Shōjin ryōri – Temple Food

Shōjin ryōri is a type of cooking commonly practiced by Buddhist monks in Japan.

Shōjin originally meant zeal in progressing along the path of enlightenment or pursuing a state of mind free of worldly thoughts and attachment. In this way, the act of preparing shōjin ryōri is an essential practice of Buddhism that expresses one’s devotion to religious discipline.

Shōjin ryōri is based on simplicity and harmony and so the preparation methods follow these principles. For example, dishes are prepared with balance in colors and flavors taking into consideration, so that each meal must have a balance of 5 different colors and flavors. Nutritional balance is central to the preparation of these dishes and in addition, nothing goes to waste when preparing the dishes. Every last piece of each ingredient is somehow incorporated into the meal. Garlic, onion and other pungent flavors are not used in shōjin ryōri while standard vegetarian and vegan recipes do not prohibit the use of such ingredients.

According to Buddhist philosophy, all sentient (living) beings have the possibility of attaining enlightenment. In line with this doctrine, the use of meat, fish, or insects is prohibited in the preparation of shōjin ryōri meals.

Typical processed ingredients used are tofu and abura-age (friend soybean curd). Goma-dofu (sesame tofu), koya-dofu (dried tofu), yuba (soy milk film), fu (wheat gluten, konnyaku (rum root cakes) and natto (fermented soy beans) are also integral to shōjin ryōri. Seaweed products such as konbu (kelp), wakame (sea green), nori, and hijiki are used in the preparation of shōjin ryōri.

Vegetables that are in season are utilized and selected based on their ability to provide benefits to one’s body during each of the four different seasons. Vegetables that are seasonal are also selected since they are viewed in Buddhist philosophy as being in flow with nature. Buddhist’s believe they grow from the earth during a particular season because they can benefit your body during seasonal changes. For example, summer vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants are used to cool the body, while fall vegetables such as sweet potatoes and pumpkin give your body energy after the exhaustion caused by summer. Wild plants, such as warabi (fiddlehead fern) and zenmai (flowering fern) can also be found in shōjin ryōri dishes.

The Art of Tanahashi Toshio


This restaurant specializes in shōjin ryōri, traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. 

Ajiro is located north-west of central Kyoto on the southern edge of the Myoshinji Hanazono complex, a sprawling district with a total of 46 temples and sub-temples. It’s not surprising that chef Yoshitaka Senoo chose to focus on Buddhist fare — particularly considering he worked in the kitchen of one of the complex’s temples prior to opening Ajiro.

I was given a second floor private room where a table no bigger than a tray rested in front of me. Ajiro is not fancy; it is a cozy restaurant.

I especially enjoyed my meal while looking at the fusuma (sliding paper doors) with images from the Ox-Herding Buddhist parable.   

Ajiro makes great use of local fruit and vegetables, and if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive taster of shōjin ryōri in a setting then starting with Ajiro’s is recommended.

Before you go, explore this site that will prepare you for appreciating the images offered on the fusuma of OX-HERDING: STAGES OF ZEN PRACTICE:


Shigetsu is run by Tenryu-ji Temple (World Heritage Site) and set on the edge of the temple’s famous Japanese stroll garden.

All of the dishes at this restaurant that are set along the edges of the strolling garden of Tenryuji Temple is that they are prepared in accordance with the following flavors (bitter, sour, sweet, salty, mild and hot) and five colors (red, white, black, green, and yellow). The central ingredients of the dishes include: yuba, tofu and seasonal vegetables. Although the staff does not speak English, the menu is quite straightforward: you have to choose from either 3000, 5000 or 7000 yen options.



In the garden of Daiji-in, a sub-temple of Daikoku-ji, this restaurant specializes in shojin ryori. Lunches are presented in sets of red-lacquer bowls of diminishing sizes, each one fitting inside the next when the meal is completed. You can dine in tatami-mat rooms, and in warm weather at low tables outside in the temple garden Reservation are recommended in spring and fall. Izusen closes at 4pm. No credit cards, Closed Thursday.

The monk Dogen (1200-1253) states in his Instructions for Zen Cooking that “an essential part of the art of cooking is to have a deeply sincere attitude and be respectful to the products, to process them without judging their appearance, whether they be crude or refined.”

Open: 11:00-16:00; Tel: 075-491-6665;

Ikkyu Daikoku-ji

Murasakino Daitokuji-shitamonzen-cho 53, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi; 075-493-0019), and accepts customers until 6 p.m. for a dinner course from ¥8,000.


A restaurant that is not in a temple but offers shōjin ryōri dinner courses for around ¥6,000-8,000.

Hayashi-shita machi 400, Chion-in, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi; 050-5570-3795

Wakuden Omotase Daitoku-ji

Part of the famed Wakuden group of stylishly modern Kyo-ryori restaurants, this onenserves sparse vegetarian fare with the quiet grace and peaceful spirit of the tea ceremony. It is located in the shadow of Daitoku-ji, one of Kyoto’s most important Zen temples, and the location couldn’t be more fitting.

This is not a place for idle chitchat and boisterous behavior. It’s the perfect place to honor the atmosphere of Daitoku-ji’s zen temples. English is not spoken and reservations are highly recommended, and should be made at least a week ahead of time in high season, especially for lunch.