The Magic (and non-Magic) Mushrooms of Japan

Back2Life
6 min readOct 3, 2022

[This article is for educational purposes only. We do not support any activities illegal to your location and suggest seeking professional help for medical issues.]

Photo: nippon.com

When travelling to Japan, one of the things you should do before you leave is to make sure you have no illegal substances when entering the country. Your bags are usually checked (no matter what passport you have) and the dogs can sniff so carefully that they can even detect a pouch that used to hold marijuana products.

The laws are so strict that being in possession of any amount of weed can be punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of over $15,000. Expect more if you’re caught as a producer.

Japan has a 99.8% conviction rate — higher than any other developed democracy in the world. (via BBC)

So you’d think that psychedelic mushrooms would be totally out of the question, right?

Well… yes and no.

The “magic” part of magic mushrooms, Psilocybin, had been deemed illegal in Japan for a long time but the consumption and the distribution of the fungi which contained that chemical had actually been widespread from the late 1990s until 2002 — when it was added to the Narcotics Control law. The media and politicians went on the attack against the use of psychedelics at the turn of the 21st century as they were seen as “alien” to the archipelago and as such went against the traditional Japanese culture and traditions. (via Nomadit)

Photo: Hyperallergic

However, according to Heritage of Japan, archeological evidence points to ritualistic use of psychedelic mushrooms from the prehistoric Jomon period — when the first native people of Japan roamed the island from 14000–300 BCE. They had also been alluded to in later story collections from the 12th century Heian period, which described them to compel dancing or laughter after human consumption.

According to some sources, the cultural damnation of using natural psychedelics like cannabis and magic mushrooms had originated from an influx of foreign moral influences into Japan — rather than the current ideology that foreigners are bringing in “bad things” from abroad.

If you’d like to read more about the science of magic mushrooms and their history within Asia, check out this article by Heritage of Japan!

Nowadays, if you want to have something that will make you dance and laugh in Japan you’ll have to rely on your own exuberance or some of the classic liquors like sake and shochu. But don’t forget about non-hallucinogenic mushrooms that you can still enjoy without the threat of detainment!

Shiitake

If you’re asked to name a Japanese mushroom, shiitake is probably the first one that comes to mind — and for good reason!

Shiitake is quite a staple within the traditional washoku diet that boasts international acclaim for longevity and corporal vitality. One of the reasons for this is the fact that it has a multitude of uses and benefits for your body and your kitchen.

Photo: Foolproof Living

According to Japan Insides, “A single serving of four raw shiitake mushrooms has only 26 calories and less than a gram of fat, plus 2 g of dietary fibre and almost 2 g of protein, both of which will leave you feeling more full and satisfied for longer.”

On top of being a great addition to your diet, shiitake are also great for supporting your immune system via polysaccharides which helps white blood cell production, maintains healthy blood pressure levels, and provides iron not derived from animal products.

Did I also mention that they are also one of the rare food sources of vitamin D?

To make things tasty, you can add shiitake mushrooms to plenty of Japanese and non-Japanese dishes. For example, you can boost your next batch of rice by making takigomi gohan (炊き込みご飯), or increase the umami in your vegan mushroom pate.

Really, in any dish that requires a pronounced mushroom-y note — try adding a bit of shiitake!

TIP: Don’t throw away the water used to soak your dried mushrooms! Add it to your soup as a vegan stock or use it to inject more mushroom flavour into your risotto.

Enoki

Another mushroom you’d probably find abroad is the Enoki mushroom, or straw mushroom. Despite the delicate appearance, enoki can really take the heat of a stir fry, deep fry, or even a stew — all while retaining its shape and a slight crunch.

Photo: CHAM Dipping Sauce

The health benefits match the great texture; they are chock full of antioxidants and nutrients that help support brain function and good cholesterol levels. (via Healthline)

One classic preparation is to pull off a bunch of enoki, wrap them in a strip of bacon, and cook over a grill or in a pan with some sesame oil. An even easier preparation for a winter get together is to include them in your next nabe-style hot pot!

Eringi

Lastly, Eringi should be on your shopping list when you don’t want meat, but don’t want to make another portobello mushroom “steak”.

These thicc bois, also known as the King Trumpet mushrooms, contain essential vitamins and minerals (like a lot of other mushrooms) but also support your gut-health. According to Food Thesis, Eringi mushrooms “reduces colonic inflammation, faecal microbiota alteration by increasing the good bacteria… increases the formation of short-chain fatty acids and the antioxidant capacity of colonic contents.”

Photo: Omnivore’s Cookbook

Flavour-wise, this mushroom has a milder flavour than the European portobello varietal and as such acts as a flavour sponge for all of the other ingredients — while also adding a thick hearty texture that makes eating more satisfying. From personal experience, these mushrooms don’t really get that “slimy” texture as you would with some other varieties.

When cooking, we recommend keeping it simple — try the classic Soy-Butter flavour combo. If you’re wanting to explore outside of Japan, look at recipes from other East Asian countries like China and Korea!

Can’t pick which mushroom you like best? Try this Mushroom Pasta recipe by TabiEats and use all of them in the same dish!

Like Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Mushrooms just need that special flavour to make them delectable for any palette. And don’t worry — these kinds of fungi won’t be banned anytime soon!

Next up: fall veggies. Mushrooms are back in season, but what else can we eat during these Pumpkin Spice latte times? Check back in a couple weeks to learn more about what’s en trend in your produce section! In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!

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Back2Life

Promoting global Food Education, Sustainability, and Traditions for our Modern World. Based in Tokyo, Japan.