in 2016. Cyndi’s personal highlight was contributing to St Elizabeth Hospice and getting her artwork out of the gallery space into the minds and hearts of the public. Whilst not pandering to commerciability, Cyndi thinks that art should speak to a wide variety of people, and sculpture trails are an effective way to do this. “Art should be accessible for all, not just for the privileged few.”

From her studio deep in the Suffolk countryside, Cyndi’s passion continues to push her practice forward. Art lovers can be reassured that creativity will never be stifled in this artist, as Cyndi adamantly declares: “I will probably die with a paintbrush in hand!”

Cyndi 4
Cyndi and her painted pig for the Pigs Gone Wild sculpture trail

Discover more paintings by Cyndi on her website and read about more incredible UK artists and their own personal battles – including Matlakas and his imaginary fight, and fellow Suffolk-based artist Juliette Hamilton.

– Karis

Elisa Artesero makes art conveying sleep, that has never made us feel more alive

Elisa Artesero makes art conveying sleep, that has never made us feel more alive

Elisa’s powerful installations take us from the neon rapture of a dance stage into the quiet bliss of a floating word garden. And how? All through the power of words and light.

Although her recent pieces explore the various states of dreaming, these artworks wake us up better than a cold bath and a bloody mary. Her recent project saw 10 dancers perform against human-sized mirrored lettering spelling out the word DREAMERS, which was the title of the piece. This ambitious installation and dance performance showcased the collaborative efforts of the artist, a sound producer, choreographer, director and dance troupe, taking viewers “from sleep into dream, a dance in the liminal space of twilight to the edge of night.”

Elisa 2

Other notable pieces include the Garden of Floating Words, a cluster of poetry that floats delicately in Jubilee Gardens, London, and A Solid Wish Scatters, which throws a poem from the pavement onto the famous concrete wall in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. At the moment, Elisa’s very own solo exhibition Building Text commissioned by Broadgate, London and curated by Rosie Glenn is open to visitors: spanning three buildings in the area until 26th October 2018.

Though based in Manchester, Elisa’s commissions have taken her across the world: from the Faroe Islands to illuminating the mountain sides of Seydisfjordur, Iceland. In 2014 she was commissioned as a Red Bull Creative to create an installation in their studios, and since then has been shortlisted for the international Darc Awards in 2016 and 2017.

Elisa 3

However, enlightening the world with her artwork is not all Elisa does with her time. After all, we are talking about a woman whose nail varnish matches the RGB colour palette of her lighting tech.

Whilst in the winter months Elisa creates brilliant installations, in summer she co-directs the biennial Manifest Arts Festival. Last year the festival showcased over 250 artists in open studios, events and exhibitions for 5 full days across venues in Manchester, Salford and Bolton. She is currently coordinating the next festival which will run on 11th – 20th July 2019.

Elisa commented: “I’ve personally always had the split between artistic practice and curation. Even when I was studying at Manchester School of Art, I ran The Link Gallery for 2 years, curating weekly exhibitions alongside developing my practice as a Light and Text Artist.”

Elisa acknowledges it can be very challenging to balance the two disciplines since planning such a large festival can take time away from her personal artistic practice. However she also commented, “Festival planning isn’t always serious. Sometimes you get to climb a beard!” (This is a true story: she has indeed scaled Engels’ beard in Salford.)

Elisa 4

See more of Elisa’s impressive work on her website here.

This is another article from my artist feature series, researched and written by myself on UK-based artists I admire. You can read more about how to become a full-time artist through equally illuminating articles about Richard Day and Juliette Hamilton.

– Karis

Juliette Hamilton on how to become a successful full-time artist

Juliette Hamilton on how to become a successful full-time artist

Manchester-based sculptor Juliette Hamilton is the tirelessly industrious human you’d dearly like to be. I’d be surprised if she has ever uttered the word ‘procrastination’ in her life. As I interview her, she doggedly irons clothes ready for her holiday to New York tomorrow, but still finds time to fill me in on her incredibly inspiring life as an artist and how she accidentally got there.

Juliette makes a living creating realistic animal sculptures out of willow and other mediums for clients ranging from green-fingered locals to Hollyoaks, the BBC, and Bollywood films. Her creations stand proudly in museums, heritage centers, halls, gardens, farms, galleries and festivals all across the UK and beyond. As well as doing commissions, she also coordinates three weaving workshops a week and sells her wares at fairs and events throughout the year.

You may ask how does can she possibly get so much done? The secret is her lifestyle. And two pints of tea every morning.

juliette 2

Juliette wakes at 5:30am everyday like a songbird, and gets straight to work creating sculptures from her studio at the bottom of her garden. Powered by a questionable amount of caffeine, she weaves for a minimum of ten hours a day, six days a week. It’s no wonder she has an strict no-work-on-holiday policy, though she insists that her routine and the process of creating is very enjoyable. “I don’t feel like I’m working at all, it never feels like a chore. Many people who go to my workshops comment “time just disappears” – and it’s true! It’s often a very therapeutic process.”

Despite being very happy with her lifestyle as a sculptor, Juliette remarks that becoming a full time artist was purely accidental.

After being cajoled into joining a weaving workshop by a persuasive friend, Juliette discovered a knack for the craft that soon attracted the attention of local art buyers. Everything snowballed from there. She says: “to be honest I had no intention to do this for a living but it crept up on me […] It took a few years to realize that that’s what I was doing for a living now – that creating sculptures was now my full time job.”

juliette 5

Currently Juliette is creating stock for the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair and working on a shire horse commissioned by the Manchester council – one of her most challenging projects to date.

The horse, which will stand proudly next to the canal in an effort to rejuvenate the walkway, is reinforced by a metal skeleton – unlike the wood that Juliette usually uses to fortify her sculptures. She says this is so that the horse can be remade when the willow eventually biodegrades, with the added benefit of being able to withstand the weight of a human incase any cheeky visitor fancies a horse ride.

After half an hour discussing the perils of ironing and the joys of a creative life with Juliette, it’s difficult not to feel more motivated by her. Perhaps not wake-up-at-5am motivated. But I’m definitely game for drinking 2 pints of tea before noon. How about you?

juliette 4

See more sculptures from Juliette on her website here

This article is part of my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists I admire. Let us know what you think below!

– Karis

“Fuck it and be an artist”: how painter Richard Day makes a living

“Fuck it and be an artist”: how painter Richard Day makes a living

For full-time artist and entrepreneur Richard Day, being an artist is a business, his paintings are products, and his life is golden. Richard brings home the bacon by selling commissioned artwork through his online Etsy shop: shipping paintings from his studio in Norwich to homes, restaurants and offices around the world.

Richard’s painting style is as fearless as his mindset. A carnival of colour with the unfettered energy of a rock anthem, his pieces combine graffitti with traditional portraiture in striking pop-art designs. The backgrounds are often filled with vibrant splashes of spray paint and scuffs of colour; the foregrounds daubed liberally with oil paint, depicting cultural icons, musicians and historical figures. Creating them can take anywhere between four hours and four days depending on the complexity of the design.

Rich 2

Richard started freelancing full-time in March 2017, and is already building up a storm with over 32k followers on Instagram and hundreds of clients. He’s also taken part in numerous events including live painting – his performances always leaving audiences agape (and asking for his number).

One would think that if being a full-time creative was as easy as Richard makes out, half the population would hand in their resignation to start a cookery school or knit tea cosies for a living. So why aren’t we writing to our bosses right now?

Rich 3

 

For some, becoming a full-time artist is a perilous step into the unknown. For Richard Day, it was a necessary manoeuvre to be free of bosses, gallery commission, and menial routines. “I always knew I wanted to work for myself but I never thought being a full time artist was an option.”

Richard admits: “Information isn’t a problem – we have an abundance of information that tells you how to do pretty much everything including how to be an artist. I’m sure there are people much more qualified to give people advice on the topic. My advice would be to just smash it – be very, very stubborn and say fuck it, I want to be an artist. And just go for it.” He adds: “You can champion good qualities such as perseverance, self belief and all that, but for me, stubbornness is key.”

Richard goes onto say there are things you need to take into account when working for yourself. For one, meticulous record keeping and sticking to deadlines is essential. “I’m very aware how many paintings I need to sell to make rent etc. and that is always something I need to consider.” Richard says the most difficult thing he faces is shipping the artwork out, which can often be delayed during the journey.

At the end of our chat I asked Richard what he thought he’d be doing for a living if he wasn’t an artist, to which he replied: “That’s a bloody good question. I have no idea. To be honest, I’d probably be working a shit job trying my best to be an artist.”

Rich 4

You can find – and commission – more of Richard’s incredible work on his online shop here.

This article is the second in a series of artist features, researched and written by me with many thanks to Richard for the great interview and photos. 

– Karis

Matlakas and the imaginary fight

Matlakas and the imaginary fight

Matlakas is a dyslexic artist with a six-pack who doesn’t like ice-cream. But moreover, he is an art activist fighting for cultural and political unity in a world full of imaginary borders.

More passionate than Picasso, Italian-born Matlakas covers himself in automatic umbrellas in the name of art on the regular. Onlookers observe as he treads the streets of London, Cape Town, Seoul, Naples and the Jeju Island wearing a crown of barbed wire and roses, which he slowly dismantles along the way. He’s taken Melting Borders – a performance piece involving real ice-cream with natural, edible colours melting slowly in the sun – from Armenia to the North Korean border, and participated in the Moscow Biennale 2010 and the Gwangju Biennale 2014. The artist brandishes a battlecry in every area he visits: “Now it’s the time. It’s the time to melt away all flags. Accept the variety of all colours. To accept cultural differences, to win together.”

Matlakas says about his performance work: “As I look up my head is tilted upwards because I have a dream. So many dreams, and many dreams […] that [are] obstructed by inhuman rules.” According to the artist, these obstructions include passports, fences, laws, permissions, weapons, violence, and barbed wire.

matlakas 5

This idea is symbolically expressed in all of Matlakas’ work, including his energetic life-size paintings created from his studio in London. These pop-art scenes with expanses of yellow and blue and cages of dense, black lines bring in motifs from childhood and modern life. A piece might feature lego men besides books and birdcages. Classical sculptures with laptops and lasers. Paper planes and sailor suits. They wallop you with colour and tickle you back to life with whimsy.

matlakas 2
However, these fantastical scenes draw us into the imaginary world of borders and their very real consequences: the confinement of refugees, the conflict of human desires, and the freedom of a borderless future (should we ever reach it). As Matlakas put it: “how come something so imaginary leads us to fight, and fight back?” And from that he suggests the question: why is it so important to continue to fight?

As he prepares for more performances and residencies across the globe, Matlakas continues to combat these fictitious borders in society by creating art that makes you sit up and listen. Or stand on a car bonnet holding a protest poster, one of the two.

matlakas

See more of Matlakas’ work here.

This article is the first of a series on professional UK-based artists I admire, researched and written by myself. I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to share your thoughts on Matlakas’ work below!

– Karis

The Truth About Remote Working

The Truth About Remote Working
  • It’s so much easier to concentrate at home rather than in an office. Who knew your beloved co-workers were a huge distraction this whole time!
  • Few of your friends and family seem to believe you actually do any “real work”, and think you must be having a jolly good time chilling all day, rather than frantically trying to achieve your monthly targets.
  • Working from your bed is great at first, but unsustainable. Two main problems here: the strong urge to go back to sleep, and serious bum ache.
  • Your online shopping habits have dramatically increased – being around for every delivery slot is a liberating (and financially dangerous) experience!
  • People expect that you are free to chat and do chores in the daytime, which is not the case if you actually want to keep your job. Saying that, I won’t say no to a cheeky laundry load every now and then, am I right folks.
  • You never, ever wear pyjamas to work, because you fear that’s the road to sadness and despair.
  • Some days you do get desperate to hear a human voice and end up trying to keep your colleague on the phone for as long as possible.
  • Lunch is an extravagant affair with great attention to detail.
  • Tea and coffee is brought to you all the time without question because: “you’re working, I’ll do it”. Best five words in the English language.
  • Socialising on weekday evenings more than than once a week is now emotionally and physically possible.
  • Being one of those cool young professionals who work in coffee shops from their MacBook is not a thing. Commuting, spending money and being in a noisy environment cuts out most of the benefits of working from home!
  • 3 ‘o’ clock, 5 minute nap? Don’t mind if I do.
  • Co-worker messaging groups are the enemy of productivity. Every time your phone bings you have to check Whatsapp, then before you know it you’re halfway down your Facebook homepage. Please social media, have mercy.
  • You find yourself working overtime most days even though no-one is around to witness it. This is mainly to account for the nap and the Facebook stalk of an old school friend you did earlier that day though.
  • You basically become the cat’s servant, who begs you for food and attention all day.
  • Occasionally people catch you having in-depth conversations with the cat, and question if remote working is actually as healthy as you claim.

I hope you enjoyed this list blog about remote working, which I’ve been doing for nearly a year now as Marketing and Communication Manager of Pop My Mind.

Naturally everyone has different preferences towards working remotely or in an office setting depending on their preferred working style. I really enjoyed the benefits of working from home, but it has its disadvantages too, particularly missing out on the social side of work.

What do you think? Do you think it’s a dream come true, or super dull? Let me know in the comments!

For more work-related list blogs, check out You Know You’re Becoming a Responsible Adult When… and You Know You’re Used to the 9-5 When…

Thanks for reading!

18 Ways to Date Yourself This Valentine’s Day

18 Ways to Date Yourself This Valentine’s Day

Whether you are single as a pringle or armpits-deep in a relationship, you should never forget to treat the no. #1 most important person in your life to some well-deserved quality time! (Hint: it’s you.)

Here are 18 ideas on how to go on a date with yourself this Valentine’s Day:

1. Buy an M&S ‘Valentine’s Dine in for 2 for £20’ deal and eat both of the meals yourself.

2. Write down a list of reasons why you’re awesome, and share it proudly all over social media.

3. Write a 2000 word essay over why a popular rom com is a terrible film.

4. Buy cat wine or dog beer and spend a romantic evening in with the pets.

5. Facebook stalk all the people who ever Done You Wrong and consider why their Wrong Doing has made their lives worse than yours. Really relish in it.

6. Draw a nude portrait of yourself. Don’t forget to frame it and hang it in the living room for when your parents next come to visit.

7. Buy a houseplant to be your understanding, judgement-free companion when you cry over Date Night.

8. Let out your hankering for PDA out on trees in the local park.

9. Do some yoga and pretend you have the body of the supple, tanned, muscled gods and goddesses you’ve followed on Instagram.

10. Buy yourself new, ridiculously lacy underwear, and take a good hour sashaying around the house in them.

11. Listen to my Strong Independent Woman playlist at full volume whilst doing activity number 10. (Suitable for Strong Independent Men too.)

12. Book a romantic room in a hotel and convince the staff that you’re waiting for your secret lover (who happens to be a sexy Russian spy).

13. Create a GIF that accurately represents your turbulent emotions so that people will finally understand you.

giphy (3)

14. Bake red velvet cupcakes and decorate them with amusing swear-words.

15. Go to a pottery painting café and hog all the colourful paints, so that the children nearby can only paint in shades of brown.

16. Sit in a deep candlelit bath and consider the fragility of existence.

17. Go to a park and gaze at the sky. Try and find as many penises and vaginas as you can in the shapes of clouds.

18. Invent your own brazenly alcoholic cocktail, trying to capture the strong and bitter taste of your soul.

I hope this has given you some ideas of how to spread more #selflove in your lives. Please date responsibly.

Karis

You Know You’re Used to the 9-to-5 When…

You Know You’re Used to the 9-to-5 When…
  • Swearing has infiltrated into daily office conversation on all sides.
  • You have become a little too comfortable sharing personal info with your co-workers.
  • You have come to terms with the fact you are a bit of a hermit (and by “a bit” I mean “a lot”).
  • You have attended an appraisal, and discovered talking about yourself for an hour is an exhausting endurance test which should never be suffered by any living soul.
  • You have stopped entertaining the thought that attending more than one social activity on a weekday within a week is a possibility.
  • You voluntarily give yourself, and stick to, a strict bedtime.
  • You have allocated a generous portion of your monthly earnings to a “new work clothes” budget.
  • You have calculated just how much you earn (i.e. are objectively worth) a day.
  • You now own, of your own free will, a Boots Advantage Card.
  • You’ve realised that actually a lot of what your mum says is very sensible and wise.
  • You’ve read the first two chapters of every shelf-help book aiming to improve happiness, motivation and/or productivity that Google has recommended to you. And aside for not wearing make-up to work, you’ve not really followed any of the advice given.
  • Every time you meet your friends you say, “aww we should do this more often!” – but in reality, if you were to fit any more into your already packed schedule you would internally combust.
  • You have enjoyed the smug feeling of being able to buy your sisters drinks and not ask for it back in taxi money at the end of the night.
  • You feel like the ratio of how many coffees you make for people in the office, versus how many you accept, is the direct indication of your value as a human.
  • Spending the 24 days of your annual leave in the wisest way possible is a year-long headache.
  • The delay-start function on the washing machine has revolutionized your life.
  • You have realised that even if your friends and boyfriend eventually find out you’re really boring and leave you, you will always have food. And this brings you great comfort.
  • Despite being perfectly content in the job you have, you have decided to change your role drastically in order to be nearer to vegan cafes, loved ones and cats.

If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like my other list-blogs You Know You’re Becoming a Responsible Adult When… and 20 Awkward Moments at Your First Grad Job! Thank you for reading.

How to be Vegetarian in Japan

How to be Vegetarian in Japan

Although people had warned me that it might be a struggle to avoid meat and fish in Japan, I must admit I didn’t quite appreciate just how difficult it would be to find vegetarian food there before I went – that is to say, vegetarian food which constituted towards full, wholesome meals. For the first half of my trip I really struggled, and mainly survived on rice balls and pizza flavoured crisps (don’t tell Grandma). However, after slowly discovering more and more vegetarian and vegan options hidden in the corners of menus, by the end of the holiday I was fuller and fatter than ever.

I wrote this blog article so that you know what to eat if you’re planning on going to Japan and avoiding meat or fish when you’re there…there’s no time to be hangry when there is a beautiful country to explore!

Your Basic Vegetarian Food Groups

1. Onigiri

IMG_7646-copy.jpg

Whenever you’re stuck for something to eat, get yourself to the nearest Family Mart or Lawsons and pick up some rice balls. They tend to either be plain rice with a small amount of filling wrapped with seaweed, or flavoured rice without the filling or the seaweed. Both versions are delicious and provide a great lunch or snack. The vegetarian flavours in the filled onigiri are seaweed (two varieties) which have a green label, or pickled plum. The rice balls without a filling tend to all be vegetarian – in any case you will be able to tell if there aren’t because you’ll see the bits of meat mixed in the rice from the outside.

2. Sushi

20427170_10156518159134899_741253480_o

Famously sushi often contains raw or cooked fish (apparently tuna mayo is extremely tasty) however you can usually find veggie versions in both supermarkets and restaurants. I really recommend conveyor-belt sushi restaurants for eating out – you can clearly see from the menu what you’re getting, and even better the vegetable sushi is the cheapest going! Keep your eye out for sushi with cucumber (my favourite), pickled radish, spring onion and egg, which seem to be common. Just whatever you do, don’t go for the bean stuffed sushi, it is terrible.

3. Inarizushi

20394708_10156518100814899_166257225_o.jpg

So technically this is a type of sushi, but since it is so delicious it deserves its own category. Inarizushi is made of abura-age (fried tofu pouces) stuffed with vinegared rice and flavoured with soy sauce. It has a pleasant sweet taste and is very moreish! You can find these in supermarkets on their own or in mixed bento boxes, making it very convenient as a picnic food, and are also found in some restaurants. This was my favourite savoury snack in Japan!

4. Vegetable Tempura

20424557_10156518159864899_1857208932_o

I was told about this dream by my sister before going on holiday, and we discovered it on our second night there. Simple and effective, tempura is literally something on a stick which is deep fried, giving it a crisp batter and is often accompanied with a dipping sauce or salt. It turns out you can make tempura out of anything, including shrimp, sausage, meat, tofu, aubergine, potato, cheese, asparagus, onion, tomato and quail egg. At more casual tempura restaurants you can choose precisely what selection you want – giving you complete veggie freedom – however if you go to restaurants with set menus, sometimes they will only have an option for mixed tempura (including shrimp). I found that in this instance you can ask for only vegetables and they will happily accommodate your request, but it would be worth checking this before you all sit down and order drinks.

5. Okonomiyaki

20424588_10156518096354899_781247326_o.jpg

Basically a pancake made with the usual ingredients of eggs and flour as well as shredded cabbage, this dish makes a very hearty meal. It is often sold as a street food, but can also be ordered in special restaurants where you have designated hot-plates in front of you to cook it the way you like it: an extremely messy and fun experience! Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is another version of the pancake with added yakisoba noodles. You can find both of these pre-prepared in some supermarkets too – just be careful that they aren’t hiding pieces of pork, which are sometimes added for flavour.

6. Instant noodles

When you’re in dire straits, and you just need a big hot meal, turn to instant noodles. Japan has the biggest selection of instant noodles in one corner shop that I have seen in my lifetime, you are honestly spoilt for choice. Some have meat in, but if in doubt the curry flavour is a safe bet for since it only contains vegetable stock. There are also some pot pastas which are conveniently titled in English so you can get your tomato and basil fix too, and you can fill them up with boiling water provided by the supermarket. Convenient!

7. Tofu alternatives

DSC_0325.JPG

Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian meals on purpose, however often they do it accidentally by including tofu in dishes as a protein alternative to meat. Keep an eye out for these dishes, especially as part of soups or sides, because you are sure to find them on a few menus.

At our ryokan (traditional inn) the chefs kindly swapped my fish for tofu however with a week or so of warning – above is the delicious meat-free meal they made for my breakfast, featuring fried tofu.

8. Tomato Ramen

20424581_10156518100104899_1481598704_o

This food is not particularly common, nor easy to find, however if you come across it you must try it, because it will change your life. A mash-up between Japanese and Italian cuisine, it basically features ramen noodles, vegetables and other ingredients in a tomato-based broth. Since being vegetarian means you can’t sample traditional ramen (which is made of a broth using meat or fish) this is a great alternative to try some of the food you’ve heard so much about, in a strangely familiar fusion dish. You can also add cheese, satisfying the dairy craving you’ve had since arriving!

9. Sweet Treats

20394693_10156518148889899_1275830177_o.jpg

The deserts are to die for in Japan, and happily usually vegetarian friendly! Although the soft textures can take some time getting used to, the subtle sweet flavours are heavenly. I recommend shaved ice with syrup to cool you down in the hot weather, which is a traditional snack, and to have a matcha tea with a cake in a traditional tea house. It is a must-have for any stay in Japan!

Recommendations for vegetarians

1. Eat at western-inspired restaurants

I know you came here to sample the “authentic culture” and the “local cuisine”, but if you’re tired of accidentally eating bits of fish, then treat yourself to a nice big meal in an Italian restaurant or British pub (yes, they have those, and they are hilarious). There will always be a vegetarian choice of pizza, chips or garlic bread on the menu, and you will be very grateful for it despite being able to eat the same meal in Britain any day of the week.

2. Eat the sides, not the main course

Often in restaurants you can order your main meal and choose from lots of extras, just like in the UK. If you don’t mind confusing the waiter, order lots of sides instead of a dinner. You can make up a good meal out of grilled vegetables, salad, rice and noodles this way if you can’t find anything appropriate on the main menu.

3. Cook

One of my favourite meals there was when we tried cooking our own dinner in our apartment using the ingredients on offer at the local supermarket. It was loads of fun to work on something together and we saved some spending money too. Get yourself some sake and have a wild night in…

4. Bring a meat-eating friend

They will never get tired of eating free food, trust me. It’s super useful to have someone on your team willing to try the weird and wonderful things you spontaneously buy, and give them the okay. I really appreciated my sister taking on my unwanted food when I bought the wrong stuff, I hate wasted food!

5. Explain yourself

Don’t assume that restaurant staff know what ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ means – it is not a well-known diet choice in Japan! Always explain yourself fully when ordering food and be specific about what you want.

6. Your enemy…

…Is dashi (fish broth) and bonito (fish flakes). They are used in loads of dishes in Japan and are to be avoided at all costs if you want a pure veggie diet. You should be able to tell if a dish has them in though because of their smell.

7. Go pescatarian. Yes I said it.

If you’re not too fussy over what you want to eat, and want to concentrate on more important stuff than searching for a restaurant you can all agree on, then being pescatarian for your holiday would certainly make your life a lot easier. Since the Japanese diet is heavily based on fish, it would open up your options to accommodate most of the menu in any restaurant. However, using the pointers above you won’t have to go to this extreme if you don’t want to.

Useful Phrases

It’s worth learning these phrases before you go to save yourself some unpleasant mouthfuls…

I am vegetarian. Watashi wa bejitarian desu

Is this vegetarian? Kono bejitarian wa?

Does this contain meat or fish? Kore wa niku to sakana ga haitte imasu ka?

Does this contain fish stock? Kore wa sakana no dashi ga haitte imasu ka?

I don’t eat meat and fish. Watashi wa niku to sakana wo tabemasen

I don’t eat meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Watashi wa oniku to shīfūdo to tamago to nyūseihin wo tabemasen

Or if you can’t remember that: No meat or fish? Niku mo sakana mo nai?

Yes, it is okay. Hai, daijōbudesu.

I’ll have this please. *point at menu* kore kudasai

No thank you. Kekkō desu.

Obviously I was only in Japan for two weeks and have only scratched the surface of what delicious foods they have to offer the vegetarian community! If you have any tips and foodstuffs to share, please let me know.

Thanks for reading.

20205625_10156826542834848_169817413_o