Japanese for Vegans: Your Guide to Finding Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Japan

By Annika Hotta
Updated: March 26, 2024

In a country where seafood reigns supreme, it can be difficult to navigate Japan and maintain a plant-based diet. Luckily, with a few Japanese phrases under your belt, you can be prepared to shop and order vegan and vegetarian food in Japan.

But first, some cultural background on how the plant-based diet is viewed in Japan. Other than Zen Buddhist Monks, the vast majority of Japanese people consume animal products as part of their daily lives. Being vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian is often thought of as a Western concept, especially outside of major cities that may have plant-based restaurants. 

How to order vegan and vegetarian food in Japan

Two elderly Japanese ladies working at a food stall, reaching out to accept money.

As a pescatarian who eats seafood but not meat, I’ve learned the best practice is to always ask if a dish has meat or other animal products in it before ordering. Saying, “I have an allergy” also works and is often met with more seriousness, so you may want to try that! 

So, for example, let’s say you want to check if a dish has meat in it. You could ask:

“[dish name]はお肉(おにく)が入って(はいって)いますか?”

“[dish name]wa oniku ga haitte imasu ka?”

“Does [dish name] have meat in it?”

Then, if they say it does have meat in (“はい” or “Hai”), you could try two routes:

Route 1 — Asking them to put the meat on the side:


“Oniku wa betsu ni dekimasu ka?” 

“Are you able to serve the meat separately?”

In this case, they can put the meat to the side for you to give to your meat-eating friends!

Route 2 — Asking if they can make the dish without using the meat at all:


“Oniku nashi de tsukutte itadakemasen ka?” 

“Could you please make it without the meat?”

How to explain that you’re vegetarian or vegan in Japan:

If they ask for your reasoning, telling them that you’re vegan (ビーガン) or vegetarian (ベジタリアン) will likely be met with blank faces. Instead, you can tell them:

“I can’t eat [ingredient].”: 


“X ga taberaremasen.”

“I have an allergy.”:

Or, if you have an allergy (or just find it easier to pretend you do!), you can say this!


 “Arerugi ga aru kara desu.” 

These questions or phrases can be repeated easily at every restaurant or cafe you go to in Japan, swapping out meat for any ingredient that you’d like to avoid. Keep reading for a full list of ingredients (in Japanese) that you may want to say or avoid.

Non-vegan dishes or ingredients to watch out for in Japan

A bowl of ramen with noodles, seaweed, fishcakes, onions, and soft-boiled eggs on top.
  1. Katsuobushi/Bonito flakes: a common topping made from fermented and dried skipjack tuna. You can easily ask restaurant staff to not sprinkle this on top using the phrase from above, “Can you please make [dish] without [ingredient]?”
  2. Dashi soup stock: dashi powder itself is made from a combination of dried bonito flakes and kelp, also known as kombu. Additionally, dishes including dashi are sometimes seasoned with small dried fish, so if you are fully vegan, be sure to ask what exactly is included. 
  3. Ramen broth: ramen broth is typically made from chicken or pork bones. This might be a grey area, so use discretion to decide if you’re comfortable eating ramen with the traditional broth! 
  1. Okonomiyaki: usually uses an egg in the batter and will be topped with bonito flakes. To veganize the dish, ask for it to be made without the egg and bonito flakes. 
  2. Curry: curry roux in Japan includes butter. As for the curry itself, it often contains meat and sometimes might be made with regular milk, though you can ask for soy milk. 

Non-vegetarian ingredients and dishes to watch out for in Japan

A Japanese omuraisu dish, with an omelet that's covered in a shiny, demiglace sauce.
  1. Chawanmushi: this savory egg custard commonly has bits of chicken in it. While you can easily eat around the chunks, if you want it to be made without chicken, you’ll have to ask ahead of time. 
  2. Omuraisu: the comfort meal to end all comfort meals is guilty of including meat in some restaurants, so remember to ask ahead of time as it will be quite difficult to pick out once cooked. 
  3. Yasai kare / Vegetable curry: You may find that a “vegetable” curry has vegetables as the main ingredient of the curry — like carrots, potatoes, green beans, and so on — but still has meat in the curry sauce. Be sure to check this with the staff beforehand to avoid any nasty surprises!

How to find vegan and vegetarian food at Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores 

A Seven-Eleven konbini in Japan at night. Its lights shine out into the darkness.

Major grocery store chains like Aeon and konbini like Seven-Eleven offer in-house vegan lines that are easy to find with English labels. That being said, it’s imperative to know some Japanese kanji (the writing system that came from China) to understand the ingredients list, so here are a few words in kanji that every vegan or vegetarian in Japan should know. 

20 useful Japanese ingredients for vegetarians and vegans:

  1. 乳製品 (nyuuseihin): dairy products
  2. 豆乳 (tounyuu): soy milk (look for this on all dairy products) 
  3. 大豆 (daizu): soybeans or soya (useful for finding meat replacement products) 
  4. 豆腐 (toufu): tofu (もめん (momen) is firm and きぬ (kinu) is soft/silken)
  5. ひよこ豆 (hiyokomame): chickpeas 
  6. 鳥肉 (toriniku): chicken (also often seen as チキン)
  7. 豚肉 (butaniku): pork 
  8. 牛肉 (gyuuniku): beef
  9. 魚 (sakana): fish (look for the kanji to signify any seafood products)
  10. 白子 (shirasu): white bait (typically written in kana as しらす)
  11. 明太子 (mentaiko): walleye pollack roe (often also seen as めんたいこ)
  12. たら子 (tarako): cod roe (typically written in kana as たらこ)
  13. 海老 (ebi): prawn (typically written in kana as エビ or えび)
  14. 竹輪 (chikuwa): tube-shaped fish cake (typically written in kana as ちくわ)
  15. 貝類 (kairui): shellfish
  16. メンチ (menchi): minced meat
  17. 卵 (tamago): egg
  18. 蜂蜜 (hachimitsu): honey (typically written in hiragana as はちみつ)
  19. バーター (bata): butter 
  20. 鰹節 (katsuobushi): dried bonito flakes 

With a little perseverance and just a few key phrases in Japanese, it is possible to live a comfortable plant-based life while wandering the streets of Tokyo and beyond. We hope this blog post has armed you with all you need to know for finding vegan or vegetarian food in Japan! 

There’s plenty more where that came from, too! Learn about the first vegan konbini in Japan, join one of these vegan ramen cooking classes, or take a look through our list of the best vegan restaurants in Tokyo!

Japanese for vegetarians and vegans FAQs

Is Japan vegetarian friendly?

Being vegetarian in Japan is relatively easy, although you will need to keep an eye out for meat and seafood put into dishes you may not have expected. However, in places like Kyoto — where the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine of shojin ryori thrives — and large cities, there’s a better understanding of vegetarian diets and it’s possible to find more vegetarian restaurants, options, and even alter dishes slightly to remove meat.

Is Japan vegan friendly?

As Japan opens itself up to more tourists and cultures, veganism is slowly becoming better understood and catered for, as proven by our guide to the best vegan restaurants in Tokyo

Even so, many dishes may still be considered “vegan-friendly” even though they have hidden ingredients that are less so, like the dashi fish broth that forms the base of most ramen in Japan. 

Are there vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Japan?

Yes! Being vegetarian or vegan in Japan is getting easier every day, with a whole range of vegetarian and vegan restaurants popping up. To get a true idea of the options available to you, explore our list of vegetarian and vegan-friendly food experiences in Japan.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Annika Hotta
After studying abroad in Shiga prefecture in 2019, Annika moved to Japan in 2021. In her writing, she highlights the best dishes and places to eat in Japan for both the picky and the adventurous.
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